Much has been made, from all quarters, of the Republicans’ plans to begin the new session of Congress with a reading of the Constitution. Some have derided it as a kind of theater, implying that it therefore can’t be serious and meaningful. (Tell that to my wife, by profession an actor and director.)
But as the estimable Ralph Lerner points out in this magisterial essay, there’s much more to our regime (and to its self-understanding) than the Constitution. If the Constitution outlines the “how” (and, importantly, the “how not”), the Declaration of Independence places our focus on the “why” and “wherefore.”
We the people are, and have long been (as Lerner observes), present-minded. In that way, the jejeune Ezra Klein may well be an appropriate mouthpiece of one of our less admirable and more problematical tendencies. It takes some work to call our attention to timeless principles, articulated long ago. (Our preachers, who shold be good at this sort of thing, all too often take the easy way out, focusing on the moment, rather than the momentous.)
Perhaps if we gave some careful thought to why we have government, why it should be limited, and to the lives and sacrifices of those who made it, it would be harder to laugh off a ceremonial reading of the Constitution.