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Dear Dr. Franklin, I've sad news to impart.

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The hot and humid September afternoon that day of 1787 in Philadelphia was particularly unpleasant. After General Washington, the unanimously declared president of the convention, scientist-statesman-philosopher Dr. Benjamin Franklin was the most highly esteemed. At 81, he was old, and tired; the wool and cotton finery that was the standard apparel for those attending to matters of such great import hadn't made the sweltering any easier to bear.

As the old fellow was slowly making his way out the hall, reflections on what his life had been and meant composed every thought. He was pensive and anxious over the chance what they had toiled four months to achieve actually might come to anything. He thought of his maternal grandfather, and how he'd been jailed for standing in support of middle-class shopkeepers and the artisans against the tyranny of the wealthy landowners. He mused over the lifelong battles with the Penn family, the owners of the entire state of Pennsylvania. The fact of his common law marriage to Deborah Read and how her life had been cut short by stroke filtered in. He recalled that he never asked why, but presumed it to be the will of divine providence, though he had long, long ago eschewed every dogmatic vestige of organized religion -- there was no heaven, no hell, no "salvation" save what service men might render to each other, and, as sweet and glorious as Jesus of Nazareth surely was, he was of the same mortal flesh as everyone else who'd trudged the earth. He mulled the sad, but necessary, estrangement of his "illegitimate" son William, who had sided quite wrongly, and unforgivably so, with the Crown; William, if any could be said to be, was indeed a bastard son. The great philosopher of the Enlightenment, Voltaire, had blessed his grandson, but surely would never have deigned to have anything to do with William.

"Oh, Dr. Franklin, Dr. Franklin." It was the high-pitched voice of an interloping woman who was acting to slow his already slow march to his carriage.

"What might she want," he wondered to himself.

"Dr. Franklin . . . what have you given us?"

"Dear madam . . . a republic." Then, as an immediate afterthought, the old man added, "If you can keep it."

***

Dr. Franklin, it is my unfortunate duty to impart the saddest of news you might ever have wanted to hear. We couldn't. We became rich. We became fat. And then, being fat, rich, and safe - and as for being safe, from exactly what we couldn't, and cared not to, precisely define, it had become an elevated priority - and being continually amused and entertained, assumed and consumed our every waking notion.
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Dr. Franklin, and this is perhaps the saddest part, we'd lost all interest in much independent thinking. Work hard, play by the rules, which brings to mind your maternal grandfather and how he would never have surrendered the obligation to first inquire as to the validity of a rule, and then play as a child plays. The messenger, not the message or the evidence or logic of his argument, had become all that mattered in discourse. If he carried a Bible and referenced God and insisted on the divinity of Jesus, every depravity contained in the message was swept aside, studiously ignored in the trampling crush to abide his demands, almost every one of which proclaimed the patriotic duty of the American was to follow, to unquestioningly support war and the facilitation of the wealthiest of the wealthy to even greater wealth by the ever diminishing of their taxes and obligations to everyday Americans; the middle class that you insisted was the backbone of a democracy.

However I try, I doubt that perhaps fewer than one in one hundred of us know anything about you that is necessary to good citizenship to know. For ninety-nine, you have become an amusing cartoon, the fellow flying a kite in a storm. As it is in the constant quest to be constantly entertained, those that the ninety-nine know about and pay attention to are those who entertain us most. While a paltry few can accurately declare even the number of the branches of the government you and your comrades struggled and debated long and hard to include as our Constitution, and while fewer yet could so much as spell the names of Thomas Paine, Rousseau, Voltaire, nearly all of the hundred are exceptionally well versed in the exploits and the most intimate details of those who entertain us, and in the most arcane rules of the amusing athletic contests we are assiduously devoted to.

Amusement, not citizenship or genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbors, has become our religion, as even the preachers and priests must amuse us, entertain us, and placate us with the shallow reassurances that that is the foundation of true moral behavior and fulfillment of our patriotic obligation. We are told who to hate, and are reminded that questioning why is the trademark of the most traitorous among us. And, unquestioningly, we hate on cue. Because we have been told to by folks who call themselves conservatives, "real Americans." And get this, dear doctor, there is today an unruly assemblage of thugs who have laid claim to your friend Samuel Adams' "tea-party" tactics, and all they know of Mr. Adams is there is a beer company with his picture on the bottle.

It is dispiriting to have to report that we have rather gleefully volunteered to turn over our minds and souls and will to resist, as you observed in Lord Hillsborough, to the practices by the one who "by patting and stroking the horse, to make him more patient, while the reins are drawn tighter, and the spurs set deeper into his sides."

But what I have been delaying reporting as long as I could composes the most despairing news of all. You are most aware that, though the convention felt the need for a third steadying leg of government and that that leg ought to be a federal judiciary, headed by one Supreme Court, beyond their jurisdiction over "all cases, in law and equity [that arose under the Constitution], the laws of the United States," and so forth, it was never clear what other functions and authority it was to have. Well, Dr. Franklin, Congress finally established that the number of justices comprising the Supreme Court as nine, and now that majority consists of those dedicated to the expressed wishes of our major business corporations.
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By your many writings and the history of your valiant opposition to them, there's no question in my mind how you'll likely take the news I've been delaying to provide. Nevertheless, permit me one additional moment of delay. I'm sure you recall how your friend and compatriot Thomas Jefferson dourly regarded them. A few days ago, the Supreme Court, on two premises, the first that a business corporation was the corpus equivalent of a living, breathing human being, had also equal rights with a living, breathing human being to the expression of free speech and of the press, and the second, that the payment of money was the equivalent of speech, turned over every lever of the people's government to the corporations.

What you and all of the attendees to that convention in 1787 feared, the potential of money and its aggregation in a few hands to corrupt every inclination and perception of a democratic republic, has at last come to pass. Gaining access to elected office has become a terribly costly enterprise. Today, only the business corporations have the sums of it necessary to effect a campaign for an office. Via the Court's recent decision, it is now the corporations that, effectively, will decide who will and will not be elected, the people not hearing the voices of any others than those the corporations endorse and support. And as every elected official, from the merest county post to the presidency of the United States, will be coerced into soliciting the good wishes of the corporations, they will forever be in a debt of servitude to the corporations.

Dr. Franklin, we could not keep it - the republic. I'm sorry . . . for all of us.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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Ed, The highest compliment I can give to an articl... by Richard Wise on Saturday, Jan 23, 2010 at 5:34:16 PM

 

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