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 (a curious cause, to be sure, since I do not think the masses have been clamoring for it, but there we are). It will, however, almost surely make for poor governance.

I am not writing from a knee-jerk liberal perspective. I disliked much of the mainstream media's reaction to Palin in those first days this summer: it was too fevered, and there was speculation about Palin's family that was out of bounds. I admire John McCain, respect him and have little doubt that he would be a fine president. (As I have little doubt that Barack Obama and Joe Biden would also do the job with skill and grace.) But the vice presidency of the United States in any age, but especially in an age of terror, should not be a slot for the proudly mediocre. I asked Karl Rove to refute me; his essay follows mine, and also looks ahead at what McCain must do in the few weeks that remain. Jonathan Alter sat down with Biden after the debate, and Howard Fineman points out that whoever wins will have few options and many problems come Inauguration Day.

In our package on the economy, Francis Fukuyama writes of the end of the age of Reagan, and how a revolution's love of unfettered markets hardened into an ideology that kept the heirs of the 40th president from fiscal and regulatory prudence. Daniel Gross, Robert J. Samuelson, Jacob Weisberg and Fareed Zakaria offer their takes on the economy's grim present and precarious future. This issue also features our Women & Leadership project, with lessons and oral histories from female trailblazers in business, politics and the arts.

Last Thursday, on a lovely autumnal morning in New York, the family and friends of Osborn Elliott bade him farewell inside the red-brick All Souls Unitarian Church on the Upper East Side. Elliott, or "Oz," as he was known, was the architect of the modern NEWSWEEK. Nearly half a century ago, in 1961, Ben Bradlee encouraged Phil Graham of The Washington Post to buy the longtime No. 2 newsmagazine. As our current chairman, Don Graham, says in a remembrance of Oz this week (it is adapted from remarks he made at the church), Bradlee had to assure Graham that there was an editor who could transform the magazine. Bradlee said yes, there was, and Elliott soon became one of the most influential journalists of the second half of the 20th century. In another reminiscence, Vernon Jordan recalls Oz's deep commitment to covering the civil-rights movement, a signature theme for the magazine in those tumultuous times. Oz never lost his zest for life, for bow ties, or for the news, and those of us who work in his shadow will always be in his debt. And I will miss the phone call I knew I would get on the afternoon of Election Day. Every four years, Oz would call after lunch at the Century Association. I would pick up, and hear him say: "My soul craves exit polls."