Slavery and Theocracy Day

I might be forgiven for not remembering earlier that this is Constitution Day, insofar as it was invented in 2004 by Sen. Robert Byrd as a mandate on instruction in schools receiving federal funds. But as you can imagine, it’s not easy these days to reach agreement on the meaning of the Constitution, and as Dahlia Lithwick explains at Slate today, the Tea Folk tried to hijack the whole thing in 2011:

In 2011, Tea Party groups attempted to “adopt” local public schools and provide them with Constitution Day materials created by W. Cleon Skousen, author of the 5,000 Year Leap, whose views of slavery were controversial, to say the least, drawing from discredited sources that suggested that the real victims of slavery were the slaveholders themselves. Despite the fact that history had all but passed him by, Glenn Beck adopted Skousen as the founding father of Tea Party Constitutionalism. The Tea Party Constitution Day curriculum thus emphasized Skousen’s strange views on states’ rights and taxation and contended that the framers of the Constitution were deeply interested in enmeshing church and state. The perversity of using a federally mandated holiday, which conditions funding of education on teaching a specific piece of history, in order to promote states’ rights may have escaped them. The fervor all seems to have died down for reasons that have nothing to do with any lack of continued enthusiasm for enmeshing church and state.

It’s probably best that we quietly acknowledge the blessings of the Constitution at home.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.