As the House of Representatives was engaged in its reading of an abridged version of the U.S. Constitution -- leaving out parts like the sections on slavery that would make the Founders look bad -- I was reminded again of the power of false narrative, especially at a time when the American Right dominates the U.S. media landscape.
Indeed, for tens of millions of Americans, their only narrative is the one created by the Right's propagandists in TV, radio, print and the Internet. And in that world, the Constitution is portrayed as an attack on the powers of the federal government by the Founders who were infallible.
To note otherwise -- to say that the Constitution marked a major expansion of federal power from the Articles of Confederation (including broad new authority to tax and regulate commerce) or to observe that many Founders were either slave owners or tolerant of slavery -- would somehow disrupt the pleasant (but false) historical memories of today's Tea Party types.
So, to minimize this intrusion of reality, House Republican leaders huddled with the Congressional Research Service to delete portions of the Constitution that had been superseded by later amendments, such as the clause about counting African-American slaves as three-fifths of a human being for the purpose of representation.
Some black members of Congress, such as Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, protested this "revisionist history," but the Republican leadership apparently felt the abridged version better bolstered their case for basing all interpretations of the Constitution on so-called "original intent."
That theory of "originalism" lets today's Republican politicians and right-wing judges pretend that they can divine what the Founders were thinking in 1787 or what authors of later amendments had in mind regardless of the actual wording that was adopted.
Though sounding respectful of traditions, "originalism" in practice has simply been a way for right-wing theorists to justify imposing their ideological views and partisan desires on the nation by claiming some special channel into the Founders' thinking.
For instance, many on the Right insist that the Founders created a "Christian nation" with no "separation of church and state" despite the fact that Christianity is not mentioned in the Constitution and the First Amendment bars Congress from passing any law for "an establishment of religion."
Recently, right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia announced that the straightforward language of the 14th Amendment barring any state from denying "any person within its jurisdictions the equal protection of the laws" did not apply to women and gays because, Scalia insisted, the post-Civil War drafters of the amendment were only thinking about black males.
Though Scalia's interpretation suited the Right's lingering disdain for women's rights and its fierce opposition to permitting gay marriage, Scalia's view on the amendment's "original intent" was more situational than ironclad.
In Election 2000, when the power to appoint Supreme Court justices was at stake, Scalia joined four other partisan Republicans on the court in citing the 14th Amendment to stop the vote count in Florida and put George W. Bush in the White House. Yet, no one has ever suggested that the 14th Amendment's drafters intended to protect the future political fortunes of a white plutocrat.
There is also the troublesome fact that Bush, through his "war on terror," violated many individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution. He ignored habeas corpus requirements for the government to justify imprisonments before a judge; he overrode the Fourth Amendment's demand for "probable cause" before a search and seizure; and he made a mockery of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments."
Yet, many of today's "Constitution lovers" on the Right and in the Tea Party movement were silent about Bush's trampling on the document when the victims were Muslims or Muslim sympathizers. After all, I suppose, if you've divined that the Founders wrote the Constitution to create a "Christian nation," it would follow that Muslims and their allies wouldn't have rights.
Beyond the partisan hypocrisies and the historical revisionism, the political import of the Republican stunt of reading the Constitution on the House floor on Thursday could not be missed. It was an attempt to position the Republicans and the Tea Party as the true defenders of America's founding document, implying the Democrats and liberals were its enemies.