Tattoos, cheesesteaks and compromise. Now that’s America…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Standing in a line last week to get a cheesesteak in south Philly, the guy in front of me looks like something out of a RMBL dream. It’s 103 degrees on an industrial street corner and the guy has his shirt off. On his back is a creepily beautiful display of pinned entomology. He has more than a dozen colorful tattoos of insects spread over his back. There’s the Blue Mud Wasp, the Hawthorn Shield Bug, the Whip Scorpion. It’s a spectacle. Ben and I can’t stop staring at this guy’s back so I strike up a conversation.
“I love these things,” he tells me in a Jersey accent. “I sat in the chair more than 15 hours for the outlines. It makes me happy.”
He lets me take a picture with my phone. I send it to Ian Billick at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and suggest the RMBL kid’s camp incorporate a little ink session during their weekly gatherings.

Being in Philadelphia the week before the Fourth is pretty powerful. To see Independence Hall and walk the cobblestone streets of the Old Town where Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson debated the seeds of this country is pretty moving stuff.
Let us not forget that the debates over the Declaration and the Constitution that took place at Independence Hall and under the shade trees of that neighborhood were likely similar to debates taking place today. They weren’t always civil and men on both sides were strong in their beliefs.
The difference perhaps is that these men in the 1700s understood that ultimately, compromise wasn’t always a negative word. That without compromise, there would likely be no United States. To look back and absorb the eloquence and wisdom sewn together by these representatives is powerful. But the history shows that without compromise, we all might still be speaking with a British accent and paying homage to the Queen.
According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, not all the founders were enthralled with the documents that form the base of this great country. Some members of America’s early Congressional delegations were distressed because they felt the final result of the Constitution usurped too much state sovereignty, others were distressed because they thought it did not create a strong enough national government. Franklin summed up the Constitution with a speech that espoused ‘the magic of the American system and the spirit of compromise that created it…”
While Franklin was attacked by some for a lack of principles, he contended it was the compromise that was the essence of the democratic process.

Brass knuckle debate has always been part of the American political way of life but these days it seems to have a different tone. Using checks and balances to stop or redirect a political opponent’s plan is part of the deal in America. But when the two parties agree there is a problem and have tangible ways to address and potentially correct the problems, but choose rather to scuttle their opponent’s ideas rather than even try to find a solution, we are in danger of losing that very spirit that gave us the Declaration and Constitution.
Too many of our current political leaders appear to value power and money above the greater good. They listen not to the country as a whole but to their largest donors and most strident party screamers. They have lost their spirit.
When the politicians absolutely refuse to consider ideas from the other side or won’t consider any thought of compromise, we put ourselves on a dangerous path…a path that could lead us away from a united group of states and toward a constantly fractionalized banana republic. “Show your papers.”
As we celebrate our country’s birth this Fourth of July, let us not forget that the founding fathers all moved a little to the left or a little to the right for the greater good. These men did their best in Philadelphia. They strongly debated their beliefs and then came together to form that perfect union. They ultimately did what they felt was best for the general population, not just those that agreed with them or lived in their districts. For that we should indeed celebrate…and remember those lessons.

So I am in the cradle of our country where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were fleshed out and I find a guy with insect tattoos that make him happy. He’s never been west of Pennsylvania. It’s my first time in Philly.
He asks about the wildfires in Colorado and is generally concerned about our home. He can’t fathom a ski resort or mountain biking. I ask about Jersey and love that this guy with a fist full of lottery tickets felt compelled to ink pinned insects to his back. We will never see each other again.
We don’t talk about Obamacare or senseless wars or recessions and a do-nothing Congress.
We are from two very different worlds but on this summer day, we are two Americans sharing a line at a cheesesteak stand a few miles away from the Liberty Bell. It’s a 103 degree degrees but it’s pretty cool. Happy Birthday America.

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