Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who's served in the House since 1979, told the press this week that he opposes President Obama's decision to lower the United States flag to half-staff in honor of the late Nelson Mandela, because, in his words, "Lowering the flag should be for mourning Americans and not foreign leaders." He's made it clear that he respects Mr. Mandela's legacy, saying: “Nelson Mandela deserves international praise for defeating apartheid, fighting for equality and uniting South Africa. While I think the American flag should only be flown at half-staff for Americans, I join the rest of the world in mourning Nelson Mandela`s death.”
I haven't found any record of Mr. Sensenbrenner criticizing the decision of the younger President Bush to lower our flags in honor of Pope John Paul II in 2005, nor of President Reagan's order to lower our flags in honor of the assassinated Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat, though he was in Congress for both deaths.
Even if Mr. Sensenbrenner's is a late-found principle, I applaud him for expressing it so clearly. I'd like to suggest that if he believes that Americans should not honor foreigners in this way, he might introduce a bill to eliminate Columbus Day as a national holiday. Surely he must believe that if we should not lower our flag in tribute to the passing of inspirational foreign leaders, we shouldn't close the entire government for a day to honor a foreigner who wasn't a national leader.