WASHINGTON — President Bush, using the statue of the nation's most famous flag-raising scene as a backdrop, today urged passage and ratification of a "simple, stark and to-the-point" constitutional amendment to ban burning of the American flag.
Bush spoke before a hastily assembled crowd at a ceremony at the Iwo Jima Memorial, the statue of five Marines raising the flag on a Pacific island during World War II. The audience was made up mostly of Administration officials and Republican members of Congress.
Bush denied he was acting in a partisan fashion in pressing his campaign for the flag amendment. "Patriotism is not a partisan issue, it is not a political issue," he said.
Both Democrats and Republicans have publicly deplored last week's 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that said flag burning is a form of free expression protected by the Constitution. But a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee accused Bush of using the issue for political opportunism.
"He's running for President instead of being President," Mike McCurry, DNC communications director, said. "The heroes of Iwo Jima didn't die so they could become a backdrop for some political photo opportunity."
Bush used the ceremony to register his support for a Republican-drafted proposed amendment that asserts: "The Congress and the states shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
"This flag is one of our most powerful ideas," Bush declared. "If it is not defended; it is defamed. . . . It represents the fabric of our nation."
Bush said the statue behind him, a huge bronze casting of a photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, is "stunning . . . even now it humbles us, inspires us."
Bush said the amendment drafted by Republican congressional leaders with the support of some Democrats is "simple, stark and to the point."
Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas praised Bush for supporting the amendment and called it "a serious step" to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling.
Also speaking at the ceremony were co-sponsors of the amendment, House Republican leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois and two Democrats, Sen. Alan J. Dixon of Illinois and Rep. G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery of Mississippi, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Bush at a news conference on Tuesday announced his support for a constitutional amendment forbidding flag desecration. Although aides at first said the President would present his own version of such an amendment, he later decided to join forces with congressional leaders.