Benjamin Franklin stopped by my office the other day to catch up on what’s going on in America today.
Hey, everybody at some time in their life has imaginary friends. Mine just happen to be the Founding Fathers. So sue me.
Ben – he told me I could call him that – was interested in hearing about modern-day politics and about how the republic he was so instrumental in creating was holding up some 230 years after the Constitutional Convention.
“I’m afraid the country might not be what you all envisioned back in the day,” I told him. “Public discourse has disintegrated badly. Our political parties are more polarized than I can ever remember, and each blames the other for all the problems of the country. Politicians tell outright, provable lies just to defend their position and they call anyone who disagrees with them ‘the enemy.’ Meanwhile, little actually gets done to fix the country’s real problems.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Ben said, with a bit of a scowl on his face.
“It’s not good,” I said. “In fact, it hasn’t been this bad since Watergate.”
“Um, never mind, sir. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
“Does no one compromise anymore?” he asked.
“Not really. Compromise requires rational, honest, civil discussion of issues. We don’t see that much anymore.”
Ben lets out a hearty laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“That just brings up so many memories from the Constitutional Convention. You know, we didn’t show up in Philadelphia with like minds. We differed on a lot of issues. You wouldn’t believe some of the crazy ideas Alexander Hamilton came up with. Simply amazing, that one.”
“What were some of the differences?”
“Well, we disagreed on how much power the federal government should have, how much power should be vested in the president and about the makeup of the House and the Senate. There was even conversation about having three presidents at a time, not just one.”
“For the longest time, we just argued and didn’t get anywhere. Then I decided to say something. I was 81 at the time, the elder of the group and I had really had enough of the sniping. Fortunately they listened.”
“What did you tell them, sir?”
“I told them to sit together and work out their differences, that compromise was the oil that makes democracy work. I told them to be willing to sacrifice, not their fundamental principles, but their overwhelming desire to always be right.”
Ben leaned back in his chair and smiled.
“You know, young man, it seems like we were allowed to do something your leaders seem unwilling to do today,” Ben said. “And that is we changed our minds.”
“I’m afraid you are correct, sir.”
Ben paused for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts.
“Son, let me tell you something else I said that day. I said that through my long life, I had been forced by better information or further consideration to change opinions which I once thought right but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.”
He picked up his coat to leave and let out a long sigh.
“Perhaps,” he said, “the good folk in Washington today should follow that same advice.”