November 26, 2012
Attached is an op-ed piece from the NY Times by John Meacham, a historian, writing about Jefferson and his “politicking.” Typically, Meacham focuses on the trivial and not the essentials of Jefferson, focusing on his use of dinners as a way to “relate” to his opponents. He also mentions how Jefferson strove to differentiate himself from Washington and the latter’s behavior as president. Again, though he, Meacham, misses the most important aspects of Jefferson’s behavior, such as his going about town, as it was put by one of his opponents, dressed shabbily and without the coach and accouterments preferred by Washington. Meacham also fails to mention that Jefferson radically downsized the national government and, when he left office, had helped to put in place a nomination process for president that made the party caucuses the nominators. Most significantly, however, Jefferson helped to create a system in which the Congress was the predominant department of the government, not the presidency or the executive more generally.
I too would like Obama to model himself on Jefferson and he should begin by not delivering in person the State of the Union to both houses of the Congress. He should, as Jefferson did, send his State of the Union as a message and have it read in Congress by someone there. This would help Obama to model himself on the behavior of a man who was always skeptical of and careful to avoid “monarchical practices.” What do you think the chances are that Obama, or any other “modern” president, would actually model himself on Jefferson? That’s right, between zero and none.