Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • 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...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    On the campus of Wheaton College in Illinois last Wednesday, in another of the seemingly endless announcements of splintering and schism in the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan and other leaders of the conservative forces of reaction to the ecclesiastical and cultural acceptance of homosexuality declared that their opposition to the ordination and the marriage of gays was irrevocably rooted in the Bible—which they regard as the "final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life."No matter what one thinks about gay rights—for, against or somewhere in between —this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    More than a decade ago, when Fareed Zakaria was still managing editor of Foreign Affairs and only an occasional contributor to our pages, he wrote an essay for us arguing that the Clinton administration was in danger of conducting "foreign policy by CNN"—that post-Cold War Washington, without a defining struggle, might veer from crisis to crisis according to whatever unfortunate event happened to capture the world's popular imagination.Everything old is often new again, and this week Fareed, now our columnist and editor of our overseas editions, offers a variation on the point, asserting that President-elect Barack Obama needs a new grand strategy to shape a new era. In the past seven years, many believed that the struggle against terrorism had taken over the role of the Cold War in America's thought and action, and there is no question that the threat of violence from extremist groups remains real and relevant. (For those who believe terrorism is in abeyance, see the points Fareed...
  • Meacham: The Age of Obama

    Obama will need the spirits of Kennedy, FDR and Lincoln, and also a patient public.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    In his new book, "The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence," NEWSWEEK columnist Robert J. Samuelson makes a compelling case that the current crisis is only one of a series of complicated issues that could slow American economic growth in a deep and fundamental way. "America's next president," Samuelson writes, "takes office facing the most daunting economic conditions in decades: certainly since Ronald Reagan and double-digit inflation, and perhaps since Franklin Roosevelt and 25 percent unemployment."That much, at least, most of us know. What makes Samuelson's cover adaptation of his book all the more unsettling is his call for us to look beyond the current recession into a future that threatens to make this difficult autumn a prelude to ongoing economic disappointments and strains.That is a sobering thought as we elect the 44th president of the United States this week. But we are unquestionably a country in a very bad humor about things....
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Free advice is often worth what you pay for it, and it is funny how people who do not have a particular job are full of wisdom about how to do it. (You can apply the same point to, say, in-laws, marriage and child rearing.) In moments of impatience in the Oval Office, George H.W. Bush was said to have snapped, "If you're so smart, how come I'm the president of the United States?"Even stipulating that giving advice is easy and taking action is hard, though, it is pretty clear that what we are calling the "Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue" (the economy, the wars, the lack of public confidence in the direction of the country) requires the best minds around.We came up with several this week. Richard N. Haass, a NEWSWEEK contributing editor, served two President Bushes—one during the creation of an international coalition in the first gulf war, the other during the deterioration of our alliances in the second. The former director of policy planning in the State Department, Haass is now...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    As usual, Ronald Reagan had the best line. Whenever he was asked whether he was going to win an election, he demurred with that duck of his head, saying, "I always call President Dewey to ask about the polls." The message: surveys and commentators can be woefully wrong, which we all know and which nevertheless fails to stop us from surveying and commenting. At the moment, the evidence suggests that Barack Obama is likely to defeat John McCain for the presidency. Democrats are something that they rarely are every fourth November: cheerful.But as we point out this week, that enthusiasm should be tempered by what I believe to be a stubborn fact about America: that, as a country, we tend to be center-right rather than center-left. First, there is the basic political history of the past 40 years. Democrats have won only three of 10 presidential elections, and the three they won were with Southerners who emphasized how different their candidacies were from those of traditional national...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    When he had been written off early in the primary season, John McCain liked to cite a quotation often attributed to Mao: "It is always darkest before it is totally dark." For the country, the words seem more apt than ever this autumn. In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, 86 percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going, a figure that matches the mood of the nation captured in a Gallup poll in June 1992, at a time of recession and unhappiness with incumbents. The current President Bush, meanwhile, now has a 25 percent approval rating, which is an all-time low in our poll. Only Richard Nixon (23 percent in 1974, the year he resigned) and Harry Truman (22 percent) have ever had lower numbers (in other polls). Total darkness indeed.We think it would be a mistake, though, to declare this the End of Days, or the Near-Great Depression. Yes, things are very tough (I, for one, am hoping not to have to open any stock-market statements until, say, Easter). But they have...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Let us stipulate this right off: Sarah Palin won her debate with Joe Biden. She won, it is true, by not imploding, but a win is a win. Though the polls have given the evening to Biden on substance, Palin, after her unimpressive interviews with Katie Couric of CBS, had the fate of the presidential election in her hands in St. Louis. If the governor had made a serious mistake (something worse than resurrecting Gen. George McClellan and posting him to Afghanistan), she could have destroyed the Republican ticket's chances. In the event, she did not, and the focus is now likely to return to Barack Obama and John McCain in these last weeks.But we should not move on from Palin so quickly. In our cover essay this week, I argue that Palin's populist positioning is risky for the rest of us. She has said, as has the McCain campaign, that it is time "Joe Six-Pack" took possession of the vice presidency. It is good politics to run as a hockey mom who is going to reclaim the office for the masses...
  • The Palin Problem

