Before the president knew what was happening he was twirling, tumbling and spinning through time again. He was shown debates among the people regarding whether or not the Constitution should be ratified and he smirked at the disorganization of the anti-federalists. He knew who would win in this fight and he knew why. Keeping the opposition disorganized, or at least making them appear so, was a tactic he was familiar with and used to his advantage.
He witnessed the hard won fight for a representative seat by James Madison over John Monroe and he watched as the first Congress under the Constitution gathered. He was sure they were done now. They had to be. What more could they possibly show him. The country had been formed through debate. Yeah. So. Whatever. Debate wasted a lot of time and, as history had shown him, could end up in the loss of your agenda. Why allow debate when it could be that risky. Just do it and move on.
“That pea brain of yours is working overtime, boy.” As the president stood frozen in shocked silence, Ben Franklin continued, “Yes, we can hear everything you’re thinking and it’s clear you haven’t learned a thing yet. But what we’re about to show you is a lesson you’d do well to heed.” Franklin pointed to James Madison just as the man was rising to speak. “This is what the country needs right now. Not to have legislation they neither want nor can afford shoved down their throats against their collective will.”
“He’s going to do something totally foreign to your mind,” added John Adams. “He’s going to actually address the concerns of the people who didn’t support the Constitution and ensure that their worries are alleviated.”
Ben frowned hard at the president before adding, “Even though he could have just said, we won, they lost, they need to get over it.” He paused to allow this usage of the president’s own thoughts to sink in. “He knew that failing to address legitimate issues, even if they’re expressed by people who lost the election, was a sure way to keep the country divided.”
Angered that they had been listening to his thoughts, the president was defensive, angry and petulant. “But in a democracy the majority rules. It is the majority who voted you in that you are responsible for legislating for. The majority wanted what I have to give them and they are my only concern.”
Another slap to the head accompanied this declaration. “Where did you get the idea that this is a democracy? It’s a republic you ignorant ass. A democratically elected republic but a republic all the same. As a representative of the people you are responsible for addressing the concerns of all of them, not just those who voted for you. If you can give the majority what they want while mitigating the concerns of the minority then that’s what you should do.”
“And let’s not forget that the majority may have wanted what you promised, but that same majority doesn’t want it the way you’re delivering it.”
The president attempted to speak but again found his voice blocked. “Hush,” said Franklin, “Madison is about to speak.”
In order to win the tough election, Madison had promised to address the concerns of his district and he was determined to do so; enumerating the list of negative liberties on the government which the president had publicly lamented.
While Madison believed these amendments to be unnecessary, assured that the elected officials would hold to the rights of the individuals and the states which, though not specified, were well understood, he also acknowledged that listing them would do no harm to the actual form of government.
The speech by Madison began with his reasons behind the proposed amendments, the arguments for it and the arguments against it. He acknowledged that not all of the states had ratified the document and that many of the people who did not support it were patriotic men and staunch defenders of the liberties that all had sacrificed for. He stressed that they could acquire the support of these objectors if they would make this single concession and that having wider support could in no way be a bad thing.
The president was getting angrier and angrier as he listed to Madison speak. Had the man, all those years ago, not been so rigid about giving in to the losers then his current administration would not be so tied by those negative liberties. They would not constantly have to answer stupid questions about the Constitutionality of their decisions, and he’d be free to silence his detractors. If this speech was teaching him anything it was that his plans for no debate were the correct way to go.
“Pay attention,” was harshly whispered in his ear as the speech continued.
“I do conceive,” said Madison, “that the Constitution may be amended; that is to say, if all power is subject to abuse, that then it is possible the abuse of powers of the general government may be guarded against in a more secure manner than is now done, while no one advantage arising from the exercise of that power shall be damaged or endangered by it.” The president snorted at this as he saw his power seriously damaged by that damned Bill of Rights. “We have in this way,” continued Madison, “something to gain, and if we proceed with caution, nothing to lose.”
“Nothing to lose?” said the president. “I can see a lot that we stand to lose. What he’s proposing will hamstring the government for centuries to come.”
“What he’s proposing,” said Adams, “will protect the people from their government for centuries to come. It will protect them until a corrupt government convinces them that material possessions are more important than liberty.”
The president opened his mouth to speak again but was silenced by another smack to the head by Franklin.
Oblivious to the unorthodox visitors, Madison had continued with his speech. “…because it grants more power than is supposed to be necessary for every good purpose, and controls the ordinary powers of the state governments. I know some respectable characters who opposed this government on this grounds, but I believe that the great mass of the people who opposed it, disliked it because it did not contain effectual provisions against the encroachments on particular rights, and those safeguards which they have been long accustomed to have interposed between them and the magistrate who exercises the sovereign power; nor ought we to consider them safe, while a great number of our fellow citizens think these securities necessary.”
