Conservative claim new Capitol visitor center misrepresents American history

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A constitutional scholar says the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC, is an extremely biased and historically inaccurate exhibit that "twists and distorts" the Constitution.

The new $621 billion Capitol Visitor Center features an exhibition hall that is dominated by a very large marble wall called "The Wall of Aspirations." Dr. Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation says the exhibit is not about the Constitution's limits on powers delegated to the government, but instead lists aspirations such as unity, freedom, common defense, knowledge, exploration, and general welfare, and then points back to where they are found in the Constitution.

Spalding, director of the Simon Center for American Studies at Heritage, notes those words all appear in the Constitution, but argues they were taken out of context and used to justify much larger activities by Congress.

"The job of Congress, according to the exhibit, is to achieve these aspirations. So the old notion that says Article 1, Section 8 [of the Constitution] lists the powers that Congress has -- these are the things that Congress can do. [But] that old notion is set aside," he contends. "In its place we have this kind of open-ended 'aspirations' which Congress is going to define and achieve. And to get there, they do very selective quoting and...mangle many phrases in the Constitution to get them where they want to go."

The new Visitor Center project was overseen by the Capitol Preservation Commission, which mostly consists of elected officials like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Spalding says it is unclear who actually designed the exhibit and wrote the text for it, but he is advising people with complaints about the Visitor Center to contact the Architect of the Capitol, the officer charged with upkeep of the Center and its programs.

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John Edward Philips - 12/7/2008

But the major purposes of the Constitution, as laid out in the Preamble, are very different from the powers of the Congress, as enumerated later in the document. The patent and copyright clause also includes a purpose. I don't see how mentioning such purposes inherently contradicts the limits set on federal government powers. The Constitution did set up a Federal government, it didn't limit a preexisting Federal government.

John R. Maass - 12/5/2008

The new center cost $621 million, not billion.