See Memeorandum for a round-up. The real reason they want the full document read, of course, is to have video of some Republican forced to read the since-repealed clause about slaves being three-fifths of a person so that they can use the clip in moronic attack videos. (Caption: “THIS IS WHAT THEY WANT!”) The Times made that clear enough in its editorial yesterday flagging that specific provision. The ostensible reasons they want the whole thing read are (a) it’s a historical whitewash to omit the slavery clauses, tantamount to expunging racial slurs from “Huckleberry Finn,” and (b) it’s an important reminder that the Founders weren’t infallible and that their work isn’t some sort of sacred text.
On the first point, see Ace’s post about the purpose of staging this public reading. The point wasn’t to deliver a public history lesson, it was to remind the elected members of the operative limits on their power. Clauses that haven’t been good law for 150 years aren’t operative limits, but in case anyone needed reminding of the constitutional legacy of slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment was indeed read aloud — by John Lewis, no less. As for the point about Twain, comparing a literary text to a legal text is iffy because the former is “complete” and “final” in a way that the latter never really is. If we’re intent on forcing a Twain analogy, a better one would be to compare early drafts of the manuscript to the final published text of the book. The author himself deemed parts of it unfit and made revisions accordingly; the same goes for the Constitution, provided that you consider “we the people” to be a discrete authorial entity over the passage of centuries. My analogy doesn’t quite work either because imperfect drafts of a literary text end up in an author’s desk while imperfect versions of a legal text have the full force of law until they’re repealed. But then, that’s my point — that the literary/legal comparison is problematic.
The second point, about conservatives worshiping the Constitution as a lost book of the Bible or something, is especially stupid given the popularity on the right of Randy Barnett’s “Repeal Amendment” and the fact that new tea party congressmen (including Rand Paul) are already naming a Balanced Budget Amendment as their price for raising the debt ceiling. In fact, a BBA is explicitly called for in tea partiers’ “Contract from America.” The problem isn’t, in other words, that the Founders are prophets whose every word is holy writ; it’s that they created a government whose powers were limited and provided an explicit process for adding to or subtracting from those powers, and too often both of those facts seem to be shrugged off. Change the Constitution if you like, but at least do it the right way.
Exit question: Who omitted more passages today, the GOP or the Democrats? Hmmmm.