“I still don’t understand,” the president said, “why he had to list out negative powers for the government that way. Why not tell us what we can do instead of telling us what we can’t do.”
“If you would shut up for even the briefest amount of time,” said Adams through clenched teeth, “he’ll get to that point. I can’t believe you claim to have been a Constitutional attorney when you don’t know why the limits are worded as they are.”
The president crossed his arms over his chest, leaned back against the wall and prepared to be bored. This was serving no purpose whatsoever and no matter what they showed of the nation’s past, it wasn’t going to change his mind.
At last Madison got to the point at hand. “But, whatever may be the form which the several States have adopted in making declarations in favor of particular rights, the great object in view is to limit and qualify the powers of government, by excepting out of the grant of power those cases in which the government ought not to act, or to act only in a particular mode.”
“There you go,” said Franklin. “It was a limit of the powers so it had to be a negative power. They had to specify what the government could not do. Their idea was limited government and if they wanted it limited, it was important to many to have those limits defined.”
The speech continued, going through the suggestions for amendments and the request to appoint a committee to write them, finally wrapping up with words even more relevant to the current division between the leaders and the people. “…because I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens, in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government.”
“Not real big on obtaining the confidence of your fellow citizens are you boy?” asked Franklin.
“I have the confidence of the leaders of my party and they agree with my agenda. We are doing what is right for the people.”
“Whether they like it or not,” Adams interjected. “Although I admit that there are times where the president must go against the will of the people, those times are limited to situations where the president has information that the general public does not. However, even in those instances it is incumbent on the leader to persuade the populace and bring them to his way of thinking. Forcing an idea or an agenda upon the people against their will is exactly what led to the revolution. After all we have shown you have you missed that critical point?”
“I know what the people need better than they do. They need the government to help them and that’s all I offer. Help to the people.”
“But at the risk of their personal liberties,” Franklin replied. “And the people are doing their best to tell you that what you offer is not worth the cost of their freedom.”
“We’re not going to win this argument,” Adams sighed. “Let’s show him the final scene and then take him back. We’ve done all we can.”
This was the best news that the president had heard all night. Just one more to go and then he’d be back in his office safe, sound and still confident of what he was doing.
The ghosts escorted him through the swirls of time and deposited him in a curious place. He was in a lower middle class home with worn furniture where a young man sat watching an old television displaying the image of Bill Clinton.
“Do you recognize that man?”
The president shook his head, unsure of why he would be expected to recognize someone of so little significance.
“That is John Alexander.”
“That young, once idealistic speech writer that you treat so badly.”
“Oh, him,” the president replied. “Why are you wasting my time on him?”
“Watch him,” Franklin said. “Look at how eagerly he absorbs the words of Bill Clinton, a president who helped promote your agenda. Look at how supportive he is and how much he believes the bullshit he’s hearing.”
Still confused, the president shrugged his shoulders. “OK. What’s your point?”
“The point will be made by others. We show you who he was while another will show you what he will become.”
“So are we done now?” The phrase “at last” was not spoken though the thought was heard by the ghosts.
“You are done with us, yes, but you are not done for the night.” Franklin smoothed his t-shirt over his protruding belly and continued, “We have shown you what drove the people to revolution, shown you how that revolution shaped their governmental design and shown you how they believed government should function. We showed you the state of the union as it was created, and we showed you one young man’s idealism as a former president spoke on the state of the union in the recent past. What you will see next is the union as it is now.”
“I know what the state of the union is now. That boy,” cried the president pointing at the idealistic young man still watching Clinton, “is writing my state of the union speech tonight. I don’t need to waste my time with seeing what I already know.”
“A more out of touch individual I’ve yet to see,” Adams stated. “If you knew anything about the state of the union, anything at all, we wouldn’t have wasted our time in visiting you. It’s your complete lack of understanding regarding the state of the union which prompted this visit.”
“Don’t presume to tell us what you know,” roared Franklin. “You know diddly squat so just shut the hell up.” Turning to Adams, Franklin continued, “I am going to be so glad to wash my hands of this guy. What a jackass.”
Without another word the ghosts took the president on his final journey with them. However, unlike the controlled landings of the past, this time the ghosts did not accompany him the entire way back to his office leaving him to land with an unceremonious thud in the middle of the presidential crest on the oval office floor.
Swearing softly, the president stood and brushed himself off, rubbing the elbow he had landed on and thankful that he would have a respite before the next visit.
This thought had barely solidified in his mind when the clock struck one.
Chapter 5 will be posted Sunday
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