Later today. a barrel of Kentucky bourbon will be delivered to the historic Intercontinental Willard Hotel in Washington, where the great Kentuckian Henry Clay visited while serving his country.
Nearly two centuries ago, when he would decamp to Washington, Clay would have a barrel of bourbon delivered in order to, as he put it, "lubricate the wheels of government." Clay — whose nickname was "The Great Compromiser" — would share the libation with fellow politicians from across the ideological spectrum as he sought to pass legislation and reach agreement on issues critical to the nation.
This year, the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship — in conjunction with our friends at the Kentucky Distillers' Association — decided to recreate Clay's gesture nearly two centuries later by having a "Bourbon Barrel of Compromise" delivered to Washington by some of our leading and most prominent master distillers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — as well as several hundred Kentuckians living in Washington, including former Louisville Mayor and Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson, now director of Intergovernmental Affairs for President Barack Obama — will be at the hotel to receive the barrel.
It is our hope that in doing so Kentucky can again, as it did in Clay's era, provide a beacon of leadership that contributes to an improved political environment based on civility, comity and compromise — the principles at the heart of Henry Clay's legacy.
Following the November elections that resulted in Republican control of the House and the Senate, both McConnell and Obama said they hoped to work together productively. "I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell," Obama said.
That so-called "Bourbon Summit," as McConnell described it, has yet to occur. More unfortunately, Washington could be headed for another year in which incivility and unproductiveness rule the day.
Each of us must take our share of the blame for the breakdown of our political system in Washington. At the same time, each must pledge to be more civil, to work with those we may have ideological differences with, and to get our nation back to a place where we can acknowledge that inaction is unacceptable.
The barrel, admittedly, is symbolic. But we also believe this symbolism is vitally important. We teach that to the students we educate. We strongly believe that it is time to follow in the traditions that Clay instituted during turbulent times, remembering, as he did, that we all must give of ourselves in order to make the impossible seem possible for the sake of our nation.
Clay himself put it best when he wrote: "All legislation, all government, all society is founded upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these everything is based ... Let him who elevates himself above humanity, above its weaknesses, its infirmities, its wants, its necessities, say, if he pleases, I will never compromise; but let no one who is not above the frailties of our common nature disdain compromises."
We urge our political leaders to consider raising a glass of our beloved Kentucky bourbon and rising above the current discord.
Robert Clay and William Giles are co-chairmen of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship, a partnership between the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University.