    Yes, she won the debate by not imploding. But governing requires knowledge, and mindless populism is just that—mindless.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Last Thursday, I had to make a brief excursion to Philadelphia for lunch. It was Day Four of the market turmoil, and the numbers were bad. As I settled into some reading aboard the train south, the man behind me—who clearly worked in finance—made a cell-phone call, apparently to a colleague. "How am I doing?" the man said, his voice—as all voices tend to do—carrying across the car. "How am I doing? I'm doing pretty sh–––y, that's how I'm doing." A few moments later the conductor came along the aisle and, noting the glum faces in the car and the grim headlines, said to no one in particular: "Guys—cheer up! We'll be back, stronger and better. That's the great thing about dollar-cost averaging."There, in a single car on Amtrak, were two of the many competing emotions and views of the American economy—short-term gloom and long-term good cheer. Something else was also happening in those hours: Republicans were about to lead the largest government intervention into the workings of the...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    I hate stories about blocs of voters. Whether it is the Catholic Vote or the Black Vote or the Evangelical Vote or the Whatever Vote, most political journalism that attempts to force a unifying frame on large numbers of disparate people is, to me at least, unsatisfying. My skepticism about such efforts begins with me. If a journalist were writing about the political inclinations of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant born in the South in the era I was born, that journalist would assign me to a Republican category. But I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I have voted for candidates of both parties at different times for different reasons. Sometimes I have punched the ballot (at home in Tennessee) or pulled the lever (here in New York) out of intellectual conviction, sometimes because I just felt a certain way about the candidate in question. I suspect that many of you will recognize yourself in that pattern—which is to say, you do not fit neatly into any pattern.Why, then, a cover...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    All of us have a cancer story— that moment, so sharp in recollection, when we learned that we, or someone we love, had been diagnosed with the disease. We can remember the sterility of the hospital corridor, the ensuing terror and clarity, the forced good cheer, the complaints about the unfairness of it all. Those complaints were, and are, justified: cancer is the worst kind of thief. What it takes cannot be recovered.And so it required no time at all to say yes when my friends Ellen Ziffren and Lisa Paulsen came to NEWSWEEK with an idea: they, with others, were putting together an initiative called Stand Up to Cancer. The goal: to raise money and foster collaboration between doctors and researchers. The means: a cross-network broadcast bringing together Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson (it aired last Friday) to underscore the need to encourage multidisciplinary research. Ellen (a nonprofit leader based in Los Angeles) and Lisa (president and CEO of the Entertainment...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    The first time NEWSWEEK's Karen Breslau saw Sarah Palin, she was calling on the governor in Palin's Anchorage office. "As a journalist, and a female one at that, I am embarrassed to admit that the first thing that struck me about her was that she's so, well, striking," says Karen, our San Francisco bureau chief. "Her stern librarian's bun and the thick glasses did little to obscure the fact that she is an exceptionally attractive woman." Palin's tireless pace was also striking, and now the country is doing what Karen did when she called on the governor in August 2007: getting to know a woman in high office, with high ambitions, but who, at 44 and as governor of a fabled but hardly central state, understandably remains an enigma.As the Republicans gather in St. Paul to nominate the John McCain–Sarah Palin ticket, McCain's choice of the young Alaska politician to serve as his vice presidential running mate has added yet another element of history and drama to a year already heavily...
  • John McCain: Hidden Depths

    The scion of a family of warriors, John McCain seems easy to venerate—or caricature. But he is more complex than you may think.
  • Q&A With John McCain

    McCain on his father's great strengths—and vulnerabilities.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Political conventions have been an obsession of mine since my parents made the spectacularly unwise decision to dispatch me to summer camp in the midst of one. They atoned by sending me the convention issue of NEWSWEEK, which I devoured on the banks of Lake Ocoee in eastern Tennessee. (I was a terrible camper, and not just because of my gloom that political history was being made while I was being taught to canoe, a skill I have never since had occasion to use, even if I had mastered it, which I did not.) For sentimental as well as substantive reasons, then, I have always loved our preconvention coverage.This issue is especially fun. Nigel Parry's cover and Charles Ommanney's behind-the-scenes images of the Obamas and Bidens in their first moments together as a ticket are historic; I am grateful to Simon Barnett (who was in Springfield for the occasion), Susanne Miklas and Michelle Molloy, who did terrific work on deadline to bring them to you. Most of the time I try to use this...
  • Obama on His Parents' Influence

    Obama's mom was an idealist, his stepdad a hardheaded realist, his father a myth. How all this shaped him.
  • Jon Meacham on the 'New South'

    The South tends to exemplify, if sometimes in an exaggerated way, much of what the nation thinks and feels.