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Bowdlerizing the Constitution

By Matthew Yglesias on January 6, 2011 at 11:10 am

"Bowdlerizing the Constitution"

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I try not to get too invested in purely symbolic issues, but I agree with Adam Serwer that the House GOP’s plan to read an edited version of the constitution involves very bad symbolism:

Republicans, intending to make a big symbolic show of their reading of the Constitution, have now taken a similarly sanitized approach to our founding document. Yesterday they announced that they will be leaving out the superceded text in their reading of the Constitution on the House floor this morning, avoiding the awkwardness of having to read aloud the “three fifths compromise,” which counted slaves as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of taxation and apportionment.

This is an absurd approach. It makes sense for congress to make a symbolic show of re-connecting with the foundational documents of the country. But one of the most important elements of the constitution is that it can be amended. Another crucial element is that it has been amended. Had it not been amended, the results would have been disastrous. In the future, we may amend it again. We might even want to consider the desirability of making it easier to amend. Just kind of sweeping this all under the rug transforms the gesture into a silly and inaccurate deification of a practical document written by human beings over the time for the purpose of conducting our affairs.

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