Thursday, January 06, 2011


You know about the forthcoming NewSouth Books edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- the one in which all the occurrences of the n-word are excised and replaced with "slave." Well, apparently the grandstanding Republicans are reading a similar edition of the U.S. Constitution on the House floor:

If you plan to follow along with your own copy during Thursday's House floor reading of the U.S. Constitution, you might notice that some members reading aloud are skipping parts of the original document.

Instead of reading the Constitution in its entirety, House members will read an "amended version" that only includes the sections and amendments that were not changed at a later date. 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....

Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte ... spearheaded the reading....

"We certainly have made changes to the Constitution, amendments to the Constitution that have changed the original writings of the Constitution in a number of respects," Goodlatte said Tuesday during an interview on MSNBC. "In fact, when we read the Constitution, we will omit those portions that have been deleted by subsequent amendments that were adopted over time." ...

But, see, those portions haven't been deleted. Amending is not the same as deleting. They're still there in the text. They're part of the history of the document, and the history of the country. They're just no longer in effect.

The Mormon notion of a "divine Constitution" appeals to American right-wingers because they feel that belief systems incompatible with their own really aren't valid; they think the Bible is not subject to conflicting interpretations (only to their own interpretation), so why not the Constitution as well?

They know the Constitution contains embarrassments -- slavery, Prohibition -- but, if it's divine, those embarrassmnts simply must not exist anymore. They weren't merely altered, via the work of imperfect humans attempting to rectify human errors and failings.

Similarly, the people behind the new edition of Huckleberry Finn want to wish away the complete, authentic text of the work rather than trying to wrestle with the fact that what's remrkable about it and what's off-putting to many contemporary readers exist side by side.

Part of the problem in both cases is that some of us think we've arrived at a perfect understanding of right and wrong, and we've identified all the parts of both documents that should offend all decent people. The uncomfortable words in these good works ought to remind us that they were written by people, not gods -- and we're people, too. We shouldn't smugly assume that what we do is perfect.

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