From the beginning of American democracy, there was lots to disagree about. You might rightly, in fact, think of (let’s just call it) enthusiastic disagreement an American tradition. But there’s another tradition that has made our differences of opinion tolerable — hanging out socially with our political adversaries despite our disagreements. Never even imagined in aristocratic European society, Thomas Jefferson may have begun the tradition when he brought feuding early legislators, described by one writer at the time as “coming to work in the spirit of avowed misunderstanding without the smallest to agree,” to his home for intimate dinners. First Lady Dolly Madison continued the spirit of humanizing connectedness even in the fray of partisan feuding by regularly inviting lawmakers from across the aisle to social gatherings at The White House. Her parties became so the rage among the frocked and wigged legislators that they came to be known as “Squeezes.” In celebration of the Smithsonian exhibit “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America” opening night, we’re going to show Washington how civility is done and reinvent the Squeeze for a new generation of Americans to celebrate both our history and our diversity.
Consider tapping a couple of local elected leaders from different political parties to be hosts for the evening – or potentially scholars.