This morning, I gave a quick interview to MSNBC where I made, I thought, some fairly banal points on the GOP’s plan to honor the Constitution by having it read aloud on the House floor. Asked if it was a gimmick, I replied that it was, because, well, it is. It’s our founding document, not a spell that makes the traitors among us glow green. It’s also, I noted, a completely nonbinding act: It doesn’t impose a particular interpretation of the Constitution on legislators, and will have no practical impact on how they legislate.Here is the part of what he said earlier in the day: I couldn't find the entire interview.
The rather toxic implication of this proposal is that one side respects the Constitution and the other doesn’t. That’s bunk, of course: It’s arguments over how the Constitution should be understood, not arguments over whether it should be followed, that cleave American politics. The Constitution was written more than 223 years ago, and despite the confidence various people have in their interpretation of the text, smart scholars of good faith continue to disagree about it. And they tend to disagree about it in ways that support their political ideology. I rarely meet a gun-lover who laments the Second Amendment’s clear limits on bearing firearms, or someone who believes in universal health care but thinks the proper interpretation of the Commerce Clause doesn’t leave room for such a policy.
But my inbox suggests that my comments weren’t taken that way: The initial interpretation was that I’d said the Constitution is too complicated to understand because it was written a long time ago, and then, as the day went on, that I’d said the document itself is nonbinding. I went back and watched the clip — or at least the part someone clipped and sent me, which is above — and thought I was clear enough. But when a lot of people misunderstand you at once, the fault is usually yours. So if I was unclear: Yes, the Constitution is binding. No, it’s not clear which interpretation of the Constitution the Supreme Court will declare binding at any given moment. And no, reading the document on the floor of the House will not make the country more like you want it to be, unless your problem with the country is that you thought the Constitution should be read aloud on the floor of the House more frequently. In which case, well, you’re in luck!
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