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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

...While Visions of Grandeur Danced in My Head

I was amused by the gaffs when the new congress jumped to read the Constitution in session yesterday. As far as "things to be irate about" goes, it was pretty minor and mostly funny. First, that two new members of congress had voted on bills and participated in the reading before they were sworn in can be passed off as an administrative error. Though one wonders what was so important in their lives that they would miss the first day of congress to be sworn in and think that raising their hands in front of a television monitor was the same thing. But we generally get too hung up over administrative stuff anyway. They are members of congress and if they weren't born in the United States... oh. That's a different administrative matter.

The second gaff was the omission of parts of Articles IV and V as two pages were accidentally turned and no one noticed for quite some time. Who was responsible for making sure it was read as written? How much of the Constitution was read into the congressional record with tiny errors as representatives substituted words, misread them, or left them out? And that of course leads to the question of the version of the document that was read. Parts that have been changed or eliminated by amendment were left out of the reading. We might call it the reading of the final draft. Reps. Jackson and Inslee objected to this as it brushed over the history of struggle that resulted in monumental changes to our understanding of governance like women's sufferage and civil rights.

That's an interesting puzzle. When I publish a novel, I want the version that is read by my half-dozen faithful fans to be the best I can possibly make it. I want them to read the "final" version. I certainly don't want them reading "Dust billowed explosively from each step as the explorer trod out of the arid mountains..." Yes. That was the first line of the first draft of the first novel I attempted. I cringe. I still remember the peals of laughter from the girlfriend du jour who read that first line. If that novel ever makes it to print (or binary bits) I will want readers to see the words I wrote in the 13th or 14th draft (I forget the number at the moment), not the first draft.

Yet Jackson/Inslee had a point. That first draft--and every subsequent draft--of that novel are neatly stored in a plastic container in my attic. At one time I was convinced that I would be such a famous author that graduate students would one day be analyzing my creative process for their PhD theses, and what a treasure they would have when they discovered every painfully edited and rewritten draft among my personal effects. They would draw conclusions as to how my ideas and processes matured over the years as I moved inexorably toward my Nobel Prize for Literature.

I believe that our nation's founding fathers would also have expected that we look over the progress that we have made when we read the constitution. George Washington had congress hire secretaries to copy all his correspondence so there would be a permanent record of it. John Adams instructed his wife to get a leather portfolio and keep all his letters in it. They had a sense that they were creating something new and important. We should remember that it took a hundred years before we abolished slavery and recognized African Americans as whole people instead of three-fifths of a person. We should learn something from the great experiment in prohibition and the awakening that eliminated it. And based on that remembrance or history, we should come to the realization that the Constitution is a living document that reflects our understanding of good governance as it matures. It is not a document frozen in time that is unchanging and unchangeable.

One need only look at the sacred texts of any major religion to realize that a significant cause of world unrest and conflict is the simple fact that the texts were frozen in time. We blindly adhere to a world-view that is 1,500, 2,000, or 3,000 years old, refusing to accept that we are not building pyramids, crucifying conquered people, or uniting a pantheon of political and religious beliefs. We are not even fighting a "war to end all wars."

If one thing was missing in the reading of the constitution, it was not portions of Articles IV and V. It was a sense that the document was intended to grow and mature with our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live. In putting an amendment structure in place, the founding fathers recognized that they did not have all the answers and were not attempting to solve the world's problems once and for all. We are arrogant beyond belief to think that we do or can.

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