Today’s politicians can draw important lessons from the genius and the flaws of Thomas Jefferson. Here’s a clip from Jon Meacham’s interview this week with Jon Stewart (though it’s well worth watching the entire interview [starts around 0:15:00]):

Resonating lines for me:

“Jefferson was afraid of Britain militarily and culturally, but also that we would have a populace that would not be guided by data, that would not be guided by fact, that would be guided by authority – priestly or monarchical or aristocratic…the experiment in self-government meant you had focus on the self, you had to work on the life of the mind…”

“From the beginning of Jefferson’s life to the hour of his death, slaves were there to make his life possible…The tragic, unbridgeable gap between what he said about liberty and what he did about it in his own life and his own economic world is the great tragedy of his life. It is also the great tragedy of American life.”

It is frustrating that someone who advocated so strongly for reason and freedom from inherited authority constructs could give up on trying to change the one aspect of American society that negated both of those ideas.

I hope today’s politicians on both side of the Atlantic draw some lessons from the life of Jefferson and strive for enlightened thinking while fighting for change, even when it seems too difficult.