Return of the Constitution

I remember standing in the freezing rain outside the Capitol on inaugural day 2001, watching George W. Bush replace Bill Clinton as president. It’s hard to describe the relief that swept through the crowd once he took the oath of office. Eight years of one of the sleaziest episodes in American presidential history had mercifully come to an end.

I wasn’t present on Wednesday when the Republicans once again took control of the House of Representatives, but something similar to that 2001 feeling returned. At least one step had been taken to redeem the congressional follies of the past four years.

I’m not going to speculate what was going through John Boehner’s mind in this picture as he held the gavel, but for many of us, this political cartoon captures the emotion accurately:

New Speaker Boehner, once Nancy Pelosi finally yielded the floor to him, gave a sober, humble address about taking care of the nation’s business. While Boehner is not a charismatic speaker, he spoke words of truth. Aren’t we tired yet of charismatic speakers who spout little else but platitudes? Wednesday’s transfer of authority will hopefully give us more responsible leadership in the House:

Then yesterday, the new Republican leadership made its first order of business a reading of the Constitution on the House floor. Critics called it a publicity stunt, yet when all members were sworn in, what were they pledging to do? Uphold the Constitution. Why then is the reading of the document they pledge to follow and maintain a stunt? I fear that for some of those representatives, this was the first time they’ve heard some of these provisions.

Yes, I know it won’t change anyone’s mind about what is constitutional. Progressives will mouth the pledge and proceed to undermine the authority of the Constitution. But reading it publicly served a good purpose—it was a reminder to the entire nation that lawmakers are not supposed to flout its authority. The Republicans’ new rule that each piece of legislation must also include a specific constitutional authorization serves that same purpose. Some lawmakers will have to be very creative to provide their constitutional rationales for what they want. At the very least, it opens up a much-needed debate on original intent.

For many years, I have been a voice calling for a return to the governmental limitations found in the Constitution. Please forgive me if I feel a sense of elation at this turn of events. I realize that this is only a beginning, and that the representatives’ resolve will be tested, but I rejoice still to see this day. Will even better days arrive?