White House Diplomacy and the American Idea

No, this isn’t a very late endorsement for Barack Obama. (Will and Anita made personal endorsements during the 2008 campaign. Like The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Bugle’s noble influence will not be tainted by political endorsements.) This is about Gordon Brown’s visit to the White House last week.

As usual, some background first. PM Brown brought a sublimely thoughtful gift to Obama. It is no exaggeration to say that it approaches the ideal gift. President Obama gave Brown a box set of DVDs. A box set especially created by the American Film Institute for such occasions, but it still seems perfunctory.

We heard the American media’s ridicule of Obama’s gift way across the Pond. The British tabloids hyperventilated, of course. (See this American overview.) The Guardian had a more sober take. The Irish press had an article or two — not much more than its usual coverage of American diplomacy.

While Brown addressed the US Congress, I was catching up on American magazines. Serendipity handed me the November 2007 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, with a cover story entitled “The Future of the American Idea”. And lo, Tom Wolfe’s contribution gave me a sudden insight — the kind that makes thinking about history delightful at times (at least in the hands of a master like Wolfe). Here’s the first paragraph:

Since you asked … the American idea was born at approximately 5 p.m. on Friday, December 2, 1803, the moment Thomas Jefferson sprang the so-called pell-mell on the new British ambassador, Anthony Merry, at dinner in the White House. Oh, this was no inadvertent faux pas. This was faux pas aforethought. Jefferson obviously loved the prospect of dumbfounding the great Brit and leaving him speechless, furious, seething, so burned up that smoke would start coming out of his ears. And all that the pell-mell did.

It gets much more comical from there, but I don’t want to spoil it. I recommend that you read the whole story, for free, online. (Thank you, The Atlantic.) I hope that it enriches your perspective on American diplomacy. At the very least, I’m sure that you’ll think it’s a good yarn.

As for whether Obama was pulling a T.J. — well, I’ll leave that to the comments.

1 Comment to “White House Diplomacy and the American Idea”

  1. Sharon said...
    19 March 2009

    John Stewart totally did a bit about this & laughed like a little girl!!!