The Great James Rowe Memo


There is enough self-referential content to this post to justify the apposite Escher illustration. But not enough to keep me from doing it at all!

My friend Timothy Noah has an excellent item at TNR today, about the options ahead for Barack Obama. The self-referential part is that he is responding to my own cover story about Obama. The payoff is how far he advances the argument about Obama's political choices, past and future -- and extra insight he provides on an item I mentioned in my story, a fascinating memo written by James H. Rowe Jr.

You don't often see the phrase "a must-read 66-year old memo," but it applies in this case. As I said in my article, I learned about the memo from Samuel Popkin of UCSD, who discusses it in his forthcoming book The Candidate. Tim Noah has a link to the text of this long memorandum, from the Truman Library's site, and he explains both why Rowe deserves more attention in general and why his advice for a president confronting an opposition-held Congress is so surprisingly up-to-date. Rowe told Truman that the Republicans who had taken control of the Congress in 1946 would claim they wanted to cooperate with him. "The purpose of this memorandum is to examine whether such 'cooperation' is feasible." As Noah says about the resulting prescription:

It includes a list of Don'ts. Among these are "The creation of joint or bipartisan policy committees" (can you say "supercommittee"?) and "The increase in Congressional supervision of the President's managerial agencies, or the transfer of their functions to a Congressional agency" (translation: Don't even think about letting Congress get its mitts all over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).

Rowe also included a handy list of presidents who had to contend with one or more houses of Congress in the hands of the opposite party. One thing I noticed almost immediately was that of the three presidents most often named as America's greatest (Washington, Lincoln, FDR), only one--Washington--ever had to deal with this problem, and I'm not sure he should even be included because, though he leaned Federalist, our first president never actually belonged to any political party.

Worth reading -- Noah's item, Rowe's memo, Popkin's book. And, what the hell, our current issue, which is full of interesting stuff.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In