Internet Quotes: Molly Ivins on Flag Burning

“I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.”

This quotation, attributed to the late, great journalist Molly Ivins, has been making the rounds of the internet lately, in the wake of Donald Trump’s tweet about outlawing the burning of the U.S. flag. The quotation has all the hallmarks of greatness, it’s pithy and clever, and it uses a classic rhetorical device, antimetabole (repeating words in reverse order, another example of this device is “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”). Unfortunately, the quote doesn’t come from Ivins, at least not originally.

The words were uttered by Texas State Senator Craig Washington (D–Houston) on 6 July 1989. Washington was engaged in a twelve-hour, eleven-minute filibuster of HCR-18, a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw desecration of the U.S. flag. Washington’s filibuster failed and the resolution passed, although no such amendment to the Constitution ever emerged. Washington would be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives later that year.

In 1997, Ivins recalled Washington’s statement and included it in her syndicated column, giving him proper credit, of course. (I can’t find a transcript of Washington’s filibuster; one must wade through twelve hours of audio recordings on the Texas Senate website to find the original.), Because she plucked the quotation from obscurity, Ivins became associated with the line, and almost all the references to it on the internet give her the credit, not Washington.

[This is one in an irregular series of posts on various quotations posted to the internet. The internet is a wonderful source of information, but when it comes to quotations it is abysmal. I’ll lay good money down, giving odds, that any given quotation taken from the internet is defective in some way.]


Sources:

Ivins, Molly. “File These Items in the ‘I Can’t Believe This’ Drawer.” Globe-Times (Amarillo), 1 July 1997, A10.

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