Jon Meacham

Stories by Jon Meacham

  • How History Informs Our World

    History has always been a tactile thing to me, and I like to think that I come by it honestly. I grew up on Missionary Ridge, a Civil War battlefield where you could still find Minié balls in the ground and in trees more than a century after Union troops broke the Confederate line in the autumn of 1863. As a boy, I played World War II, wearing my grandfather's old gunnery-officer Navy helmet from the Pacific. Years later, a secretary to Winston Churchill gave me one of the signed pictures of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt that had been presented to members of the prime minister's party during the White House Christmas of 1941—a souvenir that reminded me of the old lyric "I danced with a man who's danced with a girl who's danced with the Prince of Wales."It is true that living in the past—to be a kind of History Channel Miss Havisham—can be bad for the mind and the soul, preventing us from engaging in the battles and causes of our own time. But when we are at our best, history and...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    One of the pleasures of my job is tormenting—or at least trying to torment—my friend and colleague Marc Peyser,our arts editor. Marc is a brilliant man, a keen writer and a gifted editor, but he also has a strong streak of Charlie Brown in him. He always anticipates the worst and believes the end of all things is just around the corner. You know the type: if he won the lottery, he would immediately start fretting about the tax hit.In our work together, this "Hoo-Boy" personality manifests itself in ways like this: a few months ago, when we were discussing this week's cover, our second annual Global Literacy project, Marc told us that Malcolm Jones had just volunteered an interesting factoid: both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day in 1809, and were thus about to mark their bicentennials. What about a little essay, Marc said, on the two men?For me, the idea was like Christmas in May: two towering figures who had shaped the way we live now, redefining...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    By any conventional political measurement, the presidential campaign of 2008, which we now know will be fought between John McCain and Barack Obama, should not be much of a contest. The McCain camp knows that both the math and the mood are against them. About 80 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track after eight years of Republican rule; the incumbent GOP president enjoys—if that is the word—the approval of less than a third of the nation. Add in Obama's undeniable political gifts and you have the makings, on paper or on screen, of a Democratic triumph for the ages.Our cover surely fits within that larger prospective narrative. Written by Daniel Gross with an essay by Fareed Zakaria and a collection of views from the NEWSWEEK Business Roundtable (which includes Robert Rubin, Larry Lindsey and Robert Reich), the package explains why our current economic troubles represent a different and possibly more serious kind of recession than past downturns. The package,...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    The interview—about the Bush administration's record on protecting endangered species—was over, and Daniel Stone, who works in our Washington bureau, was about to leave Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's office when Kempthorne asked Stone to step out on the office balcony, which has, Dan says, "the kind of view you can really only get in Washington by political appointment. Trees blanket the entire city, with breaks in the foliage for the Capitol, the Washington Monument and, far to the west, the house of Robert E. Lee." Kempthorne pointed to the balcony's railing. "Every morning a small bird comes here and sings the most beautiful songs," he told Dan. Then he turned to face the vista of trees. "This, Daniel, is what we're talking about," Kempthorne said. "This is what's at stake."Trees and songbirds are indeed at stake in the great conservation battle that began, really, with one of the noble figures of Kempthorne's party, Theodore Roosevelt. But as with so much else in life,...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    For those who support Barack Obama, our cover this week may seem yet another examination of their candidate's problems with white voters. For those who support John McCain, raising the race factor can suggest that those who oppose Obama are implicitly or even explicitly racist.The issue you are holding, however, is neither redundant punditry about what we recently referred to as "Obama's Bubba Gap," nor is it pre-emptive hand-wringing about how the race card might get played in the months to come. Our goal, rather, is to show how a seemingly straightforward question (are we really ready to elect a black man president?) has no simple answer.Many readers will disagree with me on that, believing—drawing on hope, I think, more than empirical evidence—that America is not only ready but willing, able and about to do so. Most surveys back up the cheerier vision of a nation that has drawn closer to the Promised Land: the new NEWSWEEK Poll finds that the percentage of Americans saying the...
  • The Editor's Desk

