Reading the Constitution: Democrats Lose Again

So, today was the big day when the U. S. Constitution was read into the congressional record. This was preceded by a discussion of which parts, exactly, would be read. It was agreed that they would not read those sections of the Constitution that had been made irrelevant by amendments. That means, for instance, that they did not have to read all of the stuff about slaves.

And so, the Democrats lose again.

Why? Because the game being played here by the Republicans is part of the new Constitution-as-sacred-text push that is being fueled by the tea partiers. The founding fathers (sorry, I mean Founding Fathers) are being cast as infallible geniuses who set down immutably true principles of governance. Then, they can oppose any policy or piece of legislation on the moral principle that it is not what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

The problem with reading the abridged Constitution is that it takes something that is a living, evolving entity and casts it as fixed. If the congress had read out all of the parts about slaves being three fifths of a person, and then read out the amendments abolishing slavery, the effect would have been the opposite. They would have emphasized that the Constitution as a document was not infallible. It would have emphasized the notion of the Constitution as a process.

The founding fathers were clever. They got a lot of things right. They also recognized that they were not going to get everything right, and that times and values would change.

I wish that they had read the entire Constitution into the congressional record. I am moved not by an America in which the government is something that we revere, but by an America in which the government is something that we do.

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