What are the qualities of leadership? Are true leaders born, or are they made? I was listening intently to Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham at Monticello this past weekend. He was launching his latest 500 page book, “Thomas Jefferson the Art of Power.” The third President, I learned, was a master at seduction. He had dinner parties at his home here in Charlottesville, and at the nation’s new White House; however he would invite only members of the same party. He didn’t like argument in his private life, but in this way he made friends of his political enemies – maybe the first colonial frenemies? Jefferson was the master of mutual concessions; he managed to win over Federalists by the pure force of his personality. He knew how to build compromise and encourage coalitions. In fact, Meacham likened him to Bill Clinton. One of very few presidents who could not only maneuver politically, but could govern while also thinking philosophically.
“…but every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.”
Who does that remind you of? We are not blue states and red states? Always paranoid about the British returning, which of course they did, Jefferson practiced the politics of optimism. And optimism, I believe, is something you are born with. He knew that politics is inherently contentious, yet he dared to depart from the dogma of his party. Is there one Republican member of the house today who might dare vote to increase taxes?
The Greek tragedy of General David Petraeus’ resignation was unfolding while we listened to Meacham, and to his credit, he never mentioned it. But I couldn’t help think of the juxtaposition; how Jefferson’s legacy has been tainted by his relationship with the enslaved Sally Hemings. Petraeus’ reputation, some might say, was a great veil that the Pentagon wanted to protect because we Americans like to think he helped to “win” the war in Iraq. However, after reading this Atlantic article, titled “General Failure” by Thomas E Hicks,
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/11/general-failure/309148/ …we learn how widespread the failure in our military leadership truly is, and why those two wars (one that was sold to us by lying about nuclear weapons) were doomed from the start. Hicks barely mentions Petraeus, only to say he came in near the end and helped to arm the Iraqi army, thereby inciting more civil war. The General who threw it all away over a woman 20 years his junior, it turns out, was flawed like the rest of us.
Meacham said of Jefferson, “If flawed people can do the good work he did, then maybe we can too.”