This will fix everything

Driving in to work this morning, NPR reminded me that the GOP has some plans for the start of the next Congress. From the Washington Times:

The Constitution frequently gets lip service in Congress, but House Republicans next year will make sure it gets a lot more than that - the new rules the incoming majority party proposed this week call for a full reading of the country's founding document on the floor of the House on Jan. 6.
Oh, good. This is sure to make a big, big difference.

Various people have already offered opinions about this, but I felt like chiming in, too.

There's nothing quite like leaving religious fundamentalism to give one a healthy skepticism for textual obeisance. I diligently learned all the Bible verses at church camp every year, and paid dutiful attention to everything I was taught in all the Sunday school classes and Bible studies and youth events I attended. So, presumably, did all of my peers in those settings. And yet (with a couple of exceptions, which honesty demands I mention) being thoroughly aware of Holy Writ did not stop my fellow church camp attenders from knocking up their girlfriends/getting knocked up, playing "Truth or Dare," secretly stashing copies of Hustler, shoplifting, or any of the other common tomfoolery that surrounds being an adolescent. For my own part, faced with rather unambiguous language in certain parts of the Bible, I was forced to choose between a belief in the literal words on the page or living a happy, untortured life. (Guess which one I chose!)

Real life will intrude on adherence to any sacred text, no matter how much you repeat it. Some people will work harder to adhere than others, but simply reading the words won't make any difference to people otherwise disinclined to pay attention.

Furthermore, it's not as though the language of the Constitution is unambiguous and closed to interpretation. Perhaps I'm wrong, but isn't there an entire, coequal branch of the government whose entire purpose is to evaluate the constitutionality of laws? Congress does not comprise a collection of constitutional scholars. Sure, there are plenty of brilliant legal minds in the House, but there are plenty of lunatics and imbeciles (on both sides of the aisle) who wouldn't understand what the language of the Constitution means, even if Dr. Seuss had explained it with rhyming couplets and fanciful illustrations. We can only hope that intoning the words of the 14th Amendment will give the clowns on the Hill a deeper respect for it, but color me skeptical.

Do I realize the entire exercise is all for show? Of course. But the idea that the Constitution is some magical document, the power of which is released by incantation, is deeply irritating, as is the smugness that the incoming GOP majority seems to feel about their constitutional bona fides. Any caucus that has Michele Bachmann and Steve King in it probably needs to work on its own internal issues before offering lessons on our founding documents to the rest of us.

1 comment:

  1. The Constitution's text makes no mention of a branch of government whose job it is to evaluate the constitutionality of laws. That is the invention of the Supremes (along with absolute immunity for judges). The US tradition is to go along with the Supremes as the last word, but it certainly isn't in the text.

    I think it is important that we distinguish between the ideas in the text of the Constitution, and the legal traditions that have grown up around the need to interpret the text. Kinda like the difference between the Torah and the Oral Law in Orthodox Judaism.

    I like the symbolism of reading the Constitution to House. I'm happy to see Congress reminded that it has limited, enumerated powers, not unrestricted powers, and that the Commerce Clause isn't a magik incantation that overwhelms all objections.