Ned Ryun is concocting a 30+ episode podcast series to explain the Constitution. “My hope is that by listening to the series, people might actually become interested enough to actually read the Constitution. It’s not a long document.” No, it isn’t. People who haven’t got the patience to read that brief document will surely not have time to listen to 30+ episodes of Ned Ryun, scourge of the KS‑2, attempt to dramatize the Constitutional Convention.
That the enterprise doesn’t make sense is kinda irrelevant. It isn’t necessarily a bad idea, even if it is sure not to achieve the goal. But it’s only worthwhile if Ned has some thoughtful contribution to offer.
Alas, he has no credibility. Ned claims, for instance, that “The men in Philadelphia had distinct ideas on what they wanted to create, and after 4 months of debate, got as close as they could to a perfect document.” No. They produced a pretty good document, though they immediately turned around and started amending it to fix obvious flaws. Some important amendments took longer. The document produced after those 4 months enshrined slavery as the law of the land, and counted slaves as only fractions of a person for purposes of Congressional representation, while denying them any voting rights. That 3/5 clause was a result of an imperfect compromise between slaveholding southerners and abolitionist northerners. It was not perfect. It was not close to perfect. It was the worst sort of legislative sausage-making, literally grinding up human lives to serve grand political goals. Did the authors have distinct views on what it should be? Sure, in the sense that they had very different and in some cases mutually exclusive views. No one involved in drafting the Constitution thought it was as close to perfect as it could be. Which is partly why they started amending it right away.
And speaking of those amendments, it’s rather odd to hear anyone purporting to have read the Constitution mocking “attempts to see ‘penumbras and emanations’ in the document.” What is the 9th Amendment but penumbral? It is an amendment explicitly concerning itself with the interpretations of penumbras, emanations, and rights not explicitly addressed elsewhere.
Or what about the ever-contentious Commerce Clause? It’s all well and good to read that “The Congress shall have power … To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” But does that grant power to regulate workplace safety in plants which ship products across state, international, or reservation boundaries? What about plants which don’t actually ship across such boundaries, but which compete with products which were shipped across such boundaries? If that quoted line is all I have to go on, I simply cannot know. We decide such things based on all sorts of external sources, and our understanding of the penumbrae surrounding concepts like the Necessary and Proper Clause, the 10th amendment, etc.
This idea that there is some readily accessible “literal” or “inerrant” meaning of a text is unhelpful in governing one’s life or one’s nation, whether that text is a Constitution or a religious document.