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Monday, January 10, 2011

Reading the Constitution Aloud--what to include, what to omit

It is well known that the House GOP leadership began their rule with a reading of the U.S. Constitution from the House floor. Nothing partisan about that. It IS the governing document of our nation. What is revealing about the GOP's intent is the sanitized version that was read. In particular they left out uncomfortable reminder about the egregious immorality of our Founding Fathers, such as the infamous three-fifths compromise and the provision that non-slave-holding states be required to return runaway slaves. It falls conventiently into teh typicla pattern of refusing to discuss anything related to race in pulic in hopes that the problem will just go away if we ignore it.

Of course, I can see the justification in omitting these passages if the intent is to read the Constitution, as organizer, GOP Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Va., said "as it currently operates," (Both of the mentioned omissions were canceled out by the 13th Amendment doing away with slavery. But I also see the point of critics, like Rep. James Clyburn and Hilary Shelton, vice-president of the NAACP (see for more)that an opportunity was missed to air and discuss the necessary changing of the Constitution to correct for injustices that the majority finally come to recognize. Again, there are two sides, with Original Intent folks pointing to the Constitutionally-mandated amending process as the way that is to be done, whereas more pragmatic "living, breathing document" relativists (like me) see how cumbersome and unwieldy (and politically fraught) that process can be in the face of injustices in need of immediate redress.

Anyway, the race-muteness was erased in one grand, moving moment of political theater as Cibrave vil Rights wounded warrior John Lewis, Dem. Rep. form Ga., rose to recite the aformentioned 13th Amendment. The Gallery roared its approval. The moral: 145 years after it was abolished, there is consensus that slavery was wrong, and freeing the slaves was right. Don't know if we've reached that kind of consensus for any race-related issues since (abloshing Jim Crow, I suppose--although that consunsus took a few decades). I hope it doesn't take quite so long for us to come together on ways to redress continuing racial barriers to equality in housing, jobs, education, health, etc.

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