Is wrapping oneself in the American flag a sure sign of a scoundrel?
Consider the recent actions of Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), who sponsored a recent resolution that was passed giving Congress the power to ban the desecration of the U.S. flag.
Calling the legislation a "victory for every American," Cunningham said the flag was a symbol of "equal opportunity."
The same congressman, a member of the defense appropriations committee, enjoyed an economic opportunity that few other Americans do.
He sold his house in San Diego for $1,675,000 in November 2003 to Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor.
Wade put the house back on the market a month later where it went unsold for 261 days before he finally sold it at a $700,000 loss.
Meanwhile Wade's company tripled its 2004 revenues, making tens of millions of dollars from business with the Pentagon.
The smelly relationship between Cunningham and Wade worsened when San Diego's North County Times reported that Cunningham lived on Wade's 42-foot yacht docked on the Potomac River in Washington. The yacht's name is "Duke-Stir."
Cunningham defended his D.C. living arrangements, promising records that showed he paid for docking and service fees for the yacht. No records were forthcoming, according to the paper.
The U.S. Attorney's office is reportedly looking into the Cunningham-Wade relationship.
In a written defense of his situation, the congressman, a recipient of the Navy Cross for bravery, said, "This year will make the 36th year that I have stood in service to this nation—first as a young man volunteering to join the U.S. Navy at a time of war and great unrest, and more recently as a United States Congressman."
Cunningham's congressional allies defended him by citing his patriotism.
"People should remember that Duke Cunningham has honorably served this country, sometimes in great danger, for 35 years," said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).
Ask about whether Cunningham's situation should be referred to the House ethics committee, the House majority leader, Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas), declined to comment.
After calling Cunningham "an honorable man," Delay said, "He is a war hero. He was the first Top Gun."
Cunningham, Hunter and Delay contend that military patriotism outweighs moral integrity.
Hopefully, their colleagues and the public will reject their perspective in favor of the belief that no amount of patriotic service negates dishonest feathering of one's nest or showing preferential treatment to corporations that friends run.
Perhaps the greatest harm to the American flag, a symbol of patriotism, happens when politicians use it as cover for wrongdoing. They assign great value to the flag, such as equal opportunity, while they use their position to obtain unequal opportunities.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.