"Can you imagine writing the Constitution today?" Graham said during a conversation with Jeffrey Goldberg at The First Draft of History, a conference in Washington, D.C. produced by The Atlantic, the Newseum and The Aspen Institute. He speculated that Fox News host Bill O'Reilly would complain that "Ben Franklin [is] giving in on something."
Asked what he thinks of another Fox News personality, Glenn Beck, Graham replied, "Only in America can you make that much money crying."
He said Beck is "not aligned with any party as far as I can tell. He's aligned with cynicism. And there's always been a market for cynicism."
"But we became a great nation not because we are a nation of cynics. We became a great nation because we are a nation of believers," he added.
Graham addressed a variety of topics during the discussion, including John McCain's loss in the 2008 election. Graham, a close ally of McCain, had been a central figure in his campaign. He said that the collapse of the economy had been "game, set and match," essentially guaranteeing that then-Senator Barack Obama would win the election.
Graham lauded Mr. Obama for energizing young people and also engaging Hispanic voters, which he said Republicans had turned off with rhetoric on immigration "coming out of certain quarters of our party."
He said Mr. Obama had passed the "ready to be commander-in-chief test" during the debates and that the Democrat had been helped by the unpopularity of then-President Bush and his policies. "The Republican label was very much tainted," Graham said.
The senator suggested his party is set for a comeback, however, thanks to Democrats' performance since the president took office.
"We're back in the game because they're screwing up," he said. "It's nothing we've done." Graham pointed to the way Democrats are "playing to stereotypes on spending" and other issues, and said "it looks like 2010 could be good," a reference to the midterm elections.
Asked if former President Jimmy Carter was right in his assessment that much of the criticism of President Obama is rooted in racism, Graham said, "I don't think so."
"There [are] people in this country that are having a hard time reconciling the fact that we have a black president," he acknowledged.
But Graham said that many of the critics of the president would applaud Alan Keyes, the conservative African-American politician, which he pointed to as evidence that their criticism was rooted in ideology, not race.Asked how he deals with fringe elements in his party, Graham said, "I go to a town hall meeting and say 'you're crazy' - in a respectful way." He said the so-called "birthers," who doubt that Mr. Obama was born in the United States, fall into that catergory.
Graham also said that torture does not work in the long run, calling the Abu Ghraib scandal "the biggest mistake we made in the war."
"The way you beat this enemy is you show differences at every moment," he said, despite the fact that "when you're trying to apply the Geneva Convention to al qaeda, people look at you like you're from the moon," since you're applying a standard to them that they would not apply to you.
Graham lamented the state of the Afghan government but suggested that America had no choice but to make the best of the situation. He said the answer to the question "are we going to let the Taliban come back" has to be "a definitive no."
"No matter how bad the Karzai government has been, and no matter how bad they will be in the future, it is not in our national interest" to let the Taliban regain a foothold in Afghanistan, he said.
Graham also said that Mr. Obama's number one goal has to be keeping Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
"We're about to allow for the first time in modern history irrational people to have weapons of mass destruction," he said. "And that is not an acceptable outcome to me."
The Republican senator also signaled his support for Mr. Obama, who he said "has a plate full of unimaginable problems."
"Do I want some of his policies to fail? You better believe it," he said. "Do I want him to fail? No. Because he's my commander-in-chief."
More from the "First Draft of History" Conference:
Geithner: Goal is not to Save People From Mistakes
Petraeus: Afghanistan is not Iraq or Vietnam
Doctor: U.S. Needs to Control "Tsunami of Obesity"
McCain Pushes for More Troops for Afghanistan