Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • Love Books? You’re In The Right Place.

    A true story: in 1986, when I was a senior in high school, I read Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men and then read Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas's The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Both were about the interplay of the personal and the political, and I was so swept up by both that, after finishing The Wise Men, I started the whole thing over again, rereading Warren and then rereading Isaacson and Thomas. Years later, when I first met Thomas, I somewhat sheepishly told him this. He looked at me for a moment, then said, "You must have been a real dork." To that I plead guilty, but I would not trade the serendipity of encountering the two books at the same time for anything. At the time (and ever since), I was intrigued by the extent to which the character of those in authority could affect the course of history.It is a question that still consumes me, and I suspect is of perennial interest to you, too. Many young people go through a Walden phase, believing that...
  • Meacham: Theocracies Are Doomed. Thank God.

    For years American conversation about Iraq has included a refrain about how we cannot expect to create a Jeffersonian democracy on the Euphrates. The admonition is true: if you think about it, America itself is not really a Jeffersonian democracy either (we are more of a Jacksonian one, which means there is a powerful central government with a cultural tilt toward states' rights). And yet Jefferson keeps coming to mind as the drama in Iran unfolds. The events there seem to be a chapter in the very Jeffersonian story of the death of theocracy, or rule by clerics, and the gradual separation of church and state. In one of the last letters of his life, in 1826, Jefferson said this of the Declaration of Independence: "May it be to the world what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves."However strong they may be...
  • Meacham: The Micawbers and Mrs. Roosevelt

    The numbers are, by and large, pretty good. In the Gallup poll, President Obama's job-approval rating in May averaged 65 percent, a figure that puts him in good company. Only three other presidents elected to their first terms—Eisenhower, Kennedy and Reagan—have scored higher, and Obama's average tops those of his most recent predecessors: the two Bushes and Clinton. But while 55 percent have a favorable view of his stewardship of the economy in general, there are two troubling figures that foreshadow political problems for the president and, more important, intractable problems for all of us: 48 percent disapprove of his handling of the federal budget deficit, and 51 percent are unhappy with his control of federal spending. (Or, as Republicans would say, his lack thereof.)Research by Bill McInturff and Peter Hart cited by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation puts the matter in even more telling perspective: 66 percent of registered voters say the deficit and debt pose a "very big...
  • Jon Meacham on Conservativism and the GOP

    Twenty years ago, I accompanied Andrew Lytle, the Southern writer, to a conference at Russell Kirk's compound in Mecosta, Mich. A crucial figure in the postwar American conservative movement, Kirk ran a kind of permanent salon at his home, which was known as Piety Hill. I was there mainly to make drinks in the evening and coffee in the morning for Mr. Lytle, then 86, and his old friend Cleanth Brooks, the literary critic who had come to the Michigan countryside from New Haven. At lunch one day, Dr. Kirk, as he was known, asked me what I was reading. I was in the middle of a Palliser obsession, and Kirk was engaging on Trollope. Then, looking at me with a genial intensity, he said solemnly that Victorian politics were all well and good, but one must know Burke, of course. Everyone must know Burke.It was, for him, familiar counsel: Kirk's 1953 book The Conservative Mind was instrumental in popularizing the 18th-century Irish politician-philosopher. Allusions to Edmund Burke's...
  • Tim Geithner Chats with Newsweek's Jon Meacham

    President Barack Obama has said that Tim Geithner, whose job coincided with a credit crisis, faces more challenges than any Treasury secretary since Alexander Hamilton, the first to hold the post. Geithner chatted with NEWSWEEK editor Jon Meacham in Washington about the deficit and the financial crisis. Excerpts: ...
  • Q&A: Obama on Dick Cheney, War and Star Trek

    In a 30-minute interview aboard Air Force One en route from Washington to Phoenix last Wednesday, President Obama talked with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham about Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Dick Cheney—and Star Trek. Edited excerpts: ...
  • Meacham on Newsweek's New Magazine

