Last updated: December 24. 2013 12:16PM - 867 Views
David Brooks Guest Columnist

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Many looked at the Sheriff Rick Clark/Nelson Mandela flag story along racial and political lines. Who thought to examine this strictly from the standpoint of just being an American citizen?

Give Mr. Clark the benefit of the doubt and assume that his actions were not racially motivated as some insinuated.

Sometimes the media reports one man’s actions (Gov. Sanford in South America, Rep. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson), and paints all of us as racist and/or unruly. Commentary from national black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton sometimes perpetuate the stereotype. South Carolina may be a “red” state but that does not make us a racist state.

Clark simply displayed a healthy dose of nationalism. This was not a policy debate he had authority to act on. This time Mr. Clark dabbled in issues that were way above his pay grade.

The United States Flag Code, in effect since 1942, is a code just like many other codes by which we abide: Code of Laws, Code of Ethics, Building Codes, Fire Codes, and Codes of Honor. All of these have one thing in common: the word ‘code.’ Are we as South Carolinians willing to dismiss those as well?

What would happen if we dismissed the Flag Code altogether, since some think it’s optional? Playing the Star Spangled Banner before sporting events is not the law. Displaying the American flag in front of public buildings and grounds is cited in the Flag Code. Let’s fully embrace our South Carolina Pride and honor our state — but mainly our city — by substituting the National Anthem with a Dizzy Gillespie song and replace the Stars and Stripes with the Cheraw Braves flag in the town square. “Salt Peanuts” or “Night in Tunisia” anyone? Each university can play “Hootie and the Blowfish” before games and fly their school banners since high school and college football are one of the few things on which we can find common ground.

This isn’t Boss Hog winning one for the Duke Boys. Given the powers of local law enforcement, one could make the case that a sheriff is the most powerful man in the county. Everyone incorrectly assumed Clark knew what he was talking about in this flag debate since he enforces the law. I chuckled when the reporter asked Clark’s deputy for his opinion of whether to lower the flag. The deputy agreed with Clark. What else was the deputy going to say?

Respecting the command authority of higher officials is important, especially if their orders and guidance are legal, moral, and ethical. We all have to bring our best judgment to our jobs. Leave personal opinions at home if they interfere with carrying out official duties.

Opinion is fine. Nationalism is great. If you want to change the U.S. Flag Code, write Congress and ask them to amend it. Until then, leave ceremonial matters to the Chief of Protocol of the United States, State Department officials, and other career civil servants who bridge the gap between presidential administrations. They are the subject matter experts in protocol and foreign policy; not you, not me, and certainly not the sheriff of Pickens County, South Carolina.

There may be no legal penalty for ignoring the United States Flag Code. Last week the only real casualty was lost credibility; Mr. Clark’s and, to some extent, those who chose to jump on that bandwagon

I have no patience for what I call part-time patriots. You’re either “All In” for America or you’re not. The United States flag is not optional and the way I see it, neither is the Flag Code.

David Brooks is a career military veteran with experience in media and law enforcement.

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