Well, it is for Ezra Klein, one of the Washington Post’s bloggers. You see, it’s over 100 years old and the language is just too confusing:
Watch at Ace of Spades.
Newsbusters provides a transcript. Here’s the relevant part:
[MSNBC HOSTESS NORAH] O’DONNELL: You heard all the different politicians talking about the Constitution. Well, this is what’s going to happen. When Republicans take over next week, they’re going to do something that apparently has never been done in the 221-year history of the House of Representatives. They are going to read the Constitution aloud. Is this a gimmick?
KLEIN: Yes, it’s a gimmick. [Laughs] I mean, you can say two things about it. One, is that it has no binding power on anything. And two, the issue of the Constitution is not that people don’t read the text and think they’re following. The issue of the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done. So, I wouldn’t expect to much coming out of this.
Ezra, dude, let me help. You have this thing called a “brain” and access to a wonderful process called “reason.” If you use them, then many confusing things, such as the basic governing document of the United States, actually become comprehensible. Try it some time; you might be surprised at the results.
Okay, snark aside, his argument is just plain silly. Sure, language changes over time and words develop new definitions. Changing usages of punctuation can shift meaning. But it’s not as if the Constitution exists in a vacuum, without any context. Nor has English changed so much from 1787 that our poor brains can’t parse it. (Just curious, Ezra: do you have problems with Shakespeare, too? I mean his plays are over 400 years old…)
See, Ezra, we have these marvelous resources available to help us understand what was meant way back then: the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers present us with the arguments of both sides for and against the ratification of the Constitution, and they went on at great length about what the words meant. (In fact, our Bill of Rights was produced largely as a compromise with the Anti-Federalists, who were gathering momentum to call a second Constitutional Convention to fix what they saw as problems with the core document.)
If those aren’t enough, we also have state constitutions from the time, showing us how already existing governments understood their roles and power, and the records of the debates in state conventions prior to their ratification votes. And we also have Supreme Court decisions from the early republic showing us how learned men much closer to the Founding interpreted the Constitution. Okay, so maybe their language will confuse you, too. I can but point the way.
Sure, there are are vague patches in the Constitution: the “necessary and proper” clause forces us to think about the nature and scope of government, and what is necessary to its operation. The “general welfare” and “commerce” clauses have been badly misinterpreted over the years (largely by progressive judges). But it’s not as if we’re left with nothing to do but throw up our hands and say it’s so confusing that it makes our brains hurt. We can use the resources available to figure out those vague parts — you know, reason.
Honestly, what Klein is saying, and what his fellow progressives have been saying for over 100 years, is that government is simply too difficult, too complex, too confusing for the common folk, and that we need experts to guide us and make decisions for us. They know what’s best, so stop fussing over a centuries-old and obsolete piece of parchment.
But that’s the beauty of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights: so short that any citizen can carry it in his breast pocket and plain enough that most parts are readily understood, while those that aren’t can be reasoned through. That’s one of the things that empowers the citizen, that he can check the owner’s manual when he likes to see how things should be done. Your vision of a Constitution that’s too confusing for the modern day instead turns citizens into subjects dependent on the dispensations of the elite.
The Constitution is a challenge, Ezra; it is not confusing.
LINKS: Klein explains himself on the confusing Constitution and Republican gimmicks.
(Crossposted at Public Secrets)