    It is no secret that the business of journalism is in trouble. Venerable American institutions are facing uncertain futures; once profitable enterprises are struggling to find ways to fund their operations. At an otherwise lighthearted White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, President Obama concluded his remarks on a serious note, expressing his sympathy for the trade's plight and quoting Thomas Jefferson, who remarked that he would rather have newspapers and no government than a government without newspapers.The point, we believe, holds true for a magazine like ours. We think what we do is important, but in the end what matters more is whether you think so, and in so thinking, whether you find that our work repays the investment of your time. And so the magazine you are holding now—the first issue of a reinvented and rethought NEWSWEEK—represents our best effort to bring you original reporting, provocative (but not partisan) arguments and unique voices. We know you know...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    It may have been the most productive coffee date in NEWSWEEK history. Almost a decade ago, after the death of Meg Greenfield, Rick Smith, the magazine's longtime editor in chief, reached out to one of the great voices of the boomer generation: Anna Quindlen, who had left The New York Times in 1995 to devote herself full-time to writing fiction. Anna was—and is—among the most sought-after journalists in the country: even her commencement speeches have become bestsellers. She was not looking for more work—far from it. But when Rick called to ask her to meet for a conversation on the Upper West Side, she graciously accepted. Anna was not interested, saying that she had given up the days when she would have to pull her car over to the side of the road to jot down urgent thoughts for a column. Rick, on his way to Tokyo, asked her to think it over.To the great good fortune of NEWSWEEK's readers, she did, and ultimately agreed to succeed Meg as one of our two LAST WORD columnists. She and...
  • The Buckley Family

    The son of Pat and Bill Buckley may not have always been happy, but he was never bored.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    The question is not as the extremes on either side would have it. Today, eight years after the attacks of September 11 and three months into a new presidential administration, should the country in some way look back to review the tactics that shaped the war on terror under President George W. Bush?The right loathes the idea; the left loves it. The release of Bush administration memos laying out the legal justification for what are known as enhanced interrogation tactics—or, in the popular vocabulary, as torture—is among the factors driving a new conversation about the wisdom of investigations. Conservatives tend to believe that this would amount to a criminalization of policy differences, possibly leading to the prosecution of officials who believed they were doing the right (and authorized) thing. Liberals are longing to take the Bush regime to account, and fantasize about Dick Cheney in the dock.For now, President Obama has, predictably, taken a middle course. He has banned the...
  • Epilepsy in America: What Must Be Done

    It was supposed to be an ordinary Saturday. on Feb. 16, 2008—a cool but not cold late winter's day—my wife and I had plans for a late breakfast with a colleague of mine in New York when the call came. The bright, beautiful 4-year-old son of our closest friends had died in his sleep, the victim of an epileptic seizure. Henry Foster Lapham—he is the wonderful child pictured here—had been diagnosed with epilepsy shortly before the attack that killed him; in the vernacular of the world of epilepsy, Henry suffered what is called Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy.There are no words to capture the horror of what happened to Henry. At a service in his memory in the Little Chapel on the grounds of St. Albans School in the shadow of Washington National Cathedral—the pain in the small sanctuary was palpable; I can feel it even now, more than a year later—his parents, Gardiner and Nicholas Lapham, somehow mustered the courage to speak. Here is part of what Nicholas said: "Gardiner and I are...
  • Meacham: A Post-Christian America

    Reports of the death of the religious right or about the high hopes of the religious left are familiar, but something deeper and more fundamental (so to speak) than a tactical repositioning is going on at the moment. Christianity is not depleted or dying; it remains a vibrant force in the lives of billions. Only a fool or an ideologue would say otherwise. There is, however, a sense among believers and nonbelievers that America is less Christian than it has been, and may even be moving into a post-Christian phase.This argument, which I explore in our cover this week, would not have been as compelling five years ago as it is today. In 2004 came the release of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which religious conservatives helped turn into a box-office success (unlikely for a movie whose dialogue was in Aramaic); this was also the era of Terri Schiavo.What has happened in the intervening years? John McCain, for one. Though he tried to get right with Jerry Falwell and others ...
  • Meacham: The End of Christian America

    The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades. How that statistic explains who we are now—and what, as a nation, we are about to become.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    It was, in a way, overdue. Beginning last September, when the financial sector of the economy collapsed and the markets melted down, a resurgence of American populism seemed inevitable. The haves, especially Wall Street types, were being protected (by federal-bailout money), the have-nots less so (nobody seemed interested in replenishing 401[k]s or, more urgently, in subsidizing jobs that were being lost at a rapid rate—unless you were a highflying banker). A Democratic administration was coming to power after a sustained period of Republican rule. Manifestations of the disparity between the very rich and the rest of us became more common: the automakers' flying privately to Washington to ask for taxpayer money was an early symbolic occasion for popular outrage.And yet the tenor of the time, shaped in large measure by Barack Obama's own coolness, remained calm. The inauguration was a dignified celebration of diversity and democratic change; there was no Jacksonian mob storming the...
  • Meacham: Putting Our Cash Back to Work

