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The Expansionist
Friday, January 07, 2011
Original Constitution Not Read. On the second day of the new Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, including at least one Democrat from my state, New Jersey, read the entire text of the present, legally functioning Constitution (that is, all parts that had not subsequently been voided by amendment).
The decision in part will allow members to avoid reading less pleasant sections, like the clause in Article 1, Section 2, which counted black slaves as three-fifths of a person.
This is one of the most commonly misunderstood provisions of the Constitution. Civil-rights advocates have taken umbrage at that provision, but it was actually inserted to WEAKEN the influence of the slave states by reducing the representation of the South by discounting 40% of slaves, who were not allowed to vote, from the tally used to apportion votes in the House of Representatives. Northerners wanted NO slave to be counted for apportionment of Congress, since none was allowed to vote. Southerners wanted ALL slaves to be counted to boost their numbers in Congress. The two sides compromised at 3/5, rather than ½, 1/3, or some other ratio, perhaps on the theory that the economic power of the South had to be considered, no matter that part of it derived from slavery. I don't know the exact justification, but reducing Southern states' representation by 2/5 of the people held in bondage was better than giving the South full credit in the House for people who couldn't vote. That compromise STRENGTHENED the Northern, anti-slavery states, and eased, for instance, the abolition of importation of new slaves on January 1st, 1808, the very first day that that could be done under the original Constitution (before even the Bill of Rights — comprising the first ten amendments — was passed).
In any case, the Tea Party sorts who talk about the "original Constitution" pick and choose which parts of the Constitution are authentic and which are perversions of "original intent". They reject even parts of the Constitution that have been explicitly inserted by amendment, such as the income tax and direct election of Senators. Do they also want to go back to the extremely stupid provision in the original Constitution that whoever gets the most votes for President becomes President, and whoever gets the second largest number of votes for President becomes Vice President? That would have given us a President Obama and a Vice President McCain. Who would want that? It's an invitation to assassination of the President, and even if we did not have a history of assassinations, it would divide the Executive Branch against itself. Would any Tea Partier argue to restore this original way of selecting the Vice President, on the basis that the Constitution is all about divided government, so the more divisions, the better, to secure us from dictatorship? I haven't heard anyone even on the extreme Radical Right talk of restoring the original plan for selection of President and Vice President. The Tea Party and Radical Right who are hostile to the income tax and direct election of Senators (done by amendments they reject) rabidly support (their version of) the Second Amendment, which means that they recognize the validity of SOME amendments.
Why wasn't the whole document read, with introductory and followup language to mark out the portions of the Constitution that have subsequently been voided by amendment? That would have been very instructive, but the Republicans who insisted on this public reading refused to show the people that the Constitution is not the tidy, unified document they might want you to think it is, but a messy mix of original provisions and rethought provisions and added provisions and subtracted provisions, as different generations of the Nation's polity took the document as their own and made it fit the circumstances of the time.
I pass over the slip-up whereby two pages got stuck together, as caused some provisions to be skipped, and thus be read out of sequence once the mistake had been detected. There is enuf confusion in trying to follow what the Constitution actually has said over time. Perhaps the best way to approach this public education would have been to read the Constitution as it now stands, with all invalidated text removed, but then, afterward, read all the provisions that have been changed, along with what replaced them, and a timeline of when the original language was written and when the new language was substituted. That might give people who troubled to listen to the entire presentation a fuller understanding of how the document has evolved over time.
I long ago downloaded an electronic version of the Constitution's entire text, with revisions shown plainly, and refer to it fairly often. It annoys me when people ignore parts they don't like, such as the anti-immigrant loons who say that we should not grant "birthright citizenship", even tho it is plainly granted in the Fourteenth Amendment. It ignores the fundamental question "How else COULD citizenship be granted, other than naturalization?" If no one gets citizenship from birth, how do they get it? From their parents? How did their parents get it? By birth to citizens, in the U.S. or outside. But how did THOSE parents get citizenship? BIRTH. If birthright citizenship is invalid today, then it was ALWAYS invalid, so NOBODY is a citizen except naturalized citizens. The anti-birthright-citizenship campaign is unspeakably, intolerably (and intolerantly) STUPID.
The argument that children born to illegal immigrants are entitled to all the rights of citizens, and that that is somehow wrong, is preposterous in the extremes to which the anti-birthright-citizenship crowd take it. Birth of a child in the U.S. does NOT entitle the parents to remain in the U.S. on that basis alone, and their tie to a U.S.-citizen child grants them no special rights to immigration or a Green Card until the child affirmatively takes U.S. citizenship at adulthood. As a recent Christian Science Monitor story points out:
It takes 21 years before a child can file for a US visa for its parents, and there's no guarantee that the parents will get one, says Ms. [Rosalyn] Gold, [senior analyst for] NALEO [National Association of Latino Elected Officials].
The silly attempt to hang some huge meaning on the qualifying phrase in the Fourteenth Amendment "and subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States is futile. What that clause means is that a person born in the U.S. who moves to another country as a child is not entitled to certain rights, such as the right to vote, unless s/he returns to the United States and takes residency. That is a protection for parents, who may NOT want their child to take a citizenship other than their own and produce legal problems for the family. British or French tourists who have a child a month earlier than they anticipated, on U.S. soil, might not WANT their child to consider himself/herself an American and assert U.S. citizenship even while resident in their parents' house in Britain or France — even challenge the legal right of their parents to discipline them! There's also the whole issue of who is entitled to vote in U.S. elections while resident overseas. If a person has no residence in the U.S., why should they be allowed to vote here? That is a sample of the kinds of problems the "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause was intended to head off.
The bulk of the Constitution is written in very simple, layman's language, not legalese. Nonetheless, some people willfully misinterpret it. The same people who assert that "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" is hugely important and voids birthright citizenship completely ignore the phrases "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," that introduce the remainder of the Second Amendment, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." The Second Amendment's qualifying language occurs at the very start of that Amendment, but means nothing. The "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause is in the middle of the Fourteenth Amendment, but means everything! I think not.
Interpreting the Constitution correctly requires the honesty to admit when the text does not support the point of view you WISH it entrenched. That, the Radical Right does not have. Indeed, the Radical Right is fundamentally incapable of honesty, on anything, because nothing on Earth supports their dopy politics.
P.S. The Democrat who was interrupted by a crazy "birther" woman is Frank Pallone, who represents the grotesquely gerrymandered Sixth District of New Jersey, which includes most of Middletown Township, where I went to school from fifth grade thru high school. Curiously, I do not find a list of all the members of Congress who read parts of the Constitution. I wonder why that is.
(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,432 — for Israel.)

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