Daniel Bice, the Journal Sentinel's watchdog columnist, holds politicians and the powerful accountable
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner objects to lowering flags for Nelson Mandela
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner says he was a big fan of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
But Sensenbrenner said he does not think the president should have
ordered the lowering of U.S. flags as a tribute to Mandela's legacy.
Speaking to a group of Brookfield Republicans last week,
Sensenbrenner said he objected to U.S. officials flying American flags
at half-staff as a measure of respect for Mandela.
"Lowering the flag should be for mourning Americans and not for foreign leaders," Sensenbrenner said on Friday to cheers, according to a Brookfield Now report. Brookfield Now is part of Journal Communications, which also publishes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
On Wednesday, Sensenbrenner issued a statement standing by his
remarks while trying to shift the focus to Mandela's life and legacy.
The former South African leader died last week.
“Nelson Mandela deserves international praise for defeating
apartheid, fighting for equality and uniting South Africa,"
Sensenbrenner said in a statement to No Quarter. "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.” Keith Best, first vice chairman of the Waukesha County GOP, said Wednesday that about 100 people attended the monthly Pints and Politics meeting at the Venice Club in Brookfield.
This was the first time, Best said, that the meeting featured a speaker. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson will speak at next month's meeting.
"This is the first one we've had a formal speaker, and this is the
one that generates controversy," Best said. "The congressman was just
stating his opinion."
Last week, President Barack Obama, who spoke on Tuesday at the huge Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg, issued an executive proclamation ordering flags to fly at half-staff until Monday "as a mark of respect for the memory" of Mandela.
Gov. Scott Walker also ordered all U.S. and Wisconsin flags be lowered in the state
in memory of Mandela, whom the governor described as "an inspiring man,
who stood as a distinct symbol of hope in the anti-apartheid movement."
Asked Wednesday to respond to Sensenbrenner's remarks, the first-term Republican governor said only, "I respectfully disagree."
But Sensenbrenner isn't alone in suggesting that Obama was out of line for issuing his proclamation.
A South Carolina sheriff grabbed headlines nationally for refusing to lower the American flag, saying -- like Sensenbrenner -- that this tribute should be reserved for Americans.
"Nelson Mandela did great things for his country and was a brave man but he was not an AMERICAN!!!" Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clarkwrote on Facebook.
The Christian Science Monitorreported this week that
it is a rare honor for American flags to be flown at half-staff
following the death of a foreign dignitary, but Republican and
Democratic presidents have issued orders similar to Obama's in the past.
The paper wrote:
"President George W. Bush ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the passing of Pope John Paul II in 2005, President Bill Clinton did so for Yitzhak Rabin (1995) and King Hussein of Jordan (1999), and President Ronald Reagan honored Anwar Sadat in 1981, but the historical precedent most often cited is President Lyndon Johnson’s bestowal of the honor in recognition of the passing of Winston Churchill in 1965."
Newspapers wrote front-page stories about Johnson's decision to lower
the flags in tribute to Churchill. Johnson described the former British
leader as "one of our own."
With his executive order, Obama was exercising a power assigned to
the president by federal legislation, the Christian Science Monitor
said. Lowering the flags to half-staff is meant to indicate a nation in
In 2003, Sensenbrenner once pushed a resolution urging Bush to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. government, to John
Paul II. The resolution passed the U.S. House of Representatives but not
The U.S. flag flies at half-staff over the White House in Washington last week. Reuters photo