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Reading the Constitution

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I was watching C-Span after getting home from work and they were showing tape of the reading of the Constitution on the floor of the House. 

This was the idea of the new Republican majority.  It caused a mild stir in some quarters; there was criticism that the Republicans were playing to the Tea Party.

Frankly, I don't care why they did it. I enjoyed watching it. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, the politicians in Washington live in a cynical world.  It's a place where, I think, the Constitution is viewed by some as an interesting relic not very relevant to modern governing by modern political elites.

To me, the Constitution is not an interesting relic. I have spent my career working under the protection of the First Amendment, which states.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The First Amendment was the theoretical foundation of laws such as the federal Freedom of Information Act, enacted by Congress 45 years ago, which gave citizens the right to inspect government records.  And state open records and open meetings laws. They all flowed from the First Amendment, and we use these every day in our work, because free speech and freedom to publish are hollow rights if governments are allowed to do everything in secret.

There are some different views of this reading of the Constitution.  Charles Krauthammer argues that it represents the thinking of those who think that government has strayed  way too far from the Constitution -- the mandate to purchase insurance in the health care law being the best example.

Alex Altman, of the blog, Swampland, has a more nuanced view, and quotes Jefferson in support of it.  (Although you can pretty much find any Jefferson quote to suit any side of an argument.)


--Dan Barkin




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Everyone Should Read the Consitution

When I went to school as a youngster in the late 60’s and through the seventies, we spent a lot of time in our U.S. History class learning the Constitution.  I learned so much about its shaping and the struggles of the framers to hold together what was a fragile union divided on a lot of issues.  What came out of the failures of different ways to govern the United States was heralded as one of the greatest governing documents known to man.

The Constitution embodies one of the greatest achievements of men trying to strike a balance of power where the people truly governed and not the other way around.  It put in checks and balances to keep one branch from over running another and limited powers to all so that the people had the ultimate voice in the process.  

Knowing that times change the framers built in the ability for it to be changed with the approval of the people.  By adding Amendments and even being able to repeal those we feel were mistakes the people had the power to change it. It was more about what the Government could not do to the citizens thus limiting the Federal Government and putting the rights of the citizens first.

Now in our modern age I find that not much time is spent actually learning and understanding it.  I mean it is taught but not extensively as it use too.  This is a tragedy.  The citizens of this country need to know and understand how they are being governed.  They need to understand why it is important to be involved in the system.  I find that a lot of our younger generation has taken a nonchalant attitude toward Government.  To many people think it is the governments roll to take care of them.  Again, another tragedy.

We, as citizens, need to hold our politicians accountable and responsible.  This means paying attention to what goes on in Washington. It means having an understanding of our Constitution. 

I firmly believe that our politicians have forgotten that they work for us, not the other way around.  I could care less if it was pandering to the Tea Party, grandstanding, or whatever.  If even one of those listening said “Wow, I learned something” or “Maybe I need to take a closer look at the Constitution” I would be happy. So I cheer the Congress for doing this.  I think in both houses every time there is a new Congress installed.  I think they should read ALL the articles and clauses in it because we need to know what mistakes we have made in it and how we fixed it.

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About the blogger

Dan Barkin, a senior editor, is a veteran of more than three decades in journalism and came to the N&O in 1996 as business editor. He holds a bachelor's in business administration from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland. He and his wife live in Clayton with their two cats.