Hero of Journalism Award

I will present this coveted prize to the next reporter / pundit / columnist who gets through a discussion of the pros and cons of Hillary Clinton as Sec of State without using the now-unbearably hackneyed term "team of rivals."

Nothing against Doris Kearns Goodwin, who in prehistoric times was my professor in a college course on the American presidency. And nothing against her application of the concept to the composition of Lincoln's wartime cabinet and the political challenge of holding Union factions together before and during war. (For somebody who does challenge that application, go here.)

But this is not the Civil War, Obama is not Lincoln -- and even if he were and all circumstances were identical in every way, out of simple self-respect you'd think people would get embarrassed about using the catch phrase they'd heard a million times for the million-and-first. To me, listening to this unvaried refrain is like hearing "bitchin' !" among my fellow teenagers in the late 1960s or "groovy! " after that. And I'm in China!

We do already have words for the underlying concept, and many other examples in history than Lincoln's bringing Seward et al into his administration. You could call it an "inclusive" approach. Or "big tent" politics. Or "bipartisanship," if the rivals in question are from the other party. Or "coalition-building." Or "compromise." Or a "unity cabinet." If you really want a hoary adage, you have two familiar ones to chose from: something about bygones being bygones, or about keeping your friends close, and your enemies...  America needs a lot of things, but not additional cliches to stunt political thought before it has a chance of taking place. (This reminds me of the tech cliche "mashup," to describe what really is an "overlay" or a "combination" or "fusion.")

As I write, the Sunday talk shows have not yet begun in America. My guess is that no one who appears on them will still be eligible for my award at the end of the day. But I am an optimist and hope to be proven wrong!

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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.


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