For two and a half hours yesterday, members of Congress, Republican and Democrat alike, read the entire U.S. Constitution (with a couple of hiccups, some sections were accidently skipped due to pages in the binder being stuck together) aloud on the House floor. The action was spearheaded by the GOP, much to the irritation of liberal Democrats in both the political arena and at home.
Liberals wasted little time in ridiculing the reading, even going as far as attacking the Tea Party… again.
“It’s an air-kiss they’re blowing to the Tea Party!” Barney Frank spitted and sputtered.
“They’re treating it like a sacred document!” raged New York congressman Gerald Nadler.
Journalist Dahlia Lithwick described the Tea Party movement’s fondness (or as liberals would put it, “obsession”) of the Constitution as a “fetish” in her column.
Then again, she’s a Canadian, so in my view, her opinion on this matter doesn’t count for beans.
Some liberals have even moaned about how much time and money was wasted by taking the two and a half hours to read the document. Trust me folks, Congress has wasted a lot more time, and a hell of a lot more money, on worse projects than this.
However, the worst complaints came from those liberals who demanded to know why the Constitution was not read in its “original” format, before the amendments were added. In particular, they point out to this section of Clause 3: “Apportionment of Representatives and Taxes”:
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
“Why wouldn’t those Republicans read the part about African American slaves being counted as only ‘three fifths’ of a person” they scream? “We all know that it was written by rich, white slave owning males!”
If I didn’t know better (and I think I do), I would swear that they are actually trying to vilify the Constitution by pointing out the flaws of the past. What these folks conveniently leave out is that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, passed after the so-called Civil War ended, abolished slavery and the “three fifths rule”, so that particular part of the clause no longer applies… so why read it? When you read a document, you’re supposed to read the most updated version, not the earlier ones.
I should also point out that the “three fifths rule” was originally a compromise to begin with, in order to satisfy the slave states, which wanted their slaves to count as “complete people” for their census, and the free states, which didn’t want them counted at all. It was either that, or the slave states would refuse to participate in the convention, let alone ratify the Constitution.
Apparently, not all of the founding fathers were slave owners, and they, most notably Benjamin Franklin, fought fiercely to make slavery unconstitutional, but the compromise was the best they could manage at the time.
But despite all this, my favorite comment by the liberals was actually uttered by a lawyer that was in a debate with Sean Hannity yesterday on his radio program (though her name escapes me). She actually claimed that the reading of the Constitution was not only a waste of time and money, but completely unnecessary, since all politicians are already “generally familiar” with the Constitution when they are sworn into office.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem… that our politicians and mainstream America only have a “general understanding”. You only need to look at some of the most common misconceptions that people have of some of the articles and amendments, notably the 1st Amendment, or the right to free speech, which doesn’t actually allow you to say what you want about anyone, wherever you want… it was designed to protect those who criticize the government from acts of retaliation by the government.
Another is the freedom of religion, which is commonly misinterpreted as “separation of church and state”, which is actually nowhere on the document. It means that the government cannot establish or enforce any particular religion; it does not mean that we must bend over backwards to accommodate everyone’s religious beliefs, as the “Ground Zero Mosque” supporters seem to think.
Of course, we also have the good old “right to vote” (“the right to vote shall not be infringed”) part as well. Contrary to popular belief, there is no right to vote in a federal/presidential election. You cannot be denied the right to vote because of your race, gender, religion etc., but there is no specific right to vote.
As the old saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
No, the reading of the Constitution will not magically make everything all better. It was for the most part a symbolic gesture by the GOP that they “get it” this time, and that they are listening to the American people (though whether they actually do or not, we’ll see in time). It is a reminder to all, Republican and Democrat alike, what ideals they are supposed to be standing for.
The Constitution, while imperfect ( I’ve ranted about the 16th Amendment extensively already), is a shining example of its kind in the world. To the best of my knowledge, no other country has anything like it; many cannot even add amendments to theirs. It is the basis of all of our freedoms, privileges and rights.
And that, Congressman Gerald Nadler, does make it a sacred document.
GOP Reads the Constitution Out Loud – Except for the Embarrassing Slavery Parts : Jill Tubman, Jack and Jill Politics.com, 01/06/2010
Article One of the United States Constitution : Wikipedia
Read it and Weep – How the Tea Party’s Fetish for the Constitution as Written may get it in Trouble : Dahlia Lithwick, Slate.com, 01/04/2010
Things That Are Not in the U.S. Constitution: U.S. Constitution.net
Why You Are Filing Income Taxes Every April 15th : David Hudson, Associated Content, 04/14/2010