    As opening sentences go, the one Mary Carmichael wrote for this week's cover is one of the more chilling I can remember: "Max Blake was 7 the first time he tried to kill himself."Thus begins Mary's account of the Blake family's struggle with Max's bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness typified by recurring bouts of mania and depression. Roughly 6.5 million Americans are affected by it, and of those about 800,000 are under the age of 18. It is a mysterious and stigmatizing disease. As Mary writes in her piece, which was edited by David Noonan, the bipolar brain is miswired, but no one knows why this happens, and while there are many drugs, many do not work well, or at all. And the number of bipolar diagnoses is rising, which means you are going to be hearing more about this disease and its effects in the coming years.All of which are the kinds of general points you would expect from a piece of journalism about a disease and its sufferers. They are important points. What you are...
  • Jon Meacham on America's Changing Place in the World

    Perhaps naively, I have always been skeptical of what you might call the Gibbonization of America—that we are, like Rome, fated to inevitable decline. Admittedly, history offers little support for my view that things are rarely as bad as people think they are, but there is a dangerous solipsism in the tendency to believe that the problems of the day are inherently more difficult and intractable than those that faced earlier generations. To take only one example, the Civil War was pretty bad.It was with a measure of wariness, then, that I opened the galleys of Fareed Zakaria's new book, "The Post-American World," which we excerpt on our cover this week. We are colleagues and friends, and while we had discussed his project, one never knows where a book is going to take its author. And since my initial interpretation of the phrase "post-American world" made me wonder whether Fareed had decided the country was in a declinist phase, I was already mentally crafting warm but not effusive...
  • Q&A: Laura and Jenna Bush Talk Reading

    Laura and Jenna Bush talk reading, teaching and their new book, 'Read All About It'—along with how time flies in the White House.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Political campaigns are fascinating for the same reasons great novels are: both feature characters driven and buffeted by ambition, love and pride. And as in literature, scope is important in politics, for the higher the stakes, the more pitched the story. All of which makes a presidential race the grandest of spectacles.Yet statecraft is not only about the spectacular. Politics, while entertaining, is not—or at least should not be—entertainment. Despite the way we go about deciding who gets it, the presidency is more than a popularity contest, though winning the popular vote is (usually) key. We are not electing someone to room with, drink with or play tennis with but someone to keep the nation safe and direct the affairs of the most powerful country on earth.It is also true, however, that politics is about people, about their passions and their hopes and their fears. Anyone who would lead us has to be able to win—and winning, to state the obvious, requires getting more votes than...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Last September, American-led troops discovered a trove of documents in an insurgent headquarters in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar. The papers cataloged 606 militants who had come to Iraq from abroad. The largest number were from Saudi Arabia, but the highest percentage per capita (almost 19 percent, or 112) were Libyan. And of the 112 Libyans, 52 listed Darnah, a small city of 50,000 on the Mediterranean coast.Reading news accounts of the document find, our foreign editor, Nisid Hajari, was intrigued, and called Kevin Peraino, our Middle East correspondent. The mission sounded simple—answer the question, why Darnah?—but Libya is, well, Libya. As Kevin, who wrote our cover this week, says: "One of the frustrating things about covering the Middle East wars is that, for security reasons, it's often so difficult to tell a richly reported story about America's enemies in the region. I knew it would be tough to gain access to the people we wanted to see in a police state like Libya. I...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    A few months ago, Julia Baird, the editor who oversees our science and family coverage, kept coming across stories about Americans (and Brits) going to India to look for surrogates—stories that were prompting angry online debates about the ethics of outsourcing childbearing to the developing world. It was all very interesting, Julia says, "but I kept wondering why no one was talking about the women in this country who enter commercial arrangements to carry other people's babies. The thought of going through childbirth and nine months of pregnancy for someone else seems astonishing for anyone who has been through it themselves. Sure, it's a joyful, miraculous process—but it is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, painful, restricting and traumatic as well as uplifting and curiously magical. So I was puzzled: who would do this? And why?"The great thing about journalism is that we get paid to go in search of answers to the questions that interest us. And so we launched a reporting...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Last Wednesday, after Ohio and Texas, we were confronting a perennial question: what to do to make the new issue add to the sum of human knowledge—or at least to illuminate a subject, the presidential campaign, in which our readers are immersed. Before arriving at the office, I had worked out what I thought was a strong cover conceit about whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama stood the best chance of defeating John McCain in November—essentially testing, through historical data and on-the-ground reporting in key counties in swing states, which candidate could most plausibly improve on Al Gore's and John Kerry's numbers.It was a perfectly fine idea, but hardly startling. As the day went on, a persistent theme emerged in both passing and more-formal conversations. Many of our writers and editors, particularly but not exclusively women, believed Senator Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas were the most vivid expressions yet of a female backlash against what they believe to be a...
  • Golly, Madison

