Thursday, July 3, 2014

Visting Philly's National Constitution Center

I  was naturally hesitant to visit the National Constitution Center July 2 on Philadelphia's Independence Mall, just down the street from the Liberty Bell.  Because you know what liberals can do to the constitution if you give them half a chance.

Of course, the Center isn't really all about the US Constitution.  It's really a potted liberal history of the US story so far.  But suitably toned down to avoid frightening the horses in the street.

The main exhibit is big on "rights" and "the vote" and I suppose it would have to be.  After all, the average person doesn't really think about limited government and the separation of powers.  They think about whether they can get a fair shake.

So, once the exhibit has dealt with the actual early US history (with slavery) and the revolutionary era (ending with a constitution and three-fifths of a person) it's on to the standard liberal story of America minus the worst excesses of racist-sexist-homophobe hate speech that we have come to know and love.  Ronald Reagan gets a fair shake and the exhibit ends with 2009 and America's First Black President.

That last item is a big deal.  On the day I visited the admission was free (courtesy of WaWa convenience stores) and the Center was thronged with African Americans.  They really liked checking to make sure that Barack Obama was featured in a major display.

There's also a temporary display on slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, open through October 14, which is interesting on a couple of fronts.  It shows charts of the slaves and their children down a couple of generations.  It's remarkable to see how many children the slaves had and how many children and children's children lived to a ripe old age.  The exhibit also features the annual meeting of slave descendants at Monticello, and the struggles the have faced with the help of determination and strong families.  The exhibit was thronged with enthusiastic African Americans.

Naturally my favorite display was a humorous video "Ask Ben Stein" with our hero sitting at breakfast opening his mail and dead-panning answers to questions about the constitution. But don't spell "Bismarck" wrong or you'll get a severe gaze from the pedantic Mr. Stein.

We conservatives can't expect too much from a national constitution museum; liberals are bound to have the better of the argument.  But the exhibit does do a good job of making everyone feel we are part of the United States.  Americans have come from all across the world to participate in this impossible project of getting all the tribes and clans to live together in comity in a continental-sized nation state, and despite the best efforts of politicians and activists to divide us in the long periods between their occasional efforts to unite us, it's amazing that we are still here.

When you walk around the National Constitution Center and look at all the folks that have come to visit, you have to think that there is still a chance that America is the last best hope of mankind on earth.  You are tempted to believe, like America's foremost optimist:
And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
Yes. Ronald Reagan gets his slot at the National Constitution Center.  Right next to Barack Obama. 

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