Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 7, 2011

SINS OF OMISSION.... The reading the U.S. Constitution from the House floor wrapped up yesterday morning, and as theatrical gestures go, this one was largely harmless.

But before the political world moves on, it's worth noting that those who listened to the reading didn't hear the entire Constitution -- there were some omissions organizers of the p.r. stunt intended to make, and then there were the omissions that happened by accident.

On the former, the reading left out any constitutional text that had been invalidated by subsequent amendments to the document. This, conveniently, spared members the embarrassment of having to read portions that, for example, counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person. Adam Serwer had a good item yesterday, noting why this is a mistake.

The reason to include the superceded text is to remind us that the Constitution, while a remarkable document, was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light at the summit of Mount Sinai. It was written by men, and despite its promise, it possessed flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today. Republicans could use the history lesson -- last year they attacked Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her nomination process because one of her mentors, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had the audacity to suggest that the Constitution was flawed since it didn't consider black people to be full human beings.

As Jamelle Bouie wrote about the Huck Finn controversy, "If there's anything great about this country, it's in our ability to account for and overcome our mistakes." We shouldn't pretend we didn't make them.

The New York Times editorial board made a similar point today: "Members of the House might have thought they were bringing the Constitution alive by reading it aloud on Thursday. But they made a crucial error by excising its history. When they chose to deliberately drop the sections that became obsolete or offensive, and which were later amended, they missed a chance to demonstrate that this document is not nailed to the door of the past. It remains vital precisely because it can be reimagined."

Those were the deliberate omissions. Let's not overlook the accidental ones.

During Thursday morning's "historic reading," one member apparently skipped Article 4 Section 4 and part of Article 5 Section 1 when he or she inadvertently turned two pages at once, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who was in charge of the reading, said on the House floor this afternoon.

Goodlatte returned to the House floor at 2:23 p.m., more than two hours after the error occurred, read the missing sections, and placed them officially in the congressional record.

When shallow press stunts go awry....

Steve Benen 9:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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one member apparently skipped Article 4 Section 4 and part of Article 5 Section 1 when he or she inadvertently turned two pages at once

And no one noticed? Was anyone actually listening?

Posted by: TR on January 7, 2011 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

apparently not.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on January 7, 2011 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

At Slate, Dave Weigel quotes TX Rep. Louie Gohmert taking offense at Democrats' objection to omitting certain clauses. "It is important that we use the Constitution itself," said Gohmert. "They are not deletions. They are amendments. And in that respect, we go by the amended document, not by the deleted document. Too many have fought and died for that document to call them deletions."

Um, that's exactly what Democrats were arguing.

I didn't hear the reading myself. Did they include the "superceded" clauses about the election of Vice President and the selection of Senators by legislatures?

The 18th amendment prohibiting alcohol sales was skipped, but the 21st amendment repealing it was included; why not skip both?

Posted by: Grumpy on January 7, 2011 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

ooohhh Beck was . I wasn't actually listening , but he was on one of the TEEVEES at the gym furiously filling his chalkboard and apparently going off about the left out parts . Did anyone watch it so I didn't have to?

Posted by: John R on January 7, 2011 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

The point of the exercise was to remind the democrat party-- which, among other things, passed a constitutionally imperssible law that forced Americans to do business with the health insurance industries that underwrite the democrat party-- that the federal government is one of enumerated powers, and only has those powers granted to it in the constitution. Reading superseded text does not further that point. Of course, democrats apparently completely missed the point anyway, as many of them couldn't even be bothered to attend.

Posted by: Alejandro on January 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

We republicans believe in the strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. As such, it is written in stone; except for the parts that we don't like.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on January 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

"...democrats apparently completely missed the point anyway, as many of them couldn't even be bothered to attend"

Yes and Republicans so love the constitution that John Boehner held a press conference in the middle of this shit show

Posted by: Olexicon on January 7, 2011 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK
As Jamelle Bouie wrote about the Huck Finn controversy, "If there's anything great about this country, it's in our ability to account for and overcome our mistakes." We shouldn't pretend we didn't make them.

