Founding Principles

My 15-year-old son would like a career in politics.

Being a generally supportive father, I don't want to seem negative, but I just don't know about this one.

It's not that he wouldn't be good at it. He's thoughtful and smart. He enjoys history, public speaking and solving problems. In his estimation, though, what makes him well suited for the career are his skills at arguing and the belief he's always right.

Those typical teenage convictions align quite well with the shape of our current political discourse. Thus, my concern. It's the same frustration Rep. Steve LaTourette cited when annoucing his retirement from Congress last year: "The atmosphere today and the reality in the House of Representatives no longer encourages the finding of common ground."

We seem a long way from the ideals I found on a recent trip to Philadelphia. There in the small Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House, delegates from 12 of the 13 original states gathered behind closed doors for four hot summer months in 1787 to participate in the Constitutional Convention. What began as a meeting to revise the Articles of Confederation created the world's oldest and shortest constitution.

There was debate and even dissent. Yet among our Founding Fathers' achievements: the Great Compromise, a new idea for governing that pacified both the big states (one house with representation based on population) and small states (the other with equal members from each state).

Standing in the National Constitution Center's Signers' Hall, among life-size bronzes of the 39 men who signed the Constitution and the three who refused, it's easy to be impressed with their courage and service. You also wonder how many would be elected today. Massachusetts' Elbridge Gerry was small and thin with a squint eye and a slight stutter. Pennsylvania's Gouverneur Morris had lost a leg in a carriage accident. Yet both helped frame the basis for our country.

It's something to keep in mind as you read Erick Trickey's profile of Mayor Frank Jackson. Quiet and reserved, Jackson's not your typical politician, but after a year of great achievement, he has many wondering what else he's capable of achieving.

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