Steaks, Pragmatism, and the View From the Delta

At first, there was something comforting in the predictability of the evening's conversation. At Doe's Eat Place on Nelson Street in Greenville, Miss., last Wednesday, within the space of perhaps five minutes, I was twice told that "the media" are too liberal. (Once was by my father-in-law, a Sarah Palin admirer, who delights in Bill O'Reilly's occasional volleys against NEWSWEEK.) With the possible exception of South Carolina, Mississippi has been the most reliably conservative state in the country since Fielding Wright, the state's governor, ran as Strom Thurmond's vice president on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948. It is tempting to paint the scene at Doe's as something you would expect in an unreconstructed red-state redoubt, and then perhaps contrast the gathering in the Delta with the president's prime-time press conference as images of parallel worlds that will never intersect.But that narrative, however appealing in its familiarity, feels at once glib and antique. I am not going...

A Lion, But No Lionization

It was an unusually candid admission, particularly for a politician. A few years ago, in a meeting with NEWSWEEK editors, a distinguished and well-known United States senator—the session was on background, so I cannot identify the lawmaker by name—reflected on the fleeting nature of glory in his line of work. When he had first come to the Senate, he said, he had looked at his desk on the floor of the chamber, a desk that bore the name of each senator who had ever sat in that seat. Eagerly, the new man's eyes ran up and down the list. "And you know what?" he said, recalling the moment. "I didn't recognize a single one of them. Easy come, easy go."It is safe to say that the name of the author of this week's cover, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, will never slip unremembered into the mists of history, and that alone makes him a man who repays study. He is a member of an elite company, and not just by being a Kennedy (actually, he has more well-known relatives than the popular...

An Opportunity for Tehran

Maziar Bahari is a NEWSWEEK reporter, a documentary filmmaker, a playwright, author, artist, and, since June 21, a prisoner being held in Iran without formal charges or access to a lawyer. The Iranian state press has attached Bahari's name to a "confession" made in vague terms and conditional tenses about foreign media influence on the unrest in Iran that followed the declaration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection on June 12.Some in the government of Iran would like to portray Bahari as a kind of subversive or even as a spy. He is neither. He is a journalist, a man who was doing his job, and doing it fairly and judiciously, when he was arrested. Maziar Bahari is an agent only of the truth as best he can see it, and his body of work proves him to be a fair-minded observer who eschews ideological cant in favor of conveying the depth and complexity of Iranian life and culture to the wider world. Few have argued more extensively and persuasively, for instance, that Iran's...

The Authors' Roundtable

Holden Caulfield had it right. The test of a great book, he said in The Catcher in the Rye, was whether, once you finished it, you wished the author were a great friend you could call up at home. I remembered Caulfield's insight when we convened a roundtable of writers to come to NEWSWEEK. The conversation was honest, and a persistent theme emerged: that for all the frustrations of writing, the uncertain future of publishing, and the terror of rejection by readers and critics, our authors couldn't imagine doing anything else. Ever.Because they are all inveterate (and deft) storytellers, even when they're just talking shop. Elizabeth Strout revealed that she hides pages of her manuscripts in her home so she can come across them by surprise—and thus see them with a fresh eye. Susan Orlean said the first book she bought on Kindle was by…Susan Orlean. Robert Caro reminded us how he was told, repeatedly, that a book on Robert Moses wouldn't sell. (It did, and it won a Pulitzer.) Want to...

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...

The Authors' Roundtable

Holden Caulfield had it right. The test of a great book, he said in The Catcher in the Rye, was whether, once you finished it, you wished the author were a great friend you could call up at home. I remembered Caulfield's insight when we convened a roundtable of writers to come to NEWSWEEK. The conversation was honest, and a persistent theme emerged: that for all the frustrations of writing, the uncertain future of publishing, and the terror of rejection by readers and critics, our authors couldn't imagine doing anything else. Ever.Because they are all inveterate (and deft) storytellers, even when they're just talking shop. Elizabeth Strout revealed that she hides pages of her manuscripts in her home so she can come across them by surprise—and thus see them with a fresh eye. Susan Orlean said the first book she bought on Kindle was by…Susan Orlean. Robert Caro reminded us how he was told, repeatedly, that a book on Robert Moses wouldn't sell. (It did, and it won a Pulitzer.) Want to...

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...

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: ...

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...

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 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 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...

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...

Pages