I may belong to the last generation of Americans who make analogies to Eddie Haskell, Wally Cleaver’s two-faced friend from Leave It to Beaver who used to give Beaver “the business” and then turn around and feign sweetness towards his mother. Mrs. Cleaver never bought Eddie’s act, but she was always too polite to say anything. In the current scenario, the House Republicans are Eddie Haskell and the American People are June Cleaver.
The House Republicans read the Constitution at the start of the new Congress, and then dared anyone to object: What red-blooded American could oppose reading the Constitution, they ask with feigned incredulity. I object, and I think all Americans should too.
So what’s wrong with reading the Constitution? The problem, of course, is not the Constitution itself, but the underlying message, delivered with a wink: We Republicans and Tea Partiers–not you–own this document. It is ours to interpret. We–not you–know what it means. We’ll explain it to you in our folksy, no nonsense, commonsensical style. We’ll use words like “originalism,” “Judeo-Christian,” and “American exceptionalism.” No reasonable person—no real American—could possibly hold any other view of our founding document. It’s so simple, the Republicans tell us, even a liberal could understand.
But the Constitution does not belong to the Republicans, or the Tea Partiers. It belongs to all Americans. To everyone. The triumph and the tragedy of the Constitution is that it is subject to different interpretations. The search for certainty in the document is a red herring. In the 1920s and 30s, the search for certainty led many countries to turn to the Übermensch, the strong father figure who promised security in a dangerous and uncertain world. We all know how that turned out. As adults, we must accept that certainty is an illusion.
And while the lack of certainty might be discomfiting, this is also the brilliance of our founding document. It requires vigorous debate. It requires engagement on substantive issues. Without the uncertainty of the Constitution, we would not have had the great or the terrible decisions that shaped our nation: Dred Scott, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore. The Constitution’s ambiguity led us to debate the important issues of our time, but the document has also given us an historic framework and a legal process for those debates.
They say, we are who we are because of, and in spite of our parents. We as a nation are what we are because of and in spite of the Constitution. By attempting to seize exclusive control of this document through a seemingly innocent, Eddie Haskell-like reading, Conservatives want to force their interpretation upon us and to cut off debate. They did the same thing with the American flag, turning it into a symbol for the Right, worn on every “real American’s” lapel. Co-opting jingoistic symbols of patriotism is one thing, but when they try to make us swallow their version of the Constitution and no other, we need to stand up and say no. That is why the Republican’s reading of the Constitution in the House was so offensive.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.