MAUREEN TROUBETARIS, keeping an eye on supplies of hot dogs, cool drinks, and fried dough for the day's festivities, wears a cap with an eagle and an American flag on it, which reads: ``These colors don't run or burn.'' She is disappointed that Congress so far has failed to pass a constitutional amendment to ban physical desecration of the flag. ``It's a symbol of your freedom, and you don't burn a symbol,'' Ms. Troubetaris says.
Several others gathered here at the Obear Park in Beverly, Mass., to watch the Fourth of July parade feel just as strongly.
``Burning the flag should be illegal. People have too many rights now,'' says Jack Dean, who works in a local sporting-goods store.
Yet some here say Republicans have exploited the flag issue to divert attention from more-pressing economic issues. US Rep. Nick Mavroules (D) of Massachusetts, who since 1978 has represented Beverly and 31 other cities and towns along Boston's North Shore, says only 18 of his more than half a million constituents wrote or called about the flag issue before the recent House vote. Only five favored an amendment.
``People are concerned about their jobs and paying their bills,'' says Mr. Mavroules, a former mayor of Peabody who sits on both the House Armed Services and Small Business Committees. Considered liberal on defense and foreign policy issues, he is also an old-style politician who stresses service to constituents. He has scheduled 12 individual appointments for the last day of his week in the home district.
Joining the Beverly festivities on the Fourth to present a flag to one of the city's most active volunteers, he says he is pleased about the President's shift in favor of increased taxes but will not ``gloat'' about it. He says he wants to see stronger White House leadership on the issue.
Others are less charitable regarding the president's change of heart. ``Bush says `read my lips' - I'm watching his nose and, like Pinocchio's, it's growing longer every day,'' jokes John Condon, Beverly's retired postmaster. He says he blames the press ``for all this flag-burning flap'' when people ought to be focused on critical cutbacks occurring, such as the closing of veterans' hospitals.
Beverly closed a major shoe factory a few years back and now serves as home for many who work in Boston. Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, two-thirds of the voters here are independent. Many of those gathered here for the day's parade and picnic say they are concerned that hikes in both federal and state taxes are coming.
``We basically went from the `Massachusetts miracle' to a disaster area,'' says Jim Henry, a Republican running for Beverly's state representative seat. ``People are concerned that they may lose their jobs because everything is tightening up so dramatically.''
Beverly resident Rich Dinkin says the key issue in the recent slip in Massachusetts' credit rating was the legislature's inability to resolve the state's financial crisis rather than the risk of actual bond default. ``I can't tell you how many people have told me that, come fall, they're not going to vote for a single incumbent for anything,'' says Mr. Dinkin, a state government worker.
Yet many voters here appear resigned to the need for higher taxes. They would like to see more fat cut, but they view taxes as supporting needed jobs and services. ``I don't see any other way the US is going to get out of its huge debt - and I don't want to see any more cuts for education or the elderly,'' says Page Ring, a Beverly mother of two who is shaping raw dough for frying.
Katrinka O'Brien, who is walking her brown-and-white spaniel puppy nearby, adds:``If you cut back too much, a lot of people will be without jobs.''
``There's no free lunch,'' agrees Mr. Mavroules, who says he thinks more voters are realizing as much.
His query of constituents two years ago on whether they were willing to pay more to guarantee a cleaner environment brought ``yes'' from only 3 percent. When asked if they would pay more to ensure quality education, 73 percent said ``yes.''