In Congress, Scrubbing the Constitution of American History

In the House of Representatives yesterday, the new GOP leadership presided over a reading of the Constitution in which mentions of slavery were excised, as were any and all parts of the document that were later amended.

This is just about as absurd and even more offensive than scrubbing the N-word from Huckleberry Finn. Yet the exercise perfectly captures the ahistorical nature of the conservative reading of American law. 

If the Constitution is a perfect, static document that must be "strictly interpreted" according to the intent of the framers in 1787–no regulation of the health insurance industry, no social safety net, no reproductive rights, and so on and so forth–how can we justify omitting any clauses when we read it aloud as a teaching exercise? Wouldn't doing so be to admit that the framers were fallible, the society they lived in deeply unfair, and our American government an exercise in continuously striving to bend the arc of history toward justice? 

You'd think. 

Instead, we're treated to a whitewashed reading of the Constitution in tandem with a blindly ideological insistence on the document's infallibility, best represented by the new Republican rule that any legislation passed by the House must expressly cite a Constitutional justification. 

This is a nothing but a pander to the Tea Party, which believes the health reform law is unconstitutional. (It's not. Section 8 of the United States Constitution: "The Congress shall have the Power…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.")

Are the American people too stupid to accept our founding fathers as racist, sexist, classist slave-owners, while simultaneously appreciating the Constitution as one of the finest governing documents ever written–not least because, built into it, is a process for amending it? Are our high school students too unsophisticated to learn to read and understand Huck Finn as a document of its particular (deeply f*ed up) time?

What a depressing, anti-intellectual view of America. 

One thought on “In Congress, Scrubbing the Constitution of American History

  1. Jaime

    Right on point. To have an originalist view of the Constitution, while then deciding to white out our nation’s, and the document’s, past errors, is irreconcilable. It would be like saying your ’76 Corvette is perfect just how it is…but also needs a new transmission, and a non-racist set of tie rods before you present it to a potential buyer, claiming it’s been untouched, because it’s “perfect as is” after all.


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