In 1790, Thomas Jefferson, newly appointed as George Washington's Secretary of State, hosted a small dinner party at his home for two distinguished guests, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Among the most brilliant and dynamic thinkers of the Revolutionary War era, these three men were united in rebellion against British rule and primarily responsible for authoring the Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Yet in the subsequent early years of the new republic, their friendship drifted as political differences and governing philosophies began to evolve and sharpen.
Even a decade and a half following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, these men were still in their political primes. At 35, Hamilton was serving as Secretary of the Treasury, struggling to find a way to restore solvency to the new United States. He had proposed that the federal government assume the war debts incurred by the states, a plan viewed with suspicion by Madison and Jefferson, wary of Hamilton's ambition to create a robust central government. Madison and Jefferson, conversely, were preoccupied with the location of the new capitol, worried that placement in Pennsylvania or New York would alienate the Southern states and marginalize Southern influence in government. Eventually, from their dinner conversation, the three statesmen forged a compromise, each side bargaining something away while ensuring their agreement as a whole served as a common good for the nation. The eventual outcome was a small but important chapter in our history, and we can only imagine the substance of that discussion between three of the great minds in American history.
Little more than two centuries after his quiet dinner with his friend Madison and rival Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson would be invited to another grand gathering to discuss politics and the future of his nation.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, Mr. President, for meeting us.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Yes sir, Mr. Jefferson, it is truly an honor and a privilege to be in your presence.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: I must say, I am intrigued by the invitation. How may I be of service?
OBAMA: It is, we realize, an unusual request. We have asked you to join us because we are both seeking your endorsement in the 2012 presidential election. And we thought a private discussion away from the media spotlight would be useful, and allow you to determine which one of us is more qualified to be president and lead our nation through these challenging times, both at home and abroad.
JEFFERSON: George Reeves?!?
PERRY: No, Dean Cain.
JEFFERSON: (Disappointed) I see. A point of clarification, sirs. I understand you, Mr. Obama, are the incumbent president, but you, Governor, are not yet your party's nominee?
PERRY: Well, Mr. Jefferson, that is a mere technicality. You see, the lot I am running against is really a pack of bungling clowns...
PERRY: And my chief competitor is a former governor of Massachusetts...
JEFFERSON: Massachusetts? Ghastly.
PERRY: Exactly. A man who masquerades as a conservative and teeter totters on every major issue. And the president here, well, let's just say he'd rather face me than ol' Mitt.
OBAMA: (Nodding vigorously)
PERRY: Heck, I've got a few more debates to get through, but what could possibly go wrong?
JEFFERSON: And you are both seeking my endorsement. Why? I daresay, I have been out of this game for some time.
PERRY: Well Mr. President, you have always been an inspiration and guiding light to conservative Americans. You are the most ardent defender of liberty this country has ever known. You believe that it is the government's responsibility to safeguard our individual rights, and also to restrain itself from infringing on those very same rights. Because the government is there to serve the people, not suppress them. Every American understands today the notion of unalienable rights, thanks to you.
JEFFERSON: That is all true.
PERRY: You see, Tommy, that makes me your kind of guy. We're both suspicious of a big federal government, and we both don't like the government quartering troops in our homes. That's why we have the Fourth Amendment.
PERRY: Stop that!
JEFFERSON: It really is annoying, Mr. President. Governor -- the president is quartering troops in your home?
PERRY: It's a metaphor, Tommy. Regulations, taxes, big government... it is suffocating the American people. They can't breathe.
OBAMA: You can see the hyperbole I face every day from my political opponents.
PERRY: Hyperbo-what? You know, Mr. President, you can put your boots in the oven, but that don't make them biscuits now, does it?
PERRY: Mr. Jefferson, you were a conservative Republican before being a conservative Republican was cool. I am your man.
OBAMA: Yet, Mr. Jefferson, you were also, in your heart, a populist. Someone who would stand with the farmers and workers, not the nation's banking interests and financial barons. Despite your strong personal faith, you believed in a wall separating religion from the state. You promoted public education, closing your own epitaph as not just a founding father, but as "the father of the University of Virginia." And you understood the value of science in both preserving and advancing our society. These are core values that we share, and it is those core values that will help us build a better tomorrow and a better America.
JEFFERSON: Mr. President, what are you looking at?
OBAMA: Er... nothing.
