It was supposed to be a “historic moment” in American governance, when tea party Republicans renewed the country’s connection to the Constitution by reading the document in its entirety on the House floor.
Hoping to claim the Constitution as their own, Republican members of the House demanded that the founding principles be read into the Congressional Record. Members duly attempted to read their way through the document Thursday morning. It wasn’t easy, what with the interruption by a “birther” screaming about President Obama and the frequent bumbling of the language by members who appeared to be encountering some of the lines for the first time.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
The constitutional “scholars” missed an entire section of what they described as a “sacred document,” and skipped part of another section. And they failed to notice the omission until being notified of it after the “historic moment” was over.
The official explanation was that pages of the notebook compiled by the manager of the show -- Congressman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. -- stuck together when passed from one sweaty hand to the next. (“The Constitution was placed in a three-ring binder, and the pages simply stuck together,” explained Goodlatte’s embarrassed communications director.)
So what sections did they miss?
Article 4 Section 4, which 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.”
For those tea partisans who want to end the election of senators and generally diminish democracy, that’s the section that bars the establishment of monarchies and other forms of dictatorship.
The “scholars” also missed the first part of Article 5 Section 1: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.”
That was ironic, as the new Republican majority acted on their first day in power to prevent delegates from the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, along with the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, from voting on the House floor as part of the “committee of the whole.” This move denied existing voting privileges to elected representatives of majority-minority regions such as the nation’s capital.
Goodlatte showed up on the floor after the formal reading was over, to read the missing sections back into the Constitution.
But the delegates and the commissioner remain excluded from participation in key workings of the House, meaning, as Washington Mayor Vincent Gray noted, that these constitutional “scholars” have honored America’s struggle against autocracy by denying hundreds of thousands of Americans -- most of them people of color -- even “the smallest sliver of democracy absolutely imaginable.”
That gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the misread of the Constitution by the tea partisans. They are not merely unfamiliar with its contents. They are unfamiliar with the intentions of the founders and those who have struggled, since 1787, to use the Constitution as an outline for the formation of a more perfect union.
John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org