Why the Constitution Congress read was just fine
Today the Congress reached a new three-fifths compromise: they only read three-fifths of the Constitution!
Well, sort of.
If you consider the Constitution to be the whole body of governing text that has accumulated and been discarded by the American people since 1787, then, yes, they missed a spot or two.
But if you think of it as a living document, this objection seems patently absurd.
"Oh, they're reading the Constitution, but only the parts that haven't been removed from the Constitution," is like saying, "Oh, they're watching The Godfather without the deleted scenes." Of course they are! If the deleted scenes made the movie better, Francis Ford Coppola would have added them to a Criterion Collection DVD by now.
And it's the same with the Constitution. Frankly, I prefer it the way it is now. And to not read the parts that have been removed from it is not to censor it.
The Constitution was created so that it could change and, dare I say, evolve. It was intelligently designed so it could remain viable and fresh, rather than -- as people often do -- ossifying into a self-parody as it aged. It's a national security blanket of sorts -- not only something to be handed to Speaker John Boehner to soothe him when he cries, but something we all can cling to. Like anything that is much-loved, it has been subjected to the frequently destructive whims of those who love it. Sometimes we rip it, sometimes it requires mending. It shows our mistakes -- there's the barely-removed, ill-advised tattoo called Prohibition, probably the worst decision anyone has ever made when drunk -- but it also reveals our growth. As time has passed, it shed its cruel and inhumane sections. Read it 200 years ago, and it was, in many respects, an unjust document. Read it today (unless you're Justice Scalia) and it is a bold guarantor of equal rights for all.
And it is not merely not bad but good that we remember it this way. Yes, it used to contain immoral and ill-conceived propositions. But we took them out! The only thing worse than forgetting that they were once there would be to forget that they no longer are.
True, the Constitution has become a cult of late. There was that National Constitution Reading Day last year, and this House spectacle seems designed to cater to a similar clientele. But as much as people might wish us to think that this means our representatives think of it as something handed down from on high, we know this is not so. The Constitution is not even the Bible -- speaking of books people praise and don't read. If people actually read Leviticus, the world would be paralyzed by constant crises of faith.
But we know the Constitution was not handed down perfectly from on high.
So to compare what happened on the House floor to what happened to Huckleberry Finn is facile and fallacious. We have no right to change the words of Huckleberry Finn. We have every right to change the Constitution. Mark Twain called a classic "a book men praise and don't read." The Constitution is the polar opposite. We praise it, we criticize it, we revere it, we alter it. Indeed, our relation to this document might be best described by the Broadway musical title: I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.
And this is as it should be.
| January 6, 2011; 4:38 PM ET
Categories: Big Deals, Congress, Petri | Tags: Congress, Constitution, apologies
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