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News & Events

<i>Newsweek</i> editor Jon Meacham told Kellogg students that “the election of Obama was an automatic rebranding of our country.”

John Meacham

Bridging the political divide

<i>Newsweek</i> editor Jon Meacham says Obama has a chance to temper the culture wars

By Amy Trang

2/5/2009 - The election of President Barack Obama ushered a new group of educated, engaged citizens into the political arena. It also set up a potential clash between this new set and an older generation with a long memory of previous political battles.

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That was the assessment of Newsweek magazine editor Jon Meacham, who discussed the new political landscape Jan. 29 before a full house at the Kellogg School. Meacham peppered his presentation with humor while giving the audience a history lesson on the cultural wars Obama will face in a historically center-right but increasingly diverse nation.

Meacham’s Jan. 29 speech was part of Kellogg’s Distinguished Lecture series. Meacham also authored the New York Times nonfiction bestseller American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.

“The election of the 44th president in my business and in any business will be a point at which we measure the world based on what happened before the Jan. 20 inauguration and after,” he said.

Meacham added that Obama is leading in a time of great cultural change. He noted that the country is evolving into a majority-minority nation, with an increasing number of Hispanics and other ethnicities and a more diverse and politically engaged younger generation than ever before. These 18- to 29-year-olds stand in contrast to an older generation that has experienced the politics of the civil rights movement, abortion rights and religion in schools, Meacham said.

“One part of the country has moved on from those issues of resentment,” Meacham said. “That resentment can seem antiquated with the new generation.”

As for Obama’s prospects in foreign politics, Meacham said that Obama’s election has given a fresh start to the relationships between the U.S. and other countries.

“The election of Obama was an automatic rebranding of our country,” Meacham said. “We have a period to take advantage of some goodwill.”

Meacham ended his speech with an anecdote from his personal life. He noted that his 5-year-old daughter is captivated by Obama’s daughters Sasha and Malia, despite the fact that they are of a different race. That in itself illustrates the power of Obama’s presidency to change the way young Americans look at the world.
 
“Obama has an enormous capacity to be a leader in a historic way,” Meacham said.

Meacham’s lecture, “The State of the Nation: America Then and Now,” was sponsored by the Kellogg School Office of the Dean, which produces the Kellogg Distinguished Lecture Series. The initiative is designed to bring preeminent thought leaders from academia, journalism and business to address key issues and leadership challenges confronting managers today.