It is no surprise politicians make appeals to their potential voters through any means available to them.
From public statements to policy proposals, our elected officials use their positions as tools to gain political support. But where does political pandering cross a line? When it starts to fundamentally change our country.
The flag of the United States is a sacred symbol of democracy in our country and around the world. When politicians desecrate those symbols for a cheap appeal to their loyal supporters, it diminishes the importance of the flag and what it stands for. In the past week, Wisconsin has been a case study for the exact inappropriate behavior politicians should have avoided.
Last Thursday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos requested Gov. Tony Evers lower the flag around the state to half-mast in honor of the passing of Rush Limbaugh, a popular conservative radio host.
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Evers declined this request, but on Tuesday, countered by lowering the flag in honor of lives lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic in tandem with a national order by President Biden. These two events, though similar from the surface, reflect Speaker Vos’ stark disregard for the symbolism the flag holds in his effort to appease baseline conservative voters.
The U.S. flag has a number of rules and precedents surrounding when it can be lowered to half staff. Until the 1950s, there was no law dictating the lowering of the flag. This changed in 1954 when President Eisenhower issued a proclamation specifically outlining when the President can lower the flag.
The general rule is the President may lower the flag to half staff in memory of a fallen soldier, first responder, government official, or other time the nation is in mourning. In practice, the open interpretation of the final clause has led to the flag being lowered in honor of notable citizens such as Martin Luther King Jr and the astronauts who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle explosion.
Governors have a much stricter set of guidelines for when they may lower the flag in their individual states. According to U.S. code, governors may lower the flag for a fallen military service member or first responder. Governor Evers has made use of the privilege to honor fallen service members, such as the Air National Guardsman killed in an F16 fighter jet crash in December.
Governor Evers’ proposal to lower the flag in honor of the COVID deaths follows in the footsteps of President Biden’s national order. Given the President’s ability to lower the flags in any time of national mourning, there is hardly a better opportunity than now to make use of the privilege.
The Coronavirus has killed more Americans in the past year than World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. The sheer number of Americans who have passed away due to the pandemic is shocking and with millions across the country who have had to endure the loss of a loved one, this honor is the least the government could offer.
On the complete opposite side, Speaker Vos’s proposal to lower the flag discounts the precedent and meaning behind lowering the flag entirely. The tradition of lowering the flag is deeply rooted in military honor and in mourning of outstanding citizens — Rush Limbaugh was neither.
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Limbaugh’s career was steeped in controversy, between mocking LGBT+ deaths in his “AIDS Update” segment to racist comments about President Obama. Limbaugh spent his career targeting millions of people in our country through generalized and stereotypical depictions.
This history of bigotry, racism and oppression should not be lauded with one of the highest civilian honors our country has, no matter how much your supporters may have enjoyed it. Honoring bigotry would only diminish the honor and the precedent set by those who have been lauded in the past and perpetuate our country’s troubling history of putting oppressors on pedestals.
Ryan Badger ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.