TODAY   |  November 09, 2012

Meacham: Foreign policy will be big in second term

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham discusses the challenges facing President Obama in his second term including the “fiscal cliff” and relations with Iran.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> thanks. john meacham is a pulitzer prize winning historian and author of the new book " thomas jefferson the art of power." good morning.

>> thank you, sir.

>> tell me about what's going on in washington right now. everyone is saying the right things. president obama said a couple days ago i'm looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders in both parties to meet our challenges. john boehner said we are ready to be led. is this just honeymoon talk or do the american people have reason to believe things might be different in a second term?

>> a lot of it's honeymoon talk. this is the natural result. the president wants to appear magnanimous in victory. the speaker, whose party just lost, wants to be clear that practically he understands that the country voted for an incumbent president as opposed to the nominee of his party, so it behooves him at this point to make the right noises. but it's still friday. sometimes bipartisanship in washington is a little like what mark twain said about tom sawyer and huck finn . there was once an evangelist who came to town who was so good that even huck finn was saved until sunday afternoon. there is a short half life .

>> so pessimism about business as usual changing in washington ?

>> not pessimism. just, it's going to be a very -- nobody's interests have radically changed except that do you have this fiscal cliff. you do have this situation that interestingly washington created. they passed a bill that said at the end of the year the tax cuts expire. we'll sequester money. we're not going to spend it. we're going to force ourselves to make a hard decision. and history tells us that washington makes hard decisions only when they really have to.

>> tell me more broadly about second terms. presidents are unburdened by the need to be re-elected but for a lot of presidents they've been fraught the second terms. which way does it cut for president obama ?

>> the only thing worse than winning a second term is not winning a second term. it's hard because people get tired. part of the president crying, we haven't often seen a man who has even compared himself to mr. spock from time to time being that emotional. people get tired. people start to move on quickly in the sense of who is going to be the next president yet again. at the same time you get that first year or so where real things can happen and also an important part of second terms has been foreign policy because presidents have a lot more unilateral movement, authority in that zone, and so you get a lot of important things. ronald reagan cut a very important deal with mikhail gorbachev . president clinton almost got a middle east peace deal. so looking at how we deal with iran and even the unforeseen challenges overseas is going to be really important.

>> you've written a book about thomas jefferson , your latest biography. how is thomas jefferson relevant today beyond the obvious that he was the founder of the country, why should we still be interested about thomas jefferson 's life in 2012 ?

>> because he would have totally understood the washington -- john boehner , harry reid , and barack obama . he was a tall, cool, cerebral president who won re-election who was actually really good at politics even though he didn't want to act as though he was. so there are some similarities with president obama . jefferson was the greatest politician of the early american republic, and he understood how to get things done. in a ferociously partisan atmosphere he knew how to be a pragmatist, to remain with a basic view. he understood to get along in washington it was really important to understand the politics of the personal which is something president obama has not been so good at. he likes to play basketball with his staff. he likes to play golf with his staff. he doesn't like to reach out to congress. every night the congress was in session when thomas jefferson was president he had dinner with members of congress. that might be one version of hell for some people but it worked because it weaved attachments to him. it gave him a chance to get things done. i think jefferson understood how to get things done in a fractious capitol.

>> good lessons from long ago for our politicians of today. thomas jefferson the art of power. a great new book. good to see you.

>> thanks, willie.