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Monday, January 3, 2011

Reading the Constitution

At The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne writes:

Republican House leaders are going in for a lot of symbolism and why not? Symbols matter in politics.

Thus the new majority will open the next Congress with a full reading of the Constitution and establish a rule requiring that every new bill contain a statement citing the constitutional authority behind it.

My first response was to scoff at this obvious sop to the Tea Party movement. One can imagine that the rule's primary practical result will be the creation of a small House bureaucracy responsible for churning out constitutional justifications for whatever gets introduced.

But on reflection, I offer the Republicans two cheers for their fealty to their professed ideals. We badly need a full-scale debate over what the Constitution is, means and allows - and how Americans have argued about these questions since the beginning of the republic. This provision should be the springboard for a discussion all of us should join ... So let's celebrate. It can only be good for democratic deliberation if holding the majority requires House Republicans to show their policy and philosophical cards. They'll legislate. You'll decide.

Blogger Ann Althouse notes that some have called the reading a "gimmick," citing the movie Gypsy in which fellow strippers tell the young Gypsy Rose Lee that she needs one.

I wouldn't use the word "gimmick" for what the GOP has proposed. But, like stripping, it is theatrical. It's a performance. A performance of belief. I think of the point in the church service when everyone reads the Apostles' Creed out loud. Obviously, many people say it who don't believe it, and you could keep silent and still believe it. But don't mock the ritual unless you're good at predicting the reaction and how you'll respond to that and you have some good reason for wanting the exchange.