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Getting creative with the Constitution

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And on the second day of Republican rule, the House reads the Constitution. Volunteers gave voice to the seven articles and 27 amendments that make up the nation's governing document on Thursday.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011; 8:00 PM

It was a straightforward proposition: The new House Republican majority would lead the chamber in reading the Constitution. But nothing in Congress is straightforward, and the moment the lawmakers began the exercise Thursday morning, they bogged down in a dispute.

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They couldn't agree on which version to read.

Now most Americans are of the impression that there isn't, say, a King James version of the Constitution and a New International version of the Constitution. There is only one version. But our leaders had other views.

"Will we be reading the entire original document without deletion?" inquired Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).

"Those portions superseded by amendment will not be read," declared Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

"We have not been able to review the exact language we will be reading," Inslee persisted.

This produced laughter on the GOP side.

"I don't take it very lightly," Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) retorted, that "before we begin the reading of our sacred document, [colleagues] are raising questions about what we will specifically be reading, what specifically will be redacted."

"They are not deletions!" Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) countered.

The right of the people's representatives noisily to assemble shall not be abridged.

In fact, there is only one version of the Constitution - and it wasn't what the lawmakers read aloud. What the Republican majority decided to read was a sanitized Constitution - an excerpted version of the founding document conjuring a fanciful land that never counted a black person as three-fifths of a white person, never denied women the right to vote, never allowed slavery and never banned liquor.

The idea of reading the Constitution aloud was generated by the Tea Party as a way to re-affirm lawmakers' fealty to the framers, but in practice it did the opposite. In deciding to omit objectionable passages that were later altered by amendment, the new majority jettisoned "originalist" and "constructionist" beliefs and created - dare it be said? - a "living Constitution" pruned of the founders' missteps. Nobody's proud of the three-fifths compromise, but how can we learn from our founding if we aren't honest about it?


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