Last week, the Michigan House of Representatives sought to demonstrate its election-year patriotism by overwhelmingly passing two bills. One requires public schools to display an American flag in every classroom; the other encourages students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, every day.
There is nothing wrong with loving our country or voluntarily saying the pledge, as many Michigan students do daily. But there is a lot wrong with these bills.
State Rep. Vicki Barnett, one of the few lawmakers who voted no, criticized her colleagues for pandering to voters rather than tackling the state's real problems. Doug Newcombe, the superintendent of Bay City's public schools, said what many of his more-timid counterparts were undoubtedly feeling: "With all the issues facing us in our society, is this the most important thing we've got to deal with? I'm all for patriotism, but … why are we spending time on this kind of stuff?"
The answer, in part, is that this is an election year, and every seat in the Michigan House is on the line. Also, it is much easier to make patriotic gestures than to wrestle with important and controversial issues, such as Michigan's persistent underfunding of education in recent years.
Speaking of which, the flag mandate would burden some cash-strapped schools. The law's requirement that every classroom display a flag doesn't come with the money to buy flags.
America has a beautiful and glorious flag, and there is a simple beauty in the words of the pledge. But since 1776, patriotism has always involved making hard, sometimes unpopular choices.
Voters may disagree with the criticism offered by Ms. Barnett and Mr. Newcombe. But their willingness to speak out is rooted in American tradition, and deserves every patriot's respect.