Venerating Our Symbols

I love the Onion. Parody news is barely distinguishable from real news these days, and the Onion skewers everyone with equal fervor. After all, when CNN runs stories about a cat with two tongues and the internet is abuzz because Camilla wore one of the Queen's tiaras... You get the drift.

I personally believe the White House should have much more important things to do than bug the Onion about using the presidential seal. I mean, we've got an unwinnable Vietnam - er, Iraq, a hopelessly unqualified Supreme Court nominee, plummeting approval polls, ghastly gas prices while oil companies post double-digit profit margins, those pesky grand jury investigations of the Vice President's office and half the Republican leadership posing for mug shots. By the way, there's terrorists on their way to kill YOU, and remember Osama bin Laden? The guy who blew up 2,000 Americans?

Of course not. Nobody else does.

There's also First Amendment issues. I do not believe our symbols should be venerated in law, for the same reason that we should not ever outlaw the burning of the flag. If a symbol needs a law to protect itself, it is no longer a symbol worthy of respect. If the Onion truly wants to use the presidential seal in its radio-address parodies, it has every legal right to do so.

That said.

I believe it is wrong for the Onion to use the seal, and I hope they quietly discontinue the practice. They can make up their own look-alike seal, like the hilarious one making the rounds on the net as the Official Seal of the Republican Party (showing hands in handcuffs).

I have no respect whatsoever for the Commander in Thief or his flying-monkey minions. I have seen very few proposals or actions coming out of BushCo that I would support if you put a gun to my head. But disrespect for the man is different from disrespect for the office.

Legend has it when Eisenhower was on his way to be inaugurated, he refused to enter the White House for the traditional pre-inauguration tea with Harry Truman. He said he did not want to enter the White House until he was the president. Truman threw a fit. "He can disrespect me, but he cannot disrespect the President," Truman said.

Truman got it, one of the few to really understand the difference between the President and the man. The office has survived great men, weak men, misled men and downright criminals. The office is something greater than the man (or someday, the woman) who holds it. Every resident of the White House is a renter, every President a temporary employee of the United States.

While the Onion is quite funny, using the presidential seal on a parody is disrespectful to the office. Disrespect Bush all you like - and they do - but the office itself must be venerated. Not by law, but by history and tradition. We honor the symbols because they stand for something more than the current state of affairs and the current officeholder. When we disrespect the symbols, we lose ground with those who value those traditions.

You know who else knew this? Osama bin Laden. His choice of targets unerringly went after our symbols. The World Trade Center stood for American economic might. The Pentagon stood for American military might. And the third plane was headed for the Capitol, as I recall. Our government, and our history. Symbols, all.

I hope the Onion will take the high road. Call it a symbolic gesture.

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