For Visitors, a Capitol Scandal

Matthew Spalding /

Capitol Visitors Center (Photo by Tim Sloan/Newscom)

It’s a scandal what Congress has arranged for the public to be taught inside its Capitol Visitor Center, the $621 million underground gateway and “educational experience” that opens Tuesday.In the Visitor Center’s Exhibition Hall, the theme is “E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many, One.” Initially,  words etched in marble called that stirring phrase the nation’s motto. A bad plaster job now covers the reference, someone having noticed that, well, “E Pluribus Unum” is not our national motto. “In God We Trust” is. But so far that’s notably absent, along with other references to faith.

But what bothered me the most as I toured the Visitor Center on Tuesday at the request of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)  —  who first sounded the alarm last year on this politically correct outrage — is how the Visitor Center twists and distorts the Constitution.

I thought the Constitution (because it says so) was about powers delegated to government by the people, who possess individual rights. Article I begins: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” A written agreement on the extent (and limits) of those powers is critical to a government deriving its “just powers from the consent of the governed,” as the Declaration of Independence prescribes.

“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare,” James Madison wrote, “the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.”

Wrong, Mr. Madison. Congress’ new Visitor Center decrees the Constitution isn’t a list of powers but rather of “aspirations” Congress is expected to define and realize. The exhibit specifies six:

  1. Unity (as in “a more perfect Union” in the Preamble, which grants Congress no power).
  2. Freedom (based on the First Amendment, which begins with the words  “Congress shall make no law …”).
  3. Common Defense (from Article I, Section 8).
  4. Knowledge (authority to promote public education, support arts and sciences, fund extensive research).
  5. Exploration (to justify funding “curiosity and boldness” — like 4, this comes from a convoluted reading of the clause granting Congress the power to issue patents).
  6. General Welfare (found in Article I, Section 8’s restriction of the taxing power, but taken here to mean “improving transportation, promoting agriculture and industry, protecting health and the environment, and seeking ways to solve social and economic problems”).

See for yourself. The Heritage Foundation has put the full text, including the script of  an orientation film, online.

This exhibit is Congress’ temple to liberals’ “living Constitution,” the eternal font of lawmakers’ evolving mandate to achieve the nation’s ideals. No fixed meanings here, only open-ended “aspirations.” In this distorted view, the Constitution is an empty vessel, to be adapted to the times, as change requires. It means nothing — or anything.