    Thrift, we all know, is one of the perennial virtues. For many of us, however, the inclination to save is a good deal weaker than the urge to spend, which is why personal indebtedness is so great. Our call for more spending on this week's cover is not an invitation to more irresponsibility, but for a fresh springtime reassessment of whether the ultimate benefits of investing outweigh the immediate benefits of saving. The conventional way to write about this subject demands an allusion to, or a quotation from, the Founding Father of American thrift, Benjamin Franklin, but the inspiration for Daniel Gross's piece came not from the distant past but from Omaha.In his annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett (a director of The Washington Post Company, which owns NEWSWEEK) wrote: "The investment world has gone from underpricing risk to overpricing it. This change has not been minor; the pendulum has covered an extraordinary arc."Along with Lisa Miller's...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    On a late winter afternoon, the sunlight fading outside the window, John McCain was sitting in his Senate office—he uses Barry Goldwater's old desk—shaking his head about the billions of dollars in earmarks in the federal budget and talking about the future of his party. Rush Limbaugh was Topic A in the capital; the radio giant's long speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference—one in which Limbaugh repeated his hope that President Obama will "fail"—had led to a tactical Washington tempest. Sensing an opportunity, the White House had singled out Limbaugh as, in Rahm Emanuel's words, "the intellectual force" of the Republican Party. It was not a bad strategy: in the NEWSWEEK Poll, 46 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Limbaugh. (As a point of contrast, Obama's unfavorable rating is 22 percent, and even Nancy Pelosi fares better than Limbaugh.)In the West Wing on the same afternoon, David Axelrod was musing about the complexities of the politics during the recession. ...
  • Jon Meacham: Obama's Complex Confidence Game

    Nothing against Abraham Lincoln, but in a way it is too bad that President Obama has replaced President Bush's Oval Office bust of Winston Churchill with one of the 16th president. True, American conservatives, particularly neoconservatives in the Cheney mold, long ago appropriated the late British prime minister and his legacy of defiance in the face of evil; Churchill, who was a complex and changeable ideological figure in his lifetime, now seems more likely to be approvingly quoted by Republicans than Democrats. A long-dead foreign leader, then, has become a kind of partisan figure.This is unfortunate, for Churchill offers one of the great case studies for any leader in how to build and maintain public confidence in the bleakest of hours. There has rightly been much talk of Franklin D. Roosevelt's gift for lifting the spirits of a depressed people; this week's cover is by Jonathan Alter, the author of "The Defining Moment," an influential book on FDR's first 100 days that Obama...
  • Meacham: Could Stress Be Good For You?

    He was home, in a way, and among friends. Last Thursday evening, standing before the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association banquet in Springfield, Ill., President Obama recalled Lincoln's words on leaving the state capital for Washington: "To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything." Then he told a wittier, and perhaps more revealing, story. A favor-seeker once came to Lincoln claiming that his efforts had made the crucial difference in the 1860 election."So you think you made me president?" Lincoln asked."Yes," the man said, "under Providence, I think I did.""Well," replied Lincoln, "it's a pretty mess you've gotten me into." A pause. "But I forgive you."Obama's crowd loved it, and he could not help adding: "So whoever of you think you are responsible for this"—his own presidency—"we're taking names."In a series of pieces this week, we explore the truth behind Obama's humor. There was an impression—not from Obama, to be clear, who took pains to try to manage...
  • Jon Meacham: America's Socialist Shift

    When Evan Thomas and I started talking about the idea that America has quite recently—and quite quickly—moved closer to Europe in terms of the relationship between the state and the market, we were skeptical. We are Americans, after all; only five years ago, John Kerry was damaged politically by the impression that he seemed "too French." We are a historically center-right country, too; in terms of culture and mandated social programs, America tends to be more conservative than liberal. Then Evan raised a personal connection to the whole question, recalling the electoral fate of his grandfather, Norman Thomas, a perennial presidential candidate. "He found out the hard way that we aren't socialists," he said. "The best he ever did was to lose to FDR 25 to 1."But the more we spoke and the more we looked at the data, the more merit we found in the point: without a great deal of fanfare, the America of 2009 has become a more socialist country—and the shift began not under a Democrat but...
  • We Are All Socialists Now

