On the Fascinating Relevance of the United States Constitution

House Republicans read the Constitution of the United States on the House floor on Thursday.  It is a remarkable document, the oldest living and binding document of national governance on the planet.  It has never before been read on the House floor.  That is perhaps a 200-year-old mistake, a misbegotten assumption of familiarity, a perennial bear-hug embrace of government’s potential, and neglect of its specified limitations.

I did not believe we confronted a true constitutional battle until Thursday.  The Republican gesture was the kind of political symbolism that might have passed under the radar — but for the most illuminating reaction to it.

Liberals went nuts.  The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank scolded Republicans for reading the Constitution, as amended, rather than as enacted.  No comment.  Vanity Fair‘s Juli Weiner, for an even more disturbing example, complains that the reading of the Constitution cost $1.1 million dollars (by calculating salaries of House members, et cetera).  Now this is truly idiotic — especially when coupled with Weiner’s suggestion that this “tedious exercise” really should have been eliminated in this “era of fiscal responsibility.”  To be “fiscally responsible,” Weiner evidently believes, legislators must energetically enact laws.  Heaven forbid they exercise legislative restraint.

It appears we have a full-bore battle of irreconcilable sensibilities.

The point of the reading, I surmise, was to emphasize the specific enumerations of federal power — beyond which the federal government is not permitted to go.  Not legislating at times, in other words, may be not only wise, but constitutionally commanded.  Taking a day to do nothing to expand federal governmental power may, on occasion, be the very best use of that $1.1 million dollars we spend on the salaries of House members.

House and Senate members are elected to determine the on-going terms of governance in our nation — but they also take an oath “to preserve and defend” the U.S. Constitution.  Just as judges and justices are constitutional actors in interpreting constitutional provisions at issue in specific cases before them, so legislators are constitutional actors in their obligation to satisfy themselves that legislation is grounded in the enumerated powers of the Constitution.

That legislative obligation has largely been forgotten.  House Republicans wish it resurrected.  It remains to be seen, as Charles Krauthammer notes, whether Congress will take the obligation seriously.  But throwing the gauntlet, with what might have been an innocuous reading of the United States Constitution, is the best evidence we currently have — especially given the silliness of liberal overreaction — that limitations on federal power may have some political teeth.



4 Responses to On the Fascinating Relevance of the United States Constitution

  1. Jeff Veazey says:

    This liberal did not go nuts. I don’t know any other liberals who went nuts. We really must separate the pundit chatter (as Jon Stewart has implored) from the reality of the body politic out here in the heartland. Liberals writing in this 24 hour news cycle against the reading of the Constitution is an even more exhaustive waste of breath, distracting from something (anything) that is more important. This liberal thinks it a good idea for most of the tea partiers to hear the constitution at least once in their lives before continuing their hallucinogenic speaking in tongues of what is and is not in the Constitution. In true Conservative fashion it appears the entire document was not read, a couple of pages having “stuck together”. But all told, I think it a grand idea to read it, better yet, to have a required Constitutional class as part of an orientation the week before being sworn in.

    • TLaCour says:

      Very good point regarding the punditocracy v. the rest of us, and an excellent suggestion regarding a bit of training in the Constitution before taking office. In my eyes, such training should at least include some reading of the Federalist Papers and the AntiFederalist Papers.

      Regarding Talking Heads instead of those in office: One must note that the most liberal members of the House took part in the reading, Madam Pelosi in the forefront.

      Regarding Constitutional training: One must also note that she, and all those who hail from the Statist side, were quite pleased with the Constitution as enacted and more so as amended (though they certainly want additional amendments such as the ERA), because they grasped Brutus’ point even before he made it in his 5th Anti-Federalist Paper. Indeed, they knew it as soon as the Constitution was released for consideration: it is the actual wording that counts, not what someone says it means at any given moment. The actual words must be read as written, not as one wishes they were written.

      Thus were Hamilton, Madison and Jay content to sell the Constitution as a “limit” on the power of the central government in their Federalist Papers. They successfully persuaded enough of the public that the total lack of check or balance on the Men in Black was fine, they should discount any propensity on the part of the Judiciary to assume any power or role not specifically granted in the document. They sold the States on their continued Sovereignty in all things internal, on the very limited amount of Central Government taxation, etc. The mendacious list is quite long, and Statists quietly cheered them on.

      Thus also was Madison entirely content to include the 10th amendment, knowing it to be as ultimately vacuous as it has been shown to be. When granted the enumerated powers to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises… and provide for the common defense and the general welfare of the United States” coupled with the authority “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers”, Congress was given essentially unlimited power, modern “conservative” bleating to the contrary notwithstanding.

      The Tea Party and the rest of the so-called conservatives would do at least as well to read their Brutus (http://www.constitution.org/afp/brutus05.htm) as to read the Constitution.

  2. Nice point Jeff — and one I’ve actually made myself in the past. There is a difference in the sensibilities of the punditocracy and the heartland. But FYI, I didn’t even begin to inventory all of the liberal commentary on the Constitution reading. There was a lot. I was amazed.

    • TLaCour says:

      True, an enormous outpouring of scoffage from the media mouths did ensue, Ken. Yet the San Fransicko Witch herself participated rather than criticize. At least in this case, it’s not only regular liberal folk who differ from the “professional” pundits.

      The mind-control attempted at every turn by the Blatherers was, in this case, merely amusing and wholly ineffective. Consider, for instance, the young mediadiot who, just prior to the Reading, complained that the document was too hard to understand because “it was written more than a 100 years ago.”


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