Reading the Constitution for Republicans


Rebecca Traister
September 2, 2004 8:06AM (UTC)

Convention week is long, and after a few days, almost hallucinatory. So it seemed perfectly normal on Wednesday afternoon to head over to the great hall at Cooper Union the very spot where Lincoln gave his famous address in February of 1860 to hear a full reading of the United States Constitution. When actress Kathleen Turner told Salon about the reading back on Saturday, during the March for Womens Lives, she had throatily remarked, "We figured we should read the Constitution while the Republicans are in town, since theyve clearly never read it themselves."

Co-produced by The Cooper Union and People for the American Way Foundation, the reading had caught the eye of the couple of dozen celebrities who, like Turner, had elected to remain in the tri-state area through the Republican invasion. So, at 5 pm, the great hall was filled with an audience waiting to hear a psychedelic line-up that included Alec Baldwin, Ossie Davis, Richard Gere, Victor Navasky, John Sayles, Mandy Patinkin, Christine Baranski, Ruby Dee, Betty Friedan, Joel Grey, and Martina Navratilova read our nations founding document.

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The reading was kicked off by West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, appearing via television on a screen on-stage. "I am an American," said Byrd. "This is my Constitution. This is our Constitution. This is how it begins. We the people."

The founding fathers would have plotzed had they heard the foot-stamping, hooting, hollering welcome their first three words received. And they would have further thrilled at hearing their words spoken with enunciated theatrical precision by "Yentl" star Mandy Patinkin, who read the first Article I, Sections One and Two. When Patinkin got to the part about how representation and taxation for individual states shall be decided based on a population figures determined by "adding to the whole number of free persons" white persons "three fifths of all other Persons" black persons the audience hissed their disapproval.

And they really got into it at half-staff ovation when the next reader, Richard Gere got to the part about impeachment, and how "it shall not extend further than to removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States." Gere had put the emphasis on "profit," and it had gone over beautifully. The crowd made it to its feet with the next sentence, which determined that "the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law."

Or, we could just get out the vote and elect a new guy.


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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