“The great strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction.” (Arthur Schlesinger, I think)

Posted by: navamske on January 7, 2011 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, it is always amusing seeing a republican excoriate democratic politicians for their transgressions while simultaneously hanging their hat on a decision by a corrupt judge whose republican consulting firm was getting paid by the state's attorney general.

Posted by: Holmes on January 7, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Since Republicans have insisted upon a very magic-of-transubstantiation view about the reading aloud of the Constitution in the House, I say we hold them to their words and insist that it never happened because the whole thing wasn't read. And if we really wanted to act like them we could make wild, nonsensical claims that any legislation passed is now suspect as for its validity, et al.

And I say that with tongue only partially in cheek because as Steve points out, they repeatedly speak of the Constitution as if it's some sort of infallible document and use that as a club with which to cynically and sanctimoniously beat their opponents over the head. We need to keep asking: if it's infallible, why wouldn't you read the whole thing aloud? If it's infallible, why did it need amendments that changed its own core assumptions?

The truth is, many Republicans don't believe in the sanctity of the Constitution at all and not only are they eager to strip out amendments that don't fit their ideology they want an amendment that gives them easy access to change the Constitution at will. Like lip-service paid to family values or national security or freedomjusticeAmericahearteagle, this stunt is yet another in a series of meant to provide cover for some very insidious behavior while inoculating themselves against future criticism.

Posted by: trex on January 7, 2011 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

"...the federal government is one of enumerated powers, and only has those powers granted to it in the constitution. Reading superseded text does not further that point."

Reading the original text of Article 1, section 3, regarding the selection of Senators by legislatures, would bolster Republicans' arguments against the 17th Amendment. But according to the rules against "superseded" clauses, that part must be omitted, as if senators were always supposed to be directly elected.

Posted by: Grumpy on January 7, 2011 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

This pointless exercise had one positive element: it reassured us that members of the House can in fact read. I for one was not certain about that given the mind boggling dumb utterances they are won't to emit.

Posted by: robert on January 7, 2011 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Odd that the people who always insist we read the Constitution as the founders intended are leaving out parts the founders wrote.

Posted by: Wally on January 7, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

@robert "it reassured us that members of the House can in fact read."

I think based on the results that it showed the exact opposite.

Posted by: Dick Cheney's Left Ventricle on January 7, 2011 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

We have always been at war with Eastasia, er, I mean, the sale of alcohol has always been legal.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on January 7, 2011 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

First swear allegiance to the entire document then read aloud the portions you find acceptable. One couldn't find a more perfect example of who the Republicans in the House really are.

Posted by: max on January 7, 2011 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Irony alert! Article IV, section 4, reads:

"The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence."

Yes, yes, I know, the word "Republican" has several different meanings. But still, I can't remember when Congressional Opening Day has provided so many unintentional chuckles.

Posted by: Matt on January 7, 2011 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Also--

Goodlatte returned to the House floor at 2:23 p.m., more than two hours after the error occurred, read the [accidentally skipped] sections, and placed them officially in the congressional record.

Perhaps some Democratic member could have the skipped parts of the Constitution placed in the Congressional Record? Just sayin'.

You know.

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the United States is a living document, and

WHEREAS, the original document has been modified 27 times, and

WHEREAS, we live in a world that would make the Framers shit bricks, and

WHEREAS, the Republic will survive our admitting that slavery maybe wasn't such a great or noble thing, and

WHEREAS, it's kind of telling that the Leadership of the 112th Congress thinks that even mentioning things like slavery would work against them personally, somehow,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Congressional Record shall be amended to include the following superseded, obsolete, embarrassing, and otherwise skipped sections of the Constitution of the United States: Article 1, Section 2; ....

Posted by: Matt on January 7, 2011 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans are good at "editing" history - did you hear much about Bush and Cheney at the Repub Convention in 2008? Or Lincoln waging war to keep the southern states from exercising their "right" to
secession? Was their any mention of Hoover or Nixon?

