Political Theater

A few days ago, Republicans took official control of the House of Representatives. John Boehner (pronounced “bayner”, similar to the medicine, and not “boner”, like it’s spelled and would be much funnier) began the Republicans’ session by reading the Constitution which is apparently to soothe the anger of Tea Partiers. Yet, they didn’t read the original document despite proclaiming to be “originalists.”The BBC reports, “Republicans chose to read an amended constitution rather than the original which refers, among other things, to slaves being worth three-fifths of a person.” Of course, Democrats couldn’t take the high road and thus be upstaged in the age of 24 hour entertain-news, so they took part as well.

In any case, I find a problem with any such act that essentially sanctifies a given document. It becomes dislodged from its historical, social, cultural, and political context. (I have a sneaky suspicion that a similar reading occurs of the Bible.) The point that they chose not to read certain parts that historically are still part of the document, still part of the idea, reveals an inherent tension in the idea. A New York Times report commented on this.

But, not mentioning those previous sections also erases those histories. It makes it possible for the dominant political ideology to persist without any critical examination: one can only be a “strict constitutionalist” or an “originalist” if this erasure is performed.

My point really is to say that the Constitution is more complicated than calling for the government to follow it more closely (or however you want to put it) or the ridiculous idea of reading it aloud in the House. This is why one whole branch of government is essentially devoted to its interpretation. If it were as simple as just being an honest-hearted, real-‘merican advocate of the Constitution, of following some instructions (connect A to B, now take piece C . . .), then everything would be just great.

In fact, had the proponents of the “strict interpretation” theory remembered their high school-level civics lesson (I am assuming they’ve had one), one of the best features of the US Constitution is its inherent flexibility: the government has been able to change and shift when needed (i.e. remember how the US doesn’t allow slavery anymore?).

Then again, perhaps the Republicans haven’t been able to offer any new ideas or been able to work with President Obama or the Democrats because they been busy concocting such a stunt?

5 thoughts on “Political Theater

  1. Historical context is crucial here for understanding why the constitution was written as it was, and why it is better now for the changes it’s undergone.

    That said, I found it exceptionally difficult to get past your first paragraph. Amidst the calls for improving the tone of our political rhetoric, I can’t fathom why a dick joke about the speaker of the house is a useful thing to include.

  2. Yes, and Jon Stewart only makes jokes about high art. Come on–jokes about crude subjects are always gold! Speakers of the House are not exempt from being able to be made fun of. And, if it was too hard to get past it, ignore it. But, unlike purely academic discourse, “dick jokes” can often be funny, and sometimes I’m feeling more feisty than others. As someone whose initials combine to be “PP” (Amber can attest to how funny that is…) and whose first four letters of his name spell “poty”, I am well-aware of the comedic value to names in general. In the parlance of our time, Representative Boehner is, because of this, “my people.”

  3. I agree with the creep factor around a selective “reading” of the Constitution – the intent seems to be to perform Americanness in a way that eerily mirrors how America’s always performed America, with the helpful ignoring of those things we’d rather forget/avoid/pretend aren’t happening. While it’s all a bit cultish, as if reading an incantation, the reading also plays like ready-made political satire. Similarly, I agree that I cannot get past the new Speaker’s last name, and I see no problem making a joke in a blog posted on the Internet (Lord knows, my entries here are not nearly as erudite and are far more snarky). A simple “boner” joke sadly cannot cancel out the creeping dread of the Tea Party.

  4. And a part of it that bothers me is the insinuation (and belief amongst many) that somehow the document “speaks for itself”, which is really never the case. Just as in research, the facts never “speak for themselves” either. I think using the idea of performance is nicely said and links well with the idea of “political theater.” There’s also something interesting there concerning satire I think.

  5. But of course everyone just ends up interpreting it how they see fit a that moment, just as new Senator Mike Lee does, calling for an end to the federal ban on child labor while failing to note how badly “states rights” has failed in the past: http://thinkprogress.org/2011/01/14/lee-child-labor/

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