PERRY: It's called a teleprompter, Tommy.
OBAMA: No matter. You sir, are one of my personal heroes and an unparalleled champion of the American people.
OBAMA: Unparalleled champion.
JEFFERSON: I see. Then if that is the case, and if I may raise a minor issue, why, may I ask, did you consign my likeness to the nickel and the two dollar bill? The nickel? The two dollar bill?!? You put Hamilton on the ten-dollar bill! Are you saying one Alexander Hamilton is worth five Thomas Jeffersons? You put my image on a novelty item -- my God man, have you read my curriculum vitae?
OBAMA: Uh, Mr. Jefferson, those choices were made by...
JEFFERSON: (Pounding the table) Hamilton wasn't even president!
PERRY: It's an outrage, Mr. Jefferson. If I had a nickel for every bad decision...
JEFFERSON: (glaring at Perry)
PERRY: Uh, what I mean is, I promise you that my first act as president will be to rectify that injustice. We don't tolerate injustice in Texas. Do you know I've executed more criminals than any other governor in our history? The only killin' President Obama has done, is job killin'. As we say in Texas, this president is all hat, no cattle. Heh heh.
OBAMA: I don't even know what that means. Let me be clear, Mr. Jefferson. May I call you Thomas? Your name is synonymous with republicanism, but let's not confuse republicanism, which I strongly believe in, with the Republican Party. This Republican Party has become completely beholden to the wealthy and corporate interests. They have undermined our national security by throwing us into overseas conflicts for dubious reasons with naive objectives. They have indebted this country beyond measure by ensuring the wealthiest among us receive the most preferential tax and regulatory treatment. They are willing to allow our individual rights and liberties to be sacrificed at the altar of narrow-minded evangelicalism. I ask you sir, is that the party of Thomas Jefferson?
PERRY: Well, now it is you, Mr. President, that is engaging in hyperbobble... hyperablob... making stuff up. As we say in Texas, an empty bucket makes the most racket.
OBAMA: And as we say in Chicago, the reason so many Texans died at the Alamo was because there wasn't a back door.
PERRY: Why you...
JEFFERSON: Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. I have made my decision. There is only one candidate in this election that I can support unequivocally. Mr. President -- may I call you Barack?
OBAMA: No, you may not.
JEFFERSON: In all candor, Mr. President, I cannot support your re-election. I admire you personally, and I would enjoy matching wits with you to deliberate some of the more vexing issues our nation faces, but I must confess that I have reservations about the quality and strength of your leadership. I find it lacking, and somewhat of a disappointment.
OBAMA: Those are strong words, Mr. Jefferson.
JEFFERSON: No personal offense intended, but "strong words" seems to encapsulate the boundary of your leadership to this point.
OBAMA: I confess sir, that I had hoped to do more in my first term. Understand, Thomas, our presidencies existed in eras with little in common. Our nation is sharply divided today, and no matter the issue, and no matter my position, I am assailed every day from both the left and the right. We are polarized to the point that governance has become unachievable. If I demonstrate any willingness to compromise and work with the other party, the left will say that I have abandoned my principles for political expediency. If I stick to my core convictions and try to push for more progressive changes, the right paints me as a tax-and-spend liberal prone to social experimentation and amorality. No matter what I do, half this country will question my capacity to lead.
JEFFERSON: So you have a difficult job, eh?
JEFFERSON: And if the American people better understood the challenges you face every day, they might more fully appreciate your leadership? And if your political opponents were willing to moderate their views, and compromise, you might be able to improve the state of affairs for the country?
OBAMA: Yes. Precisely.
JEFFERSON: Mr. President, with all due respect, are you bloody mad? Do you realize what the state of the continent was when I and my colleagues signed the Declaration of Independence? We had collectively thumbed our noses at King George, the most powerful monarch in the world, while thousands of His Majesty's soldiers were within marching distance from the ground we stood upon. The British had the most powerful naval fleet in the world; we had a handful of privateers. And you think your constituency was divided? Our colonies were united, but mostly just in name. We had as many loyalists to the King as we did advocates of revolution. Rebels and Tories alike were being tarred and feathered every day. Myself, Mr. Adams, Mr. Madison, General Washington -- all of our necks were inches away from the hangman's noose. It was a new country; we lacked resources, organization, consensus, and perhaps most of all, security. We feared the consequences of failure, not for the sake of personal, political self-interest, but because the promise of America was in peril. We wagered our lives on the future of our country. I caution you, sir, on comparisons to your predecessors.