Their abridged version of the Constitution should come as no surprise.

Posted by: MuddyLee on January 7, 2011 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Its worth noting, perhaps that only one Amendment to the Constitution has expressly acted to strike, repeal, or modify any portion of the pre-existing text, any decision as to what is or is not "superceded text" is an act of interpretation; it is certainly the case that the only reasonable interpretation of some of the Amendments is that they limit or override the effect of some provisions that were in the Constitution before the Amendment at issue, but that's a very different thing than having the effect of removing passages from the Constitution.

(The Amendment that actually did expressly repeal a previous provision is the 21st, whose first section expressly repeals the 18th Amendment.)

Clearly, the people organizing this PR stunt don't understand the difference between reading the text of the Constitution, as amended and interpreting the effect of amendments on the application of the text of the Constitution. Were they doing the former, as they pretended, the only text that was ever part of the Constitution that would be omitted would be the 18th Amendment, which has been expressly repealed.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 7, 2011 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

I got frustrated when i saw the msm coverage of this pr stunt, and NONE of them mentioned that certain sections had been omitted. no mention of any omission, much less which parts were left out or why. they didn't even accede the to conceit that the republicans only read the currently lawful part. each newscritter only said "they read the Constitution".

seriously, if we can't even count on the msm to acknowledge this simple fact, then why the f would we trust them to get anything else right?

Posted by: els on January 7, 2011 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Did they read the preamble? I'd love to hear the right wing spin on the part that says: 'Promote the general welfare'...

Posted by: citizen_pain on January 7, 2011 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

I guess it sort of irks the GOP that our POTUS is an expert on Constitutional law.

I seem to recall a past POTUS being irritated about the godd*mn piece of paper being waved in his face. Maybe they want us to forget that little hissy fit?

Sheesh.

History will not forget their charade on 1/5/2011.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 7, 2011 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

About those Omissions...

As Matt pointed out, one of the parts left out was on how the Federal government was responsible for protecting the States and democracy in the States.

The other part, Article V, describes how the Constitution may be amended. Whoops! Fits in with their view that nobody dare touch the Sacred Text©...

Posted by: zandru on January 7, 2011 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Climate Change caused the omission of these sections

Posted by: Neo on January 7, 2011 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

During Thursday morning's "historic reading," one member apparently skipped Article 4 Section 4 ... does this mean that the federal government can’t protect the states from the invasion of illegal immigrants ?

MuddyLee -- Bush didn't attend the 2008 Republican Convention -- as Colbert put it, it was like a USC Alumni convention without OJ !

Posted by: H-Bob on January 7, 2011 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

they missed a chance to demonstrate that this document is not nailed to the door of the past. It remains vital precisely because it can be reimagined."

Maybe I'm crazy but I'd sooner say they were dodging a bullet.

If you call attention to the 3/5 of a person stuff, you more or less obliterate your Tea Party argument that the Constitution should be followed based on the founding fathers' original intent.

OR

You need to explain why despite these amendments you STILL want to drag our country back to the 18th century when a black man couldn't vote for a president, much less become one.

Rock, meet hard place. Hard place, rock.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on January 7, 2011 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

When were the Ten Commandments ammended to allow for killing(murder), theft(stealing), rape(adultery or covetousness), bearing false witness in the name of National Security and the Divine Right of Kings? How about the holiness of the Sabbath?
We live in a world that makes its own rules and regualtions as it is convenient. Even the Roman Catholic Church has changed its infallible list of sins to accommodate commerce and politics.

We are so fortunate to be living in this time of radical transformation. Most here won't know of which I speak and I won't try to inform you. Those who do, will take it upon themselves to inform their immediate communities, but not with rancor or apostolic zeal, but with love and compassion. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our lives and our interpretation of our experience. Speak the Truth as you know it, and allow others the same opportunity. Truth will, ultimately, have its way.

Much Love to All,
st john

Posted by: st john on January 7, 2011 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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