A few have been sneering at the new Republican majority's decision to open this session of Congress by reading the entire Constitution. I don't have any illusions that the motivations behind the reading are pure. But I think the reading is a good idea nevertheless. Politicians reading the Constitution are not, at that moment, passing bills to undermine it. Moreover, how can it hurt to remind them of a few details from the owner's manual?
But they ought to be reading the full Constitution, warts and amended parts and all, not some sanitized version that omits parts later amended. We should not hide the fact that the Founding Fathers were willing to make slaves only three-fifths of a human being in our country's founding document — because some believed it, and some were willing to put up with it as an acceptable bargain. We should not hide the ridiculous, wasteful, and totalitarian experiment of prohibition. These things should give legislators an appropriate sense of humility and of caution in exercising power — a sense that even people we admire have been powerfully wrong, and they may be wrong as well. Our failures and injustices ought to be lessons to us, and we ought to remember them.
[Edit: It's a fair criticism that by using the three-fifths calculation as a symbol of the Constitution's codification of slavery, I'm blurring the purpose of the three-fifths clause, which was about limiting Congressional representation derived from slaveholding. The point remains that the unedited Constitution codifies owning human beings, a point we should not bowdlerize.]
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- No, Trump Didn't Argue That Protesters Have No Right To Protest or Violated His Rights - April 24th, 2017
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- The Seductive Appeal of the "Nazi Exception" - April 18th, 2017
- The Road to Popehat: Spring Edition - April 17th, 2017