Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
Rep. Jill Poke, D-Calif., decided one day to take advantage of the Washington, D.C., access to the Virginia countryside and take a scenic drive.
Perhaps it was by accident – or perhaps she was guided – but in any case her random turnings eventually put her on Route 53, where she saw signs announcing the proximity of Monticello, the estate of the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson.
“Well, why not?” she thought. She turned up into the parking area, made her way to the famous home and joined a docent-led tour.
Poke was trailing after the group, half listening to the docent’s chatty narrative, when she heard voices, discoursing in elegant accents, within a room sequestered by a velvet rope. Being a congresswoman and thus accustomed to privilege, she stepped around the rope’s polished brass stanchions and entered the room.
It was brightly lighted, with a brilliant, silk wall covering and a vivid Persian carpet. Five chairs, upholstered in silk to match the walls, stood in a circle and, to Poke’s astonishment, four of the chairs were occupied by three men and a woman in 18th century dress. They rose and bowed, and the woman approached her graciously.
“Do join us,” said the woman, indicating the empty chair. “I’m Mrs. Adams. Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Madison and Mr. Franklin.”
“Oh!” said Poke. “You’re re-enactors.”
“Re-enactors?” said the puzzled Mrs. Adams. “I don’t know what you mean. But please join us, and call me Abigail.”
“And me Thomas,” “and me James,” “and me Benjamin,” chimed the others.
“I’ll play along,” said the congresswoman, archly. “I’m Rep. Jill Poke.”
She took the chair offered her and smiled, “What are we talking about? Taxation? Redistribution of wealth?”
“We were discussing the Book of Proverbs,” said Franklin with a bit of a frown, “in particular, Chapter 4, Verse 7: ‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.’”
“We were reflecting on all the books we had read in the pursuit of knowledge,” said Jefferson, “and wondering if we had attained any wisdom from the reading.”
“The ‘Book of Proverbs’? Who’s the author?” asked Poke. “Was it on the Times’ best-seller list?”
“Best seller! I should say!” said Franklin. “It’s in the Holy Bible. Surely you’ve read it.”
“Some,” said Poke, a bit flustered.
Here Mrs. Adams chimed in, “Mr. Adams read it in both Latin and Greek, and he holds that the King James version truly captures its majesty.”
“I quite agree,” said Madison, “and I read its verses in Hebrew.”
“You know,” said Franklin, “I think the revered John Locke was saying much the same thing when he wrote, ‘The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it.’”
“But we’re talking about wisdom as understanding,” said Hamilton. “I think Rousseau put it best when he said, ‘What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness.’ What do you think, Rep. Poke?”
“Uh, I haven’t read those gentlemen,” said Poke, “but they sound pretty good.”
“Surely you’ve read Pliny, and Plutarch, and Plato,” said Mrs. Adams, “and perhaps Cicero and Cato – in the Latin, of course.”
“To be honest, I haven’t,” said Poke.
“Now, you are a reader, are you not? And have been to college – unlike me?” chuckled Franklin. “Give us the titles of some books that have been your guides.”
“Well, I read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ in high school … and ‘The Color Purple,’” said Poke, “and my father read us ‘Tom Sawyer.’”
“But not the great thinkers of Western civilization?” asked Jefferson.
“My teachers didn’t think much of Western civ,” said Poke, somewhat haughtily.
“Yet you are a member of Congress!” Jefferson responded. “All of us have absorbed the canon of Western thought, but what is the philosophical basis of your politics?”
“I’ve read parts of ‘Rules for Radicals,’ you know, by Saul Alinsky,” said Poke. “Oh, and ‘The Other America.’”
“‘The Other America,’ ‘Rules for Radicals,’” said Hamilton. “I’m unfamiliar with those works, but I guess you could say we’re all radicals here – revolutionaries, don’t you know. But without having read the foundational books, as we all have, how do you find either true knowledge or wisdom?”
“I have to go now,” said Poke, making great show of looking at her wristwatch. “Excuse me.”
And with that she rose, strode to the door and stepped back into the hallway. There she encountered her docent, who said, “We wondered where you had got to, Congresswoman. You’re not supposed to be in this room, you know.”
“I wish I hadn’ gone in,” Poke said. “Your re-enactors gave me kind of a rough time.”
“Re-enactors?” said the docent. “What re-enactors?”
“These re-enactors,” said Poke, throwing open the door to reveal an empty room. The wall covering was faded and ripped, the floor devoid of carpet, and the chairs, now upholstered with a variety of torn and mismatched remnants, no longer stood in a circle, but were pushed back against the walls. She looked for another door, but saw none.
“It’s scheduled for renovation,” said the docent, reaching past the congresswoman to pull the door closed. “Mr. Jefferson used to meet in there with his intellectual equals to discuss philosophical questions. Can you imagine what wisdom passed in those conversations?”
“I think I might,” said Poke.
“And I wonder if any of today’s legislators could match them for breadth of knowledge and intellectual and philosophical foundation?” mused the docent.
And the congresswoman said, “I doubt it.” Thinking to herself, she added with a degree of contrition, “That would explain why we do the things we do.”