Ben and Me

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Years ago, comedian Stan Freberg showed it was possible to go back in time and consult directly with the Founding Fathers. I was in Philadelphia visiting Independence Hall about the time of the government shutdown last October and decided to try it myself. With a nod to Stan, here’s how it went:

Me: “Excuse me, Mr. Franklin, . . . ”
Ben: “Ben, son, just call me Ben. What can I do for you?”
Me: “We could use a little help in Washington. Somehow we’ve managed to turn a long term fiscal problem into a short term economic crisis by giving ourselves a self-imposed artificial political deadline to make everybody worse off unless we slit our own throats.”
Ben: “You do realize that’s really dumb, don’t you?”
Me: “You had to be there.”
Ben: “Okay, what’s that fiscal problem again?”
Me: “Well, we’re about to shut down the government and default on the National Debt.”
Ben: “How in blazes did that happen?”
Me: “We seem to have lost the art of compromise, and, um, since you helped pull off the Grand Compromise of 1787 that got everybody to agree on the Constitution, I thought you might have a few pointers for us.”
Ben: “Uh huh, yup, that was a good one. Gave all thirteen states equal representation in the Senate, even Delaware got two senators. Paved the way for ratification.”
Me: “Well, can we learn from that? Maybe you can tell us what Madison and the Founding Fathers intended we should do when this happens. You must have confided in Madison.”
Ben: “Oh God no, we never told Madison anything. We did our best work over at the Tavern. Madison was a goody two shoes. Never went out with the guys. Couldn’t wait to rush home every night and write about other folks’ intentions in those Federalist Papers. Sheesh, what’s the first rule of statesmanship? Never leave a paper trail, that’s what! Ask Daniel Ellsberg. Ask the folks at Wikileaks. They’ll tell you.”
Me: “But I thought Madison was the Father of the Constitution. The Supreme Court never makes a move without consulting Madison.”
Ben: “Just goes to show you Shakespeare was right. First thing we do, kill all the lawyers. No, no, no, forget about Madison. Only thing that twit ever did right was marry Dolly. Real firecracker that Dolly. Did you know her favorite was oyster ice cream? Most folks don’t know that. Sounds a little yucky, but those oysters really zing the old libido.”
Me: “Well, we’ve still got this huge problem. Conservatives in Congress are threatening default and refuse to compromise.”
Ben: “Darn it, I thought we took care of that in Article VI when we assumed the debts the Continental Congress racked up. Bunch of spendthrifts if you ask me. Penny saved is a penny wasted with that bunch. What are these politicians asking for anyway?”
Me: “What do you mean, asking for?”
Ben: “Well, everybody wants something. In 1787 it was the Connecticut Kickback. Old Roger Sherman was one helluva negotiator. Cost me the Post Road from Greenwich to New London and a dozen post master jobs.”
Me: “You had earmarks in 1787?”
Ben: “Called it log-rolling back then. Little easier for the coonskin cap crowd to get their arms around the concept. Second rule of statesmanship. Keep it simple stupid.”
Me: “KISS? In 1787? Really? Any other rules of statesmanship?”
Ben: “Well, it’s not exactly a rule, but we learned to stop giving everything to Jefferson to write up. Tom knew cursive all right, but he never could get the hang of block letters. Have you seen the Declaration? Life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff? All the man’s esses look like effs. How’s he expect the iPad generation to keep up?”

Well, I took Ben’s words of wisdom to Washington. By mid-October, the Obama Administration negotiated an end to the shutdown by offering Sen. Mitch McConnell a $2 billion earmark to complete a damn on the Ohio River that’s very popular with Kentucky corn farmers. It’s being called the Kentucky Kickback. More about the intent of the Founding Fathers in coming months, but the NRA may find the news upsetting.

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