Monday, January 10, 2011

This Constitution Has Been Sanitized For Your Protection

When I wrote Saturday about the attempts of New South Books to sanitize the "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", I'm sure that the implication was that I was making an attempt to take a swipe at another left-wing effort to sanitize society and ruin a classic piece of literature (and perhaps I was). While focusing a laser-like attention on this particular bit of odious behavior however, I missed it when both sides of the political aisle were showing similar spinal degeneration in Washington DC. 

How else can one explain that I managed to overlook the lack of intestinal fortitude of the 'New Right' in Congress when reading the document that they swore to "support and defend" when taking their oath of office. Demonstrating that even the most noble of efforts can be blemished by the desire not to offend, Congress chose to 'Huckleberry' (a term I'm sure will become part of the popular lexicon in the coming days) the Constitution, and read only the 'Constitution-as-amended' in order to prevent such a potential affront. For those who missed it, the following text from Article 1, Section 2 (among others) was glaringly omitted:  

"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons." 

In other words, as in New South Book's interpretation of Twain's novel, Native Americans and African Americans were pointedly slighted in the original writing by not being fully counted when deciding on the number of Representatives in Congress or the dispersion of taxes to the respective States in this founding document. 

We could debate endlessly on the injustice of slavery (indentured and otherwise), and the unjust treatment of Native Americans in this country's early days; and why neither was dealt with in either the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution. The intent of the Framers as to the language in this Article was pretty clear however. There was a great deal of concern at the time that by fully counting slaves for the purposes of apportioning representation, a disproportionate number of representatives in the national legislature would be held by southern States. This would not only give these States undue influence in the national government, but would effectively stifle any future efforts to end the slavery most were against. 

Instead of using this as a teaching moment, Congress chose to miss an opportunity to point out through reading the unadulterated version of the Constitution, one of the great strengths that this document possesses. Doing so would have shown that the Founders understood their own potential fallibility. That being men of their time, they understood that they could not foresee every wrong to be righted or injustice committed (intentionally or unintentionally); and must therefore put in place a method to change or Amend this document. In the case of problems presented by Article 1, Section 2, this was accomplished in Section 2 of the 14th Amendment (passed in 1868)

I know that if the Constitution had been read in its entirety, that the focus of some of the media 'talking heads' would invariably have been only on the offensive nature of some of these original sections and on the history of injustice in this country. I likewise know that we seem to have little else else to discuss when it comes to the Founders. I would rather that such discussions took place however, than that we attempt to hide not only from our past imperfection, but from the willingness and ability to change. 

For many years in my days of travel across the country, I was confronted nightly by a porcelain fixture and a band of paper. Apparently I was supposed to be reassured that regardless of whether the rest of the room had been properly cleaned or not, I should be comforted by the fact that the toilet had been sanitized. While this notification procedure has long since disappeared, it seemed a harmless enough conceit where a hotel room is concerned. I am far less comforted however, when we attempt to perform the same function to the document defining the limits of government in this country by those who supposedly serve it. We may in fact choose to sanitize the Constitution for public use, but I for one, feel far from protected as a consequence.

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