Chapter 16
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Entertaining Politics

John Meacham offers Barack Obama a slice of advice from Thomas Jefferson’s table

November 26, 2012 Writing for The New York Times’s Opinionator blog, John Meacham, Chattanooga native and author of the new biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, has some words of advice for President Obama during these thorny negotiations with Congress over the fiscal cliff. “Here is a modest proposal, one drawn from the presidency of another tall, cool, cerebral politician-writer,” Meacham writes. “Use the White House and the president’s personal company to attempt to weave attachments and increase a sense of common purpose in the capital. elegant, ‘democratic’ entertaining.”

Meacham describes Jefferson’s strategy of hosting his political foes: “He entertained constantly, handsomely and with a purpose” and “believed that sociability was essential to republicanism. Men who liked and respected and enjoyed one another were more likely to cultivate the virtuous habits that would truly enable the nation’s citizens to engage in ‘the pursuit of happiness.’”

To that end, Jefferson frequently dined with his congressional foes. Rather than adhering to strict hierarchical protocol, he seated his guests “pell-mell,” an arrangement that not only “softened” those inclined to oppose him, but also showcased his own agility in engaging a wide range of people in conversation. Meacham argues that this strategy was relatively effective, keeping congressional factions civil when their differences threatened to destroy the possibility of engagement and compromise.

To read the full essay, click here. To read Chapter 16’s Q&A with Meacham, click here. To read Chapter 16’s review of American Homer, which Meacham edited, click here.