    In many ways our economy already resembles a European one. As boomers age and spending grows, we will become even more French.
  • Meacham: America's Hope and Skepticism

    Barack 0bama sees the world more or less as it is, and seems less susceptible to self-deception and self-delusion than most of us. With the possible exception of genuine saints, everyone is the star of the movie that plays in their heads, and the Obama story is thus far a heroic tale of a bright and blessed man who has defied history in order to make history. It would take a very cool man indeed not to have his head turned and his personality warped by the adulation he has garnered and the hopes he has inspired. In a series of behind-the-scenes photographs, Charles Ommanney captures the intimate moments of Inauguration Day, and while there were very few Americans who were not moved by Obama's swearing-in, Allison Samuels, Ellis Cose and Raina Kelley write about the especially profound and complicated impact of the moment on people of color.Yet Obama, to echo George H.W. Bush's 1988 acceptance speech, is that man—cool, sober, reflective and pragmatic. Far from believing himself...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    In November 1940, after Franklin D. Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term, an embattled Winston Churchill, still holding out alone against Hitler's Germany, cabled the White House. A phrase from that distant communication applies to the events now unfolding to mark the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States: "Things are afoot which will be remembered as long as the English language is spoken in any corner of the globe." And Spanish, and Chinese, and, really, any tongue at all.For this week's issue, we decided to look not at Obama—there has been, and will be, world enough and time for that—but at the nation we have become. We are heading toward a day when the people who are considered minorities will, taken together, account for a majority of the U.S. population. This is not an unfamiliar projection (2042 is the demographers' best guess), but too often conversation about demographics focuses on the future rather than the present, and the present...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Rush Limbaugh was on the phone. Ten days before Christmas, Dick Cheney was at his desk in the West Wing, talking about the past and the future with the dean of conservative radio hosts. After asking the vice president what he was most proud of, Limbaugh wondered whether Cheney thought Barack Obama would give back the powers asserted during the Bush-Cheney era. "Well, my guess is, once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, that they will appreciate some of the things we've put in place," Cheney replied. "We did not exceed our constitutional authority, as some have suggested, but we—the president believes, I believe very deeply, in a strong executive, and I think that's essential in this day and age. And I think the Obama administration is not likely to cede that authority back to the Congress. I think they'll find that given [the] challenge they face, they'll need all the authority they can muster."To his fans (a small but devoted bunch) Dick...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    He still remembers the chocolates. As a former Jerusalem bureau chief, Dan Klaidman, who is now the magazine's managing editor, is particularly well qualified to write this week's cover on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Gaza and what we can expect from President Obama on the issue as he arrives in Washington to take office. But Dan's connection to the history of Israel is visceral as well as journalistic: when he was 6 years old, he was taken to meet David Ben-Gurion.As Dan recalls it, Ben-Gurion was in retirement at his home in Tel Aviv. "My father, a reporter for The Washington Post, was researching Ben-Gurion's obituary," Dan says. "We sat in Ben-Gurion's impressive library, lined with books in many languages. (Ben-Gurion was a gifted linguist.) To me, he was a grandfatherly figure, with that distinctive halo of unkempt white hair. I remember sitting on his lap as he fed me and my sister chocolates—and I remember his apparent irritation with one line of my dad's...
  • Meacham: The History of Power

    The study of power is not only diverting (which Homer and Shakespeare knew), but illuminating. A biography of an ancient human impulse.
  • Editor's Desk: Dec. 22, 2008 issue

    He hardly seems suited for the role. As a toddler, Thomas M. Tamm scampered around J. Edgar Hoover's desk. The son and nephew of top FBI officials, Tamm grew up to become a lawyer with the Justice Department, a man whose code, he believed, was in the tradition of the bureau motto his uncle is said to have coined in 1935: "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity."He appeared, in other words, an unlikely candidate to do what Michael Isikoff details in this week's cover: duck into a Metro station near the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington and use a pay phone to tip off The New York Times to the existence of a vast classified domestic intelligence-gathering operation. The call helped lead to the exposure of the Bush administration's warrantless-wiretapping program—and to an ongoing criminal investigation to determine whether to prosecute Tamm for the leak.To some, Tamm may be the Daniel Ellsberg of the war on terror; to others, even Tamm admits, he may be a traitor. As Mike's story makes...