OBAMA: Perhaps I misspoke.
JEFFERSON: Indeed sir. I have followed the progress of your presidency, Mr. President, on, what do you call it? Ah yes, The Google. Your inaugural address was stirring and compelling. You promised a new day.
OBAMA: I tried. But the other party has no interest in compromise. They made it clear from day one that their only interest was ensuring my electoral defeat. And whatever they are selling, the public is buying. Have you seen what happens to my poll numbers every time I reach my hand out to the other side? And even in that environment, I still kept my campaign promises to close Guantanamo Bay, withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, and play hardball with China. (Aide whispers in Obama's ear) And even in that environment, I still intend to keep my campaign promises to close Guantanamo Bay, withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, and play hardball with China.
JEFFERSON: Mr. President, the American people are not the obtuse dullards that many in your time have made them out to be. Yes, there are the governor's "empty buckets" who make considerable noise. You and the governor seem dedicated to pandering to those empty buckets, but trust that such inauthenticity can be glaringly transparent to the American people. It seems that on several issues, you, Mr. President, and the plurality of Americans stand together. Yet you are widely perceived as shrinking from every conflict, fearful of labels your political opponents may assign to you. It is time sir, for you to stop running for president. It is time for you to be the president.
PERRY: Mr. Jefferson, this is truly an honor...
JEFFERSON: Not so fast Governor. I cannot tolerate the likes of you either. I am quite familiar with your type, Governor Perry. You lack depth, and you attempt to compensate for it by exploiting the fears and the anxieties of those you wish to lead. You govern in slogans, not substance. Leaders inspire us to be our best. They do not seize upon our worries -- they inspire us overcome them. And the president is absolutely correct....
JEFFERSON: ...Your platform is centered on the protection of the most privileged classes in America. I cannot offer either of you men an endorsement, but just a few simple words. Audentis fortuna iuvat.
PERRY: Well, fuck you too!
OBAMA: It's Latin, Governor. It means Fortune Favors the Brave.
PERRY: Er... oh. My apologies. But I'm not used to having my courage or integrity questioned. Those who know me best know that I would charge hell with a bucket of ice water.
JEFFERSON: I do not doubt that Governor. But I'm not sure either of you men understand what courage is.
OBAMA: Perhaps you can enlighten us. Is it courageous to write about inalienable rights of all men, while men and women in chains were planting your own fields and harvesting your crops?
JEFFERSON: A fair point, Mr. President. Rest assured, had my colleagues in Congress adhered to my wishes, and those of Mr. Adams, that issue would have been addressed in the Declaration. Out of necessity, we reluctantly tabled the issue of slavery, as its inclusion would have alienated our Southern brethren. And the Declaration would have failed. Yet that is the point that is eluding Governor Perry. We do not attain our greater objectives by clinging unyielding to our convictions. We sacrifice our personal convictions as necessary to attain our higher objectives and aspirations, for the greater good. If I may quote the previous candidate for president from your party, Governor, country first.
JEFFERSON: Further, the President represents all of the people, not merely those who provide you financial or political patronage. The American house is in dire need of structural improvements; we needn't act as a plutocracy and confine ourselves to polishing the brass doorknobs. The electorate longs for a leader they respect and admire, who confronts difficult issues with thoughtful, not cosmetic, solutions. Nor do they care for leaders who forsake pragmatism and moderation in the name of ideological purity.
JEFFERSON: So there you have it gentlemen. Your core difference is also your core failing. It would seem that one of you lacks the resolve to challenge your political opponents; the other, his political supporters.
PERRY: But Tommy, you said there was one candidate in this race you could support unequivocally.
JEFFERSON: Ah yes. Well, this is a bit awkward...
SARAH PALIN: Hi there boys!
PERRY: Sarah Palin?!? You said you weren't going to run!
PALIN: Well, there you go again with your "gotcha" games. Here you go boys, take one each. Hot off the presses.
OBAMA: You agreed to put Jefferson on the $10 bill?!?
PALIN: You betcha. It's about time this country got Constitutiony again.
JEFFERSON: Er, I must be going now. Good day gentlemen.
Follow Andy Kutler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/akutler