ABC: Barack Obama Tops Newsweek’s List of 50 Elite People

At the end of Monday’s ABC Good Morning America, co-host Chris Cuomo talked to Newsweek editor Jon Meacham about the magazine’s ‘Elite 50' list of influential people, as Cuomo put it: "People who will literally be able to shape our lives in many different ways." Meacham explained: "Our goal with this was, you know, elite got a bad rap this year. It wasn't a good thing to be an elitist. But there's a difference between elitism and excellence...we wanted people who really had fought their way up through a lot of obstacles in life, chiefly, the President-elect of the United States, and were able to exert that kind of command and control." Apparently, Obama staying at a $30 million Hawaiian resort for Christmas is a sign of his excellence.

Cuomo followed up by observing: "It's interesting because the aspects, the dynamics you're trying to capture here in the list, you have politics, economics, and then kind of other, other significant situations. Number one on the list, President-elect, soon to be President Barack Obama, incorporates all three of those." To that, Meacham replied: "With Obama there's been a kind of resurgence of American credibility. At least the world after several years of kicking us around a good bit, they're giving us a chance, I think, to reassert our leadership." [audio excerpt here]

Not wanting to move on too quickly, Cuomo asked: "Sticking with number one, what can Obama accomplish, in his first year, with the enormity of issues he faces?" In response, Meacham found some good news about the economy: "...in raw political terms, the recession couldn't have broken better for him. It's clearly happened before he came to office, it helped put him over the top."

Cuomo did ask about the rest of the list, particularly the absence of any conservatives: "A couple of quick points. First, all lefties on this list. Were there Republicans on this list?" Meacham loudly laughed and remarked: "It's been a bad year for Republicans." Cuomo countered: "But 2009 could be the comeback year, Jon. Where's the hope?" Meacham then declared the Reagan coalition dead: "The Republican Party, it's fascinating because there's a 30-year coalition of religious conservatives, fiscal hawks, and foreign policy hawks. All three of those things have fallen apart. And so you're going to need a big personality again, someone like Reagan, to bring the Republican Party back."

Cuomo concluded the segment by declaring: "A very thoughtful list that covers really everything. I'm sure you're very proud of it."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

8:31AM TEASE:

CHRIS CUOMO: Also, as we're getting ready for '09, Jon Meacham is here, he's the editor of Newsweek, they have a list of powerful people, 50 elite people to look at in 2009, to kind of gauge how the year will go. So that'll be great.

8:46AM TEASE:

SAM CHAMPION: Next, the 50 most powerful people in 2008, get a glimpse of who made the list.

8:49AM SEGMENT:

CHRIS CUOMO: It's about the end of the year, you're going to start seeing, hearing, thinking about lots of different lists of things that happened this year. But here's a nice twist, our friends at Newsweek are doing something different. Instead of just the best of this year, they're doing the 'Elite 50' to watch for next year. People who will literally be able to shape our lives in many different ways. I got to sit down with the editor of Newsweek, Jon Meacham, and he told us who made the list and why. This is a very impressive list of 50 elite people. And I know the word is intentional. But let's start at the beginning here, looking over the top, how is this issue different than the lists in other organizations that we'll see?

JON MEACHAM: Our goal with this was, you know, elite got a bad rap this year. It wasn't a good thing to be an elitist. But there's a difference between elitism and excellence. And for a lot of our people on this list, which we were looking at it globally, we wanted people who really had fought their way up through a lot of obstacles in life, chiefly, the President-elect of the United States, and were able to exert that kind of command and control.

CUOMO: It's interesting because the aspects, the dynamics you're trying to capture here in the list, you have politics, economics, and then kind of other, other significant situations. Number one on the list, President-elect, soon to be President Barack Obama, incorporates all three of those.

MEACHAM: With Obama there's been a kind of resurgence of American credibility. At least the world after several years of kicking us around a good bit, they're giving us a chance, I think, to reassert our leadership. Three central bankers, Ben Bernanke one of them, are all on the list, you have this moment where we've exalted free markets for a long time, rightly, but suddenly, when we need government to get involved, we're happy to have them.

CUOMO: Sticking with number one, what can Obama accomplish, in his first year, with the enormity of issues he faces?

MEACHAM: Well, it's very hard. There's no money to spend. He's going to have to create, he's borrowing against the future to kick-start the economy. In raw political terms, which we're not supposed to think of this time of year, but in raw political terms, the recession couldn't have broken better for him. It's clearly happened before he came to office, it helped put him over the top. If he doesn't mastermind, or at least benefit from a recovery, by the time he's running for re-election, then we're all in much more serious trouble than you can possibly imagine.

CUOMO: A couple of quick points. First, all lefties on this list. Were there Republicans on this list?

MEACHAM: [Laughter] It's been a bad year for Republicans.

CUOMO: But 2009 could be the comeback year, Jon. Where's the hope?

MEACHAM: There could be hope, there could be. The Republican Party, it's fascinating because there's a 30-year coalition of religious conservatives, fiscal hawks, and foreign policy hawks. All three of those things have fallen apart. And so you're going to need a big personality again, someone like Reagan, to bring the Republican Party back. It's -- the search for the next Republican savior is one of the great stories of the next two years.

CUOMO: And the last aspect to explain here, why are the bad guys so low on the list? Aren't we afraid of those who want to kill us? Why aren't they high on the list?

MEACHAM: Forces of evil are enormously powerful, obviously. Bin Laden is down there. I think it's -- I personally think it's a mistake to act as though because he hasn't been heard from in a while he's not sill an incredible danger. Remember, as you know, terrorists, assassins, people who change history with guns and weapons are often completely silent until they do something God-awful. And you just never know.

CUOMO: A very thoughtful list that covers really everything. I'm sure you're very proud of it.

MEACHAM: Thank you. Sir.

CUOMO: Our thanks to Newsweek editor Jon Meacham for his 'Elite 50' list.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC