One of the first acts of the 112th Congress this week was to read the U.S. Constitution aloud on the House floor. The idea was cooked up by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), as a symbolic way to underline the primacy of the 1787 document for incoming representatives, particularly those elected with the help of Tea Party activists. A bipartisan group of 135 lawmakers took turns reciting passages, with the exception of parts nullified by later amendments. The solemnity of the occasion was disrupted only by an anti-Obama "birther" heckling from the visitors gallery. Here, five things pundits learned from the recital:
1. The Constitution is flawed
The Republicans' decision to read the amended Constitution — excising the superseded "three-fifths compromise" portion on slavery — reminded us that, while it is a "remarkable document," it also had "flaws at the moment of its creation that still reverberate today," says Adam Serwer in The Washington Post. It would have been better if the Republicans had read the founding document in its entirety, mistakes and all. The Constitution "was not carved out of stone tablets by a finger of light."
2. The Constitution is still relevant
The Republicans didn't read the Constitution as an "academic historical exercise," says Alana Goodman at Commentary. The intent was to hammer home that the Constitution is "actually still used on a daily basis to uphold our nation's laws." Instead of "focusing on the ugly, superseded portions of the document," the Republicans reminded lawmakers to concentrate on the "parts that are still binding today."
3. The Tea Party will influence this Congress
The GOP's decision to recite the Constitution in its entirety "reflects the influence of the Tea Party movement," says Kate Zernike in The New York Times. The grassroots activists have "celebrated the founding document," arguing that taxes and spending would be reduced if Congress sticks to a "strict interpretation" of its contents.
4. It takes 90 minutes to read in its entirety
Unbelievably, the Constitution had never before been read in full on the House floor, reports Danny Yadron in The Wall Street Journal. The "marathon recital" didn't end up taking that long, though — just 90 minutes.
5. The reading may have cost taxpayers $1.1 million
The man hours wasted on this "tedious exercise" add up, says Julie Weiner at Vanity Fair. According to congressional expert Peter Keating, "we the people" paid almost $1.1 million for lawmakers' "salaries and expenses" during the 90 minutes the Constitution took to read. What "bunk," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. Those "fixed costs" would have been paid no matter what happened on the floor. They come "from the existence of Congress itself," not what transpires there.