    Faith, the Founding Fathers and the unlikely rise of religious freedom.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    The note was unexpected, brief and witty. A few years ago, in The New York Times Book Review, I wrote about a book of William F. Buckley Jr.'s (one of his 50), a "literary autobiography" titled "Miles Gone By." I had found the book charming, and said so. From its pages emerged a portrait of a cheerful cultural and political warrior, a man who loved the clash of ideas, the hurly-burly of the arena—as well as wine, sailing, the Latin mass, John Kenneth Galbraith, Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan.A few days after the piece was published, a National Review envelope arrived in the mail at home. It was a letter from Buckley, whom I did not know. He thanked me for the review, and added that he would endeavor to do nothing in his dotage to embarrass me.He kept his word. His death last week at age 82—he was found at his desk at his country house in Sharon, Conn.—marked the passing of an influential public intellectual and further depressed an already melancholy American right....
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Addiction knows no social or geographic boundaries: what John Cheever called "The Sorrows of Gin" are democratic in their destructiveness. I know few people who have not been affected in some way by addiction—in the world where I grew up, the drug of choice was usually alcohol, with a large side of nicotine—and I suspect the same is true for many of you.It has long been unfashionable to think of addiction as a failure of character or of willpower. More than 50 years ago, in 1956, the American Medical Association recognized addiction as a disease, and we now speak of it in the vernacular of treatment and therapy. But only recently have scientists started making progress in understanding, and possibly treating, the underlying biological factors. When we began hearing about new advances in the search for pharmaceutical solutions for common addictions, we were curious. If addiction is in fact a disease, then could it be treated in the way, say, diabetes is with insulin?As Jeneen...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Politicians' marriages are not very different from yours or mine: ultimately mysterious to everyone on the outside, and probably somewhat mysterious to the two people on the inside. But there is at least one critical distinction. The marriage of a presidential candidate, and of a president, has wider implications than virtually any other marriage, for the forces that shape the personal worlds of those in power also inevitably play a role in shaping the political one as well. Abigail and John Adams, Dolley and James Madison, Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, Edith and Woodrow Wilson, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Hillary and Bill Clinton: with them, the marital has mattered to the rest of us.Understanding the spouses of those who would be president, then, is both interesting and important. This week Richard Wolffe profiles Michelle Obama, the formidable Princeton- and Harvard-trained lawyer from Chicago who is emerging as one of the most intriguing characters...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    No one I know really likes being criticized. At our best we acknowledge the utility of differing views, but hearing about our shortcomings is still emotionally taxing. To be reviewed and second-guessed is part of life, and a test of maturity is how well we manage the inevitable feelings of frustration and annoyance that creep in when the criticism starts.John McCain is being tested mightily—and not by the Democrats. The most passionate criticism of McCain is coming from conservative celebrities (and semi-celebrities) who believe he is a sleeper liberal. The ferocity of the remarks from Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and others, Holly Bailey reports, has McCain watching his own words with care."He's still the straight talker, the guy who seems to take some enjoyment in mixing it up with voters at town halls over, for example, immigration reform," says Holly, a coauthor of our cover this week. "But you can also tell he's trying to be very...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    "Rebels often make good warriors," Evan Thomas was saying to John McCain late last week in Los Angeles. "What is it about that rebellious streak that makes good fighters?""I think if you can channel it—and it took me a long time to channel it, as you well know—and mature with it, then I think it's an attribute," McCain replied. You have to get past "self-glory—that 'it's all me' and 'it's my gratification' " and "make the transition" to what he called "a cause greater than myself."Like many people, particularly many politicians, John Sidney McCain III is a complex figure. His wit can be charming or searing; his temper stoic or volcanic. Unlike virtually anyone else in America other than his comrades in captivity, though, he has endured the unimaginable, and lived not only to tell the tale but to rise from his broken bones and teeth, from years of torture and pain, to become a congressman, a senator and now the front runner to become the Republican nominee for president of the United...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    Wandering around the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Daniel Gross noticed that things felt different—especially for Americans. "In normal times, Davos—which attracts Type A's the way Florida attracts retirees—isn't very relaxing," Daniel said. "But this year, it was particularly not relaxing because of the turmoil in the global markets all week. Tuesday, pre-opening, is a good time for private-equity types to get in some skiing. The mountain was closed, though, due to poor visibility. Just as well, since most were too busy on the phone with brokers, portfolio managers and colleagues, following the market's gyrations, to ski."Understood as widespread contractions in economic activity, recessions are officially defined only in retrospect, when financial data is later analyzed. But with the subprime-mortgage effect still rippling through the economy—leading to defaults, foreclosures and ultimately tens of billions in write-downs for big firms like Citigroup and Merrill...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    For many, the rise of Ronald Reagan happened the day before yesterday. But it has, in fact, been a long while: the Battle of Britain and Tet Offensive are as proximate in time as we are to 1980. For a great spell, then, American politics has been shaped, directly and indirectly, by the coalition of voters and interests Reagan brought together: fiscal conservatives, foreign-policy hawks and politically conservative evangelicals. The Republican Party he built held competitive primaries, but the seasons were short and the GOP instinct for orderliness tended to assert itself early on, which meant that George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole and George W. Bush won the nomination fairly quickly.Not so in 2008, and one reason for the chaotic nature of the Republican primary race is that the party of Reagan is now divided in ways it has not been in more than a generation. This view, which informs our lead essay by Evan Thomas, is not the unsurprising opinion of what many people think of as the liberal...
  • Letting Hillary Be Hillary

