The Constitutional Controversy
I intend to rarely write about political issues. Like anyone else I have my political beliefs and affiliations, and also like anyone I feel like everyone should know what I think (thats a bit of sarcasm). Something in the news today caught my eye and is relevant to something I will be writing about in the near future. Today for the first time in history, the United States Congress will read the Constitution out loud. Since our Federal Government has its foundation of existence in the constitution it seems like a pretty simple thing. (Although I would have to cast my vote with main-stream media and be fair and say this is a political stunt). Political stunt or not I agree with it being read. After all, what harm could possibly come from reading our founding document? The reading of the constitution in the congress however is not without controversy.
Allow me to quote an article from the NY Times yesterday. In an article entitled Reading Between the Lines: An Annotated Guide to the Constitution the following statement is made: "(we) believe that the framers left the language deliberately vague so that We the People of successive generations would be able to interpret it as the United States evolved"
Basically in this statement the argument is made that the Constitution can't just be read and understood and then applied because it wasn't meant to be that. It was supposed to be a document that changed with the times. It was supposed to be a document that was open to interpretation as the situation arose. The founding fathers, according to the argument, left things vague so the country could change as it needed to.
The problem with this argument is it breaks all rules of communication. Everything in the world is understood to be literally understood unless stated otherwise. There are exceptions to this statement though. Poems, idioms, sarcasm, exaggeration, simile...none of these are typically taken literally. However just because sarcasm and poems aren't meant to be understood literally, communication is not impeded. As humans who share communication we know when these facets of grammar are being used and to adjust our understanding accordingly.
In the case of a legal document such as the constitution, they are meant to be understood literally. Imagine the makers of a stop sign saying "we left the meaning of the sign vague so that in time if people needed to interpret this sign as a yield sign they could." Or imagine receiving a speeding ticket and the judge saying "the police officer who wrote this left it intentionally vague for me to determine how fast you were going." That denies all reason. So also the constitution is meant to be understood both literally and as the people who wrote it intended it to be understood. (Unless of course the founding fathers STATED they wrote it to be open to interpretation. I am not aware of any such statement)
Interestingly enough, this is the same argument that people use in interpreting the Bible. Argument is made that the Bible is up for interpretation. This doesn't seem to follow the normal unspoken rules of communication. In a future hub I'll discuss the importance of interpreting the Bible literally, historically, and from the author's intended meaning.