Perhaps we should be cheered that such a seemingly non-controversial proposition - the reading aloud of the country's founding document, on the floor of its legislature - wound up provoking some testy moments between lawmakers from opposing parties. After all, what else would we expect from a body that the Founding Fathers intended to be "deliberative" - that is, riven with arguments over issues large and small?
Or perhaps we should regard the dispute that broke out between House Democrats and Republicans shortly before 11 a.m. ET, when Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) commenced the reading of the Constitution in its entirety, as yet another symbol of a poisonously partisan post -Watergate atmosphere that is here to stay. And be appropriately depressed.
Or perhaps, most cynically, we should see it as a reflection of how estranged we are, as a body politic, from our founding document that the act of reading it on the House floor, with or without disagreements about it, should be considered newsworthy at all.
The controversy surrounded which version of the Constitution would be read during the exercise. Democratic Reps. Jay Inslee (WA) and Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL) rose to protest that a more modern version was being used, one that omitted antiquated language obviated by the amendments to the Constitution. This decision by House Republicans had the effect of banning from the recitation, for example, the clause that established slaves as three-fifths of a human being.
"This is very emotional for me," said Jackson. "This is very emotional for many members...given the struggle of African-Americans, given the struggle of women, given the struggle of others, to create a more perfect document."
"The text we are reading today reflects the changes to the document made by the twenty-seven amendments to it," countered Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), who organized and moderated the reading. "Those portions superseded by amendment will not be read."
Aides to Goodlatte told Fox News they consulted with the National Archives and the Congressional Research Service to ensure the text was accurate.
By the end, some eighty-five minutes after the reading began, more than 130 lawmakers, from both parties, had taken part. They included Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), whose recitation of Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2, dealing with federal lands, came after he had reportedly criticized the new G.O.P. majority in the House for "worshipping" the Constitution as though it were the Bible or the Torah, and derided the reading as "propaganda."
After Boehner read the Preamble, with its famous opening words ("We the people, in order to form a more perfect union..."), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) read Article 1, Section 1, which consists of only twenty-five words, followed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Thereafter, the reading proceeded on a first-come, first-served basis, with lawmakers reading passages that may or may not have had any relationship to their particular identities, interests, or regions.
The last word went to a freshman: Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN), the gospel singer from the small town of Frog Jump. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) proudly came forward, with his trademark gravelly voice, to read his portion: perhaps his first oratory in the chamber since being disgraced by his censure at the end of the last Congress. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the first quadriplegic elected to the House, back in 2001, steered his wheelchair to the podium.
One of the most striking moments came when three-term Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) recited Article 2, Section 1, which contains the oath of office that must be sworn by the chief executive upon assuming office. This enabled Richardson to give us a glimpse of what it will sound like when a woman someday swears thusly: ""I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Richardson, not taking any chances, decided to utter both the "swear" and the parenthetical "(or affirm)" that appeared in the text.