    Fighting for her political life, she has found her voice. How the historic Clinton-Obama contest is raising questions of race, gender and power.
  • ‘I Get a Little Wonky’

    It was not a smart assumption, the senator says in an interview, for her or her staff to think voters knew the real Hillary Clinton from her Senate campaigns.
  • The Editor’s Desk

    After a NEWSWEEK cover shoot directed by Simon Barnett at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles on Friday, Hillary Clinton was on her way to a nearby union event. One of the questions she fielded there was a fairly common one for Clinton. Do you feel any pressure running to be the first woman president? She replied: "It is truly a great honor. My 88-year-old mother lives with us. She was born before women could vote. If you think about our daughters, of the options and opportunities they have, it's very exciting … [but] I'm not running for president because I am a woman, I'm running because I think I'm the best qualified." It is an argument we'll hear more of as the primaries proceed.Will Senator Clinton win this week, or in the contests after that, or on Feb. 5 or even beyond? We do not know, and we do not pretend to know. In our view, Clinton is the most consuming story of the moment for many of the same reasons Barack Obama was the story coming out of Iowa: she made not only news but...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    There was broken glass on the floor and garbage bags of shredded documents in the stairwells. On a sunny day in Beijing in 1999—dusty, of course, but still bright—Melinda Liu and I were being given a tour of the ravaged American Embassy in the Chinese capital. Our host was Ambassador Jim Sasser, who had just emerged from four days of siege in the compound. His captors? Protesters enraged by the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. It was, Sasser said, "anything goes. Rocks, Molotov cocktails, paint. The first night I tried to sleep, but all I could hear was the sound of rocks hitting the embassy."It had been an odd kind of protest—but then, China is an odd kind of superpower. As Melinda reported at the time, "Beijing leaders quickly seized control of the demonstrations, allowing protesters to let off steam—but not actually to overrun U.S. installations. The government provided permits and buses for the Beijing demonstrators … Officials put up metal signs pointing out the...
  • The Editor’s Desk

    John Edwards had just changed his shirt—blue for blue—and opened a Diet Sunkist orange soda. It was a hot New Hampshire day late in the summer, and Jonathan Darman and I had gone up to check in on Edwards's retail political performances. After a sweaty speech in the sun in front of a public school, the Democratic candidate climbed back aboard his bus for a conversation about the campaign. Then as now, the preponderance of coverage of the race seemed to focus on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and I asked Edwards how he felt about that. "I have been through this before," he said, referring to his 2004 bid. "And in Iowa and New Hampshire, you just have to go look people in the eye, and you never really know what is going to happen until late in the game." Four years ago, Howard Dean had been all the rage—and then Iowans actually caucused. Edwards remembered the season the shift began. "In '04, it was December before I started getting a really telling question: 'Tell us why you would...