Bob Franken

Last Week’s Hearst-New York Times Column

(Writer’s note: The arrangement with the syndicators allows these columns to be posted here a week after their newspaper release. This one preceded the tragic events in Tucson, which has been reflected in subsequent material)

^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2010 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGTON _ January 5, 2011 -- About that decision by the Republicans to mark their control of the newly formed House of Representatives by reading into the record the U.S. Constitution: This was a GOP flourish, apparently to celebrate their discovery of rule under law. In any case I know I speak for many when I say to them, ``Thank you for sharing'' _ and also for your new requirement that all legislation include language about how it follows the Constitution. One has to wonder exactly why the new guard of insurgent Republicans and the old guard Republican leaders that they've frightened to death are doing such a show-and-tell with the entire document and passing out little booklets with the text of all the Articles and Amendments. One can only suspect this is merely the usual political showmanship, pandering to the Tea Partiers and others who vehemently seem to believe (they seem to believe everything vehemently) that the very idea of government is unconstitutional. At the very least, they think it sure has been lately.

Way back in 1787, the authors of the Constitution already defined Congress, its responsibilities and limitations. It’s all there in the very first part of the body, cleverly known as Article One. It’s that thing right after the preamble with all that “We the People” stuff.

It might be useful to cite Article 1, Section 8: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts. . . .”etc., etc., etc. That’s for the ones digging in against taxes or threatening economic catastrophe by refusing to increase the debt ceiling.

By the way, those excited about protecting the Constitution will be positively thrilled with Article 3. That one lays out the judicial branch of government and the Supreme Court which already has the power to order that laws stay within the boundaries. Those founding father guys thought of everything.

One point, though, is that what they wrote down in the 18th century is subject to interpretation in the 21st. Fights over that began almost immediately, usually to the consternation of one party or another. Even a hero of the Right, Justice Antonin Scalia, a so-called “Originalist,” has said he believes the text “…should be interpreted reasonably.” Which always begs the question, what does “reasonably” mean?

By the way, notice we skipped past Article 2, which is about the executive branch and the chief executive. The new people in Congress don’t care all that much about what it says about him, except perhaps the requirement that “No person, except a natural born Citizen or a Citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President.” That one seems to fascinate them.

We haven’t even talked about the Bill of Rights and other amendments. There are always people trying to circumvent them, even some who now claim the document as their own holy grail.

But the GOP decided to be grail-safe and make sure we knew they’d be complying by citing what specific constitutional provision authorizes a particular bill. Scholars seem to think this is the first time in history for this to happen, but sure, why not?

Maybe right at the beginning of their recitation they can pause at the Preamble’s opening statements of purpose, one of which, remember, is to “…insure domestic tranquility.”
We definitely have a long way to go with that one.
^–@< (E-mail: bob(at) On the Web:

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