John Dickerson

John Dickerson is a CBS senior national correspondent and Chief Political Analyst. He is also a Contributing Writer to The Atlantic and is co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest.

  • 06/07/2023: Presidential Restraint

    Matt Yglesias has a piece in the New York Times under the headline: “It’s Great to Have a President Who Knows When to Shut Up.”

    My favorite topic: presidential restraint.

    I spent a lot of time on the topic in my book, and why it’s necessary for the job. (Chapter 23: Restraint).

    There is no greater quality that illustrates the disconnect between what the presidency requires and how we hire people for the job.

    That’s because campaigns encourage the candidates to participate in their own marketing and marketing has increasingly become all about capturing attention. That encourages candidates to hop around a lot and it makes them chaos entrepreneurs who do things just to get attention.

    They are rewarded by traditional media, which has always been captivated by conflict and social media which runs on squirrel! Plus, with the presidency the Streetlight Effect is in full force.

    I wrote about Truman’s use of restraint in my last Atlantic piece:

    Sometimes Truman’s best decisions were merely giving the thumbs-up to another’s idea—like Secretary of State George Marshall’s plan to bolster the European economy after the war. That might not seem hard, but a president who knows how to stay out of the way—and doesn’t demand credit—gets a lot more done. Such restraint also can deliver a vital tactical benefit. “If we try to make this a Truman accomplishment, it will sink,” the president told his White House counsel, Clark Clifford, about what would come to be known as the Marshall Plan. Facing stiff Republican opposition, an initiative named after his secretary of state would do “a whole hell of a lot better in Congress.”

    I also wrote that restraint was a quality we should use to evaluate presidents instead of the 100 day metrics we use:

    Finally: restraint. Our campaigns and media demand action. When the 100-day assessments start, we’ll spend a lot of time on what’s immediately visible. We should think more about what we don’t see, and the actions a president does not take—a partisan dig not made, a slower approach on one issue that allows attention and progress on another. Restraint is the key to prioritization.

    This quality also shapes presidential psychology. The job includes acute moments of decision, but it also requires enduring the daily pressure of always being onstage and, more often than not, having to play a role for the public that is disconnected from a president’s feelings or thoughts. A healthy presidential brain has the restraint to maintain balance—tolerance to weather criticism, patience to let situations develop rather than stabbing after solutions, and comfort in uncertainty.

    And, of course, you can learn about how various presidents used restraint in longer form here.

  • More Notions

  • 01/08/2024: How he drinks his coffee

    A small pleasure: one of my children and I are working together at the dining room table. We’re both writing. It’s hard for both of us, but we’re typing, so we’re both on the right road. I realize after a bit that I am witness to his writing tics. I have them. Lots of them. […]
  • 01/04/2024: A piece on the personal quality of restraint from 2015 that never ran

    I wrote it for Slate and was just reminded of it. This is a very rough draft. I wish it had run: On a recent Saturday, I listened to the audiobook of The Marshmallow Test while doing chores. In the famous experiment, children were given a choice between candy they could eat immediately, and a larger reward […]
  • 12/07/2023: Is enforced loyalty a good recipe for achievement?

    You: What is the historical record of operations founded on loyalty where the person to whom everyone must show loyalty has a record of almost no reciprocal loyalty? ChatGPT: The historical record of operations or regimes founded on loyalty to a central figure who does not reciprocate that loyalty is marked by instability and often, […]
  • 12/05/2023: I asked Chat GPT to offer guidance to lawmakers offering their endorsement

    You: Pretend I am a lawmaker and I have taken an oath to defend the constitution, how should I decide whether to endorse a candidate for president who will take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. ChatGPT: In your role as a lawmaker who has taken an oath to defend the Constitution, […]
  • 12/05/2023: Hello! I see you sent me a text message!

    Hello! I see you’ve sent me a text! Is it urgent? If so, please call me. If not, please send me an email, that way I won’t think that in this world of constant interruption where we must have our guard double ready against mindless incursions, that you value my time so cheaply and yours […]
  • 12/02/2023: Discovering the photography of Saul Leiter

    Social media is a scourge, obviously. But I have been trying to respond to the negative effects of social media (cortisol-driving, attention-shredding, ego poking) with long-looking. Long-looking is the practice of spending a lot longer on an idea, piece of art, song, etc. than you normally would so that it give up additional meanings. If […]
  • 11/13/2023: What good is criticism

    I like this idea of criticism. (Colors are from my note taking).  It’s from an essay by Morgan Meis that can be found here. “Criticism does not stand outside the work of art, but stands alongside, maybe even inside, the work of art, participating in the work in order to further express and tease out […]
  • 11/03/2023: Thoughts on covering Donald Trump

  • 11/03/2023: Ray Bradbury punk rock graduation.

    Ray Bradbury was so poor growing up that in order to dress up for his graduation he had to wear his uncle’s suit. His uncle had died recently. The suite was the one he wore when he died. His uncle was shot. The suit still had the bullet hole in it. I learned that from […]