Jewish World Review July 24, 2001 / 4 Menachem-Av, 5761

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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On protecting the flag ... and drivers ... and immigrants -- SHORT takes for a long midsummer's day:

My 4-year-old helped me put out the flag on July 4th, and as he did, I explained that it must always be treated with respect. It should never touch the ground, I told him, or be left outside after dark or in the rain. I told him about the Pledge of Allegiance, and how both of his parents, when they were young, recited it daily in school.

But as much as I want Caleb to honor the flag, I want him to honor even more the principles for which it stands. And few of those principles matter more than freedom of political expression. There are no forbidden opinions in this country, no point of view, however repugnant, for which the government can punish you. Even Nazis can vent their foul ideas here; even Communists; even America-haters.

And that is why the Constitution should not be amended to protect the flag from desecration.

For the fourth time in six years, the US House of Representatives voted last week for a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to forbid the burning of the Stars and Stripes. For the fourth time, it will be the Senate's duty to kill it. America was born in dissent and its willingness to abide dissenters is a mark of its strength. Their freedom to protest must always be protected -- even at the price of letting them trash the very emblem of that freedom. It is one of the paradoxes of American liberty that the flag shelters those who love it no less than those who hold it in contempt.

* * * *

In a week when everyone seemed to be writing about Chandra Levy or Katherine Graham, I didn't expect a column on fuel economy to light any fires. But readers bombarded me with e-mail after last week's piece on fuel-efficiency regulations. Some agreed with my argument that the government's mileage requirements kill motorists by forcing automakers to make cars smaller and lighter; some disagreed. But I was amazed by the number who think the only reason small cars have such high fatality rates is because sport utility vehicles keep plowing into them. "Surely you know that the people dying in small cars are being killed by what Europeans are calling our 'monstrous' vehicles," one e-mailer wrote. A Minnesota reader, saying he was "shocked" by my column, insisted, "Small cars are 'unsafe' only because oversized cars are so deadly." And from a VW owner: "If some dopey soccer mom plows into me with her SUV because she's yakking on her cell phone, I'm the one whose life is threatened."

To double-check the data, I called the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a leading researcher of motor vehicle accidents and their causes. It promptly faxed over its October 1999 study, "Vehicle compatibility in crashes." The facts are pretty conclusive:

Of automobile fatalities in cars weighing up to 2,500 pounds, 38 percent occurred in single-vehicle crashes -- i.e., they crashed into something other than a car -- and 23 percent occurred in two-vehicle crashes with other passenger cars. Only 4 percent occurred in crashes with an SUV. And SUVs were responsible for an even smaller share -- just 3 percent -- of nonfatal automobile injuries. Lightweight cars are their own worst enemy. SUVs are merely the scapegoat.

And to clear up one other erroneous assumption: I neither own nor drive (nor want) an SUV. I just know I'd be safer if I did.

* * * *

There are more than 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States, and doing something about them is supposed to be a priority for President Bush -- especially since it is a priority for Vicente Fox, the Mexican president whom Bush likes and admires. These immigrants contribute hugely to our economy, and therefore to our way of life. It isn't right that we keep them trapped in a legal limbo, easy prey for exploiters, constantly in dread of exposure and deportation.

So when the White House let it be known that it was considering a plan to legalize the status of Mexican workers, those of us who are bullish on immigration had reason to cheer. Dismayingly, the administration shot down its own trial balloon as soon as critics in Congress raised a stink. Any law to legalize Mexican aliens, Texas Senator Phil Gramm said, would pass "over my cold, dead political body."

I wish Gramm good health and long life, but better his figuratively dead body than the all too real corpses of Mexicans so desperate to come to America that they try to cross the desert and die of dehydration. Whether we invite them or not, Mexican immigrants will keep coming. In exchange for the gifts they bring -- their initiative, their industry, their imagination -- can we not treat them humanely and make it possible for them to live and work among us without fear?

Granted, a blanket amnesty for 3 million people is impossible. But we aren't about to deport 3 million Mexicans either. They fill our enormous demand for low-skill labor -- everything from cleaning houses to picking crops to providing day care. It is to our benefit as much as theirs to let them hold their jobs legally, get an education, pay into Social Security. If they choose to work toward citizenship, so much the better.20

Politically thorny? Of course. But the status quo is unworthy of us and cries out to be fixed. Bush ought to find the courage to relaunch that balloon.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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07/06/01: Who's white? Who's Hispanic? Who cares?
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02/09/01: The debt for slavery -- and for freedom
02/06/01: The reparations calculation
02/01/01: The freedom not to say 'amen'
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01/26/01: Good-bye, good riddance
01/23/01: When everything changed (mostly for the better)
01/19/01: The real zealots
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12/05/00 The 'MCAS' teens give each other
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11/23/00 Why were the Pilgrims thankful?
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11/13/00 Unleashing the lawyers
11/17/00 Gore's mark on history
40 reasons to say NO to Gore

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