Commentary: GOP pettiness over anthem protocol is astonishing

One of the great things about social media is it eliminates the echo chamber that often exists in political circles.

And last week, a Facebook post of a photo from the most recent Irvine City Council meeting by FlashReport blogger Jon Fleischman, a Republican political consultant and official with the California Republican Party, sought to belittle the progressives on the council but had quite the opposite effect.

Fleischman's post that Irvine council members Beth Krom and Larry Agran failed to place their hands over their hearts during the playing of the national anthem got 66 shares on Facebook and nearly 250 likes.

Fleischman wrote: "If you need to know a key difference between Republicans and Democrats, I submit this photo as Exhibit A. I took this photo while a harpist was playing a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem. The Republicans are the three Councilmembers in the center. The Democrats are on the right and left. Notice something different?"

Apparently, when it comes to Orange County Republicans, it's fashionable to equate hand position with patriotism. It's also obvious that by snapping the photo, the one demonstrating a lack of respect for the national anthem is Fleischman himself.

Responding to a call of pettiness on Fleischman's part, Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway tweeted back "respect." In light of Lalloway's recent call for respect from his fellow council members at this same meeting, perhaps he ought to display some himself. The suggestion that Krom and Agran don't respect the flag is wrong and disrespectful.

Etiquette toward our flag during the pledge of allegiance and national anthem has evolved over many years.

It wasn't until 1998 that placing one's hand over one's heart became standard protocol during the playing of the "The Star-Spangled Banner." In 2008, non-uniformed military, which includes Agran, could salute during the anthem. Fleischman's criticism belittles entire generations of Americans taught that simply standing at attention and facing the flag is more than enough respect during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Here's the actual U.S. policy:

United States Code, 36 U.S.C. § 301, states that during a rendition of the national anthem, when the flag is displayed, all present, except those in uniform, should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart; men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; and when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed. Recently enacted law in 2008 allows military veterans to salute out of uniform, as well.

However, violation of this statutory suggestion does not carry any penalty. Moreover, generations of students who were introduced to flag etiquette before its enactment in 1998 were taught that the hand-over-the heart gesture was exclusively for the pledge of allegiance, which has had the statutory requirement for much longer. This behavioral requirement for the national anthem is subject to the same 1st Amendment controversies that surround the pledge. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to stand for or sing the national anthem.

The pettiness of local Republicans is astonishing at times.

Interestingly enough, there's a photo on Irvine's Facebook page noting the dedication ceremony for the remodeled Northwood Community Park. The front row of the audience features Agran, council members Krom and Christina Shea and members of the Community Services Commission. A military color guard is present and all are standing at attention. Half the front row is standing at attention, and the other half is standing with their hands over their hearts.

The petty thing to do here is to point out the Republicans standing at attention while almost all the Democrats have their hands over their hearts. But to question the patriotism of those elected and appointed to serve the city would be a cheap shot.

I'd rather leave the pettiness and disrespect to GOP officials.

DAN CHMIELEWSKI operates a technology public relations firm in Irvine and is the managing editor of TheLiberalOC, a progressive political blog.

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