This is cross-posted on The Clark Sphere. I'd be curious to see what the Kosites think:
I couldn't figure out why this flag issue bothered me so much until a few minutes ago. It's not the issue of flag burning itself. I mean, come on, almost no one burns flags, ever. And it's not really the pragmatic free speech issue, because, well, Clark really has little input into a constitutional amendment. It isn't even the ideological wedge, for compromises are always necessary in politics.
The problem, and it's a pattern not a one-off event, is that Clark has shrunk himself continually into a demographic slicer. He is now, for lack of a better word, small. And so are his poll numbers in New Hampshire, the one place his campaign has put a stake in the ground.
The flag amendment is a symbol, not of free speech and not of oppression, but of a damaging culture war which puts relatively meaningless symbolism that appeals to prejudice above substantive and productive solution seeking. Clark had the ability to rise above the litmus test-ization of politics, and not take sides in the culture war by taking a principled side in the actual war over the soul of this country. Instead, he chose to side with the culture warriors. I don't differentiate between symbol-mongers like Kucinich or Bush; the use of divisive symbols to turn the political discourse murky with mistrust is the problem. Taking a side in this war is taking the wrong side, because moving beyond the culture war implies a willingness to deflate the idea that the Confederate flag itself is worth debating, instead of the culture of hate it implies.
Clark, in taking a side here, as well as in shrinking his New American Patriotism to a $100 million Americorps sequel and hapless campaigning, has simply reduced his importance from a transcendent figure to one that can float unnoticed. I suppose his advisors think, when they aren't busy infighting, that floating through the South is the right strategy for winning a nasty nomination fight. It probably isn't. More than that, though, coming out for this amendment and scaling down policies to unthreatening trifle is a trade of Wesley Clark's sterling reputation for some Southern delegates. Aside from this being a bad deal for Wesley, it's a deal done in bad faith, Clark being who is not, and sacrificing his allies who embrace his idealism, in return for conservative Southern culture warriors that happen to be in the wrong party voting for a liberal they don't want. It's classic Nixonian reactionary politics, smash your allies because who else are they gonna support and suck up to the bullies in the hopes that they won't take too much of your lunch money.
So the amendment to the Constitution on flag burning is really just a symbol that Clark is willing to become a symbol monger rather than the leader he has always been. We don't need another symbol monger; there are already a bunch in the race. And the polling data seems to agree.