Managing Editor of Newsweek by the age of 29, Jon Meacham has certainly had a glittering career to date. His memory for details and ability to apply those details to the questions he was asked give some insight into that meteoric rise. Beyond those attributes, Meacham’s enthusiasm for the topic of the relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and his respect for those two men was more than apparent in today’s January Series lecture.
As someone whose knowledge of US political history remains distinctly sketchy, the stories Meacham told were fascinating, helped by his enthusiasm and storytelling skills. The intimacy of their relationship was made very apparent, as well as some of the tensions that occasionally rose to the surface. He made his point well that being a political leader in a time of war can be a very lonely experience and that this relationship played a great role in the outcome of World War 2.
What wasn’t so much touched on was the second pair of names in, or indeed the second clause of the advertised title “From FDR and Churchill to Bush and Blair: The Changing Face of Leadership.” Early on Meacham made reference to Bush’s use of religious and moral language in the post-twin towers attacks era being somewhat reminiscent of the stark tone Churchill often employed, he noted the obvious overlap of nationalities, and the context of a nation at war. But the discussion didn’t go far beyond that.
I for one got little sense of how leadership has changed beyond my own observation that those leaders have far greater speeches to their names than their modern counterparts. The closest thing we got to an appraisal of the modern pairing performance was a comment that Meacham had no problem with Bush using religious rhetoric (personally I’d be more comfortable with that if he had never started conflating America and Jesus).
An engaging, enjoyable talk that would have been better still if it had a more fitting title.