Their Barbarous Ancestors

The first session of the new United States Congress on Thursday included reading out loud the full text of the United States Constitution. In itself, this seems commendable, but not even the most obtuse of news reporters failed to catch the underlying message: Representative Bob Goodlatte’s initiative means to show the Tea Party activists that the Republican Party owes them one. Democratic Party supporters of course made fools of themselves by making a lame and inaccurate attack on the outward trappings of the reading.

It was a happy coincidence that just a few days before, I was in Washington DC and visited my favorite monument, the Jefferson Memorial. The Tea Partiers, with their blind worship of their idealized versions of America’s Founding Fathers and Constitution, would do well to heed Thomas Jefferson’s words written on the wall there:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.