The fact that a man is elected to high office does not entitle him to re-order the high standards we set for those who we honor and memorialize by displaying the flag at half-mast. It’s not a privilege of office to discard what has always been the long-standing tradition of honoring those who have served and died by deciding that a celebrity is due the same respect as those whose service to a grateful nation we thereby honor. This tradition isn’t intended for every person upon whom we wish to heap recognition, and this act by New Jersey governor Chris Christie reveals more about him than it does about his state or its people. Whitney Houston was a fine singer, maybe the best, when she had been young and at the height of her singing power, but she died not in service to her nation, but in a bathtub, apparently the victim of her own addictions.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I admired Houston’s singing long ago when she started out, and as I’ve written, I’d prefer to remember her that way. How she finished her life is another matter, and while it is sad, it is not worthy of remembrance by lowering the symbol of state to half-staff. To place her on the same pedestal that we reserve for our deceased leaders and for our national days of remembrance reveals a scandalous disregard for what the gesture means. It’s not intended to show support, attract attention, or curry favor as a political act. It’s a sign of respect and in mourning, it is intended to highlight the length of the staff above the flag where nothing is now present, indicating the loss for which the mourning is intended. As a matter of official mourning, it is proper to display the flag at half-staff:
- Following the death of the President or a former President, the flag should be flown at half-staff for 30 days.
- Following the death of the Vice President, the Chief Justice, a retired Chief Justice of the United States or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the flag should be flown at half-staff for 10 days.
- Following the death of an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, a Secretary of an executive or military department, a former Vice President, or the Governor of a State, territory or possession, the flag should be flown at half-staff from the day of death until interment.
- Following the death of a Member of Congress, the flag should be flown at half-staff the day of death and the following day.
The President may order the flag flown at half-staff, and so can the Governor order the flag of his own state lowered. Ordinarily, however, other than the list above, it is only flown at half-staff on the following days of remembrance:
- Memorial Day
- Patriots’ Day
- Pearl Harbor Day
That’s it. Now, as for Governor Christie and his decision to lower the flag to half-staff in memory of Whitney Houston, I am unwilling to listen to his buffoonish, irresponsible answers to criticism because he has not bothered to inform himself of any of the foregoing. It’s not his place to pick and choose which citizens upon whom to bestow such an honor in such a careless fashion. It’s not his place to decide that he is the arbiter of what is proper. We already know what is proper, and Whitney Houston, while a great singer, is not a suitable recipient of this honor. According to USA Today, Christie said the following:
“I am disturbed by people who believe that because her ultimate demise — and we don’t know what is the cause of her death yet — but because of her history of substance abuse that somehow she’s forfeited the good things that she did in her life,” said the governor during a briefing in northern New Jersey. “I just reject that on a human level.”
This jackass of a liberal disguised as a conservative is simply offering bad excuses. That he rejects it on a “human level,” whatever that means, is irrelevant, because he is not a dictator, and this is not about his person, or his humanity, or any of those things. Instead, he is the Governor of New Jersey, and his job in this matter is not to act as the official voice of the state. The State of New Jersey should remain neutral to Whitney Houston’s death as a matter of official conduct. Christie’s intransigence to this fact is simply stunning, and the fact that he would inflict his personal preferences on this practice is a shocking display of disregard for his office and this tradition. Last year, he order the same distinguished honor for Clarence Clemons, the saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. What it appears that Christie is doing is to use this as a hat-tip to celebrities of note from his state, or something along those lines, but I think it could be something even more cynical.
USA Today also reports the remarks of an Anna Simpson, who was at the New Hope Baptist Church, where Houston’s funeral will be held:
After Houston became famous she continued to make regular trips to the public school she attended in East Orange and to which her family has directed donations be sent in lieu of flowers.
Simpson said she admires Christie for honoring Houston because “if it were Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi, nobody would bat an eye.”
“I don’t agree with a lot of things that he does, but I admire him for that,” she said. “Whoever don’t agree, they will get over it.”
What Anna Simpson is implying is that any who complain are motivated by race. Leave it to USA Today to dig up such an opinion. The truth is, Governor Christie shouldn’t be doing this for any celebrity, whatever their race, sex, age, or state of addiction. That’s not the meaning of this tradition. One New Jersey woman whose son died recently in Afghanistan is offended over this, and for good reason. It’s not the role of the state to worship at the altar of pop culture, and I don’t care if it is Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi(whoever he is,) so perhaps rather than leading his state like a cheer-leading section for celebrities, perhaps he could impart to his own service in office a bit of the dignity expected of our leaders. We should expect our leaders to remember with solemn reverence the actual meaning of such official gestures by the state, and one would think Christie would have known better.
Then again, perhaps not.