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Monday, February 18, 2008

Thing 98: See the Constitution!

Thing 98: See the Constitution! Or, um, not.

Don't see the Constitution
Let me explain. I had a friend in town this weekend. He is an old and dear friend, who I've known since the ninth grade. He has now made this perfectly silly choice to go to law school. In an attempt to support this newfound interest in the law, I suggested that while he was in town -- and in between the late nights filled with booze and dancing -- we pay a visit to the Constitution. And while we were at the National Archives, we'd get to see the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and this exhibit of political cartoons I'd seen advertised in the Metro.

Oh, but the Magna Carter was not on display, and neither was the Constitution! The powers that be are making improvements to the case, and so the documents have been holed up somewhere below ground, waiting until they can have an audience once more.

The trip wasn't a complete waste. Frankly, at this point the Constitution is so very faded and worn there isn't much to see, and the really good stuff is in the Bill of Rights anyway, right? In the main rotunda there are lots of other interesting documents, and the masses usually focus on the Constitution, so JFK's speech, the draft of the Articles of Confederation and the original Marbury v. Madison must be grateful to be getting some attention for once.

The special exhibit of political cartooning was really wonderful, too. It is a retrospective of the work of Clifford Berryman, pioneer of the political cartoon, cartoonist for the Washington Post and then the Washington Evening Star from 1898 through 1948. Berryman is the guy who drew that cartoon of the cute, cuddly teddy bear, creating an icon and a symbol of Teddy Roosevelt that stuck with him through his political career.

The cartoons are beautiful, elegant and still very relevant. I particularly liked the one of the Republican candidate, Calvin Coolidge, alone and unencumbered on the putting green as the Democratic candidates for president whacked each other in the Bitter Contest Bunker.

Bitter contest bunker
I also liked the cartoon of the tax payer, being supplicated on all sides by the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey, and the Progressive goat. Candidates have been promising to cut my taxes since well before I was born -- ain't politics grand?

Aint politics grand?
The entire exhibit is available online, click here to take a look, but if you are in the city head over the archives and see the original. And if you're luckier than my lawyer-in-training friend, you'll get to pop upstairs and see the Constitution while you're there.