For the first time in the 221-year history of Congress, members of the U.S. House today read aloud the U.S. Constitution. It served as an important reminder for lawmakers to reflect on the limits of their authority and the powers delegated to them.
But the mere utterance of “We the people” has set liberals, especially in the news media, into a tizzy. The Washington Post begrudgingly called it the “tea party-ization of Congress.”
In a rant on his MSNBC show last night, Keith Olbermann questioned whether Republicans would even understand what they were reading:
“The reading embraced by new Speaker Boehner but originated by Tea Party original intent, Founding Father worshippers, who think that tomorrow’s reading will somehow part the seas for their vision of the country to emerge. They might be in for a shock tomorrow. That is, if they even understand the words they will read.”
You would think the Constitution was written in Greek, based on Olbermann’s description. In reality, it’s a concise document -- seven articles and 27 amendments -- written in plain English. You can carry it in your pocket.
Vanity Fair suggested the reading alone would cost $1,071,872.87, an absurd estimate based on House salaries and expenses among other things. No word yet from Vanity Fair how much the previous Democrat-controlled House spent on commemorative legislation recognizing "National Pi Day” or honoring golf legend Juan Antonio “Chi Chi” Rodriguez.
Republicans rightfully banned such acts as part of their rules for the 112th Congress. The new rules require lawmakers to cite constitutional authority when they introduce legislation. After today’s reading, expect that to become the Left’s next target.
Rather than celebrate this return to first principles, The New York Times condemned the GOP -- even suggesting the Constitution’s reading was a racist maneuver.
“In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that [Republicans] alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation,” the Times opined. “Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person.”
Yet the Constitution never speaks of race, nor does it use the word “slave,” as the Times implied. The newspaper was referring to a compromise with slave-holding states that was aimed at preventing those states from benefiting from their slaves for the purposes of House representation.
Reading the U.S. Constitution isn’t a “theatrical production of unusual pomposity,” as the Times suggested. The American people sent a clear message to Washington last November that the Constitution matters. They quoted from it at town hall meetings and waved copies at rallies.
Obviously, news travels slowly to the Times’ skyscraper in midtown Manhattan.
Yesterday members of Congress took the oath, vowing to support and defend the Constitution. But given their recent track record -- a federal judge recently ruled unconstitutional a key component of Obamacare -- today’s reading was long overdue. It gave lawmakers an opportunity to contemplate the Constitution’s principles as they wrestle with significant issues.
Don’t expect liberals to be convinced. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told The Washington Post that Republicans were peddling “propaganda” and that today’s act amounted to a “ritualistic reading.”
The Post’s coverage noted that the reading has “caused some Democrats to worry that the charter is being misconstrued as the immutable word of God.”
"They are reading it like a sacred text," Nadler exclaimed -- hyperbole repeated by Olbermann last night.
Why are liberals so frightened by the prospect of reading America’s founding document? They shouldn’t be. Americans want their representatives to take the Constitution seriously. Reading it, of course, is the logical first step.
Robert Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.