Rupert Cornwell: Out of America

Hillary wraps herself in the flag in a naked attempt to placate the right

Share

Someone once remarked that satire ended when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. But if that genre of humour did survive the honouring of the good doctor, it is being put to sore test by the latest antics of Hillary Clinton.

In the headlines-you-never-thought-you'd-read department, this one rates pretty high: "Hillary co-sponsors bill to criminalise flag-burning." But it happened last week. Once the Democratic junior Senator for New York was regarded by conservatives as liberalism made flesh. Now she has joined forces with Robert Bennett of Utah (which just happens to be the most Republican state in the entire US) in a cause close to the heart of any self-respecting conservative.

Americans, as everyone knows, venerate their flag as few others do. There's a flag code and an elaborate etiquette. In Britain, no one would think of protesting about Tony Blair's policies by setting fire to the Union flag. Here, however, burning the Stars and Stripes is almost an act of sacrilege.

But as The New York Times pointed out, flag-burning hasn't been an issue here since the Vietnam war. Iraq may be starting to rival Vietnam in unpopularity, but students are not taking a match to "Old Glory". These days, the only US flags getting burned are on the streets of the Middle East. As long ago as 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that, however regrettable, flag-burning was a permissible form of expression - unlike burning crosses, which was almost always designed to intimidate blacks and as such a violation of civil rights laws.

Ms Clinton is well aware of all this. She must know that even today's more conservative court would strike down her law as an infringement of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. So what is she up to? We all know the answer: the flag-burning gambit is another step towards shedding the albatross of liberalism ahead of a well-nigh certain bid for the White House three years hence.

Since becoming a Senator, Ms Clinton has tried to prove her national security credentials by taking a seat on the Senate Committee on Armed Services. She has defended her vote in favour of the Iraq war, when many Democrats have admitted they got it wrong. She has hobnobbed with Newt Gingrich, the conservative ideologue and Bill Clinton's old foe. She has even begun to speak out against abortion.

So what next on her rightward march? Will she chase the religious-right vote by coming out in favour of intelligent design? And what about invading Iran? Officially, her every energy is focused on re-election to the Senate. But a stand on flag-burning will not make the slightest difference to her chances. In solidly Democratic New York state, she's 110 per cent certain of victory. Indeed, on current trends, she won't have a serious Republican opponent next November.

No, this is all about 2008, not 2006. Hillary would have you believe she hasn't given the matter of a White House run a thought, still less made up her mind on the issue. Indeed, during a recent trip to New England, she apparently insisted on flying from Portland in Maine down to Boston, when she could have done the drive in a couple of hours at most. The reason? Had she travelled by car, she would symbolically have broken her vows of political chastity by crossing 14 miles of New Hampshire territory - thus setting foot (or rather tyre) in the state that holds the first presidential primary.

But there is a second reason. At this early stage, polls make Ms Clinton the clear front-runner for her party's 2008 nomination. But insiders are talking about Mark Warner, the outgoing Governor of Virginia. He has been sniffing around New Hampshire, spotted at those small-town Rotary Club dinners and discreet meetings with activists that portend presidential campaigns.

Mr Warner is many people's identikit of a Democrat winner for 2008. He is a self-made millionaire businessman, a moderate who should appeal to independents, who has proved he can win in a traditionally Republican southern state. His problem is with the liberals who turn out to vote in Democratic primaries. This may explain why last month he commuted a death sentence - a rare step in Virginia, which executes more people than any state save Texas.

So Hillary moves rightwards to outflank him. Maybe the flag-burning gambit will work. More likely, though, it will irritate liberals and leave independents unmoved. Meanwhile, conservatives - who would never dream of voting for her anyway - would only be hardened in the conviction that she is an opportunist, ready to say all things to all people to get elected.

At a certain point, naked political ambition can turn into a bad joke. Or, as the immortal Willie Rushton used to say on That Was The Week That Was, when satire was alive and kicking: "Ho, ho, ho, highly satirical."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
Workers clean the area in front of the new Turkish Presidential Palace prior to an official reception for Republic day in Ankara  

Up Ankara, for a tour of great crapital cities

Dom Joly
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory