Jon Meacham left quite a few people confused on Thursday morning when he suggested that neither Franklin D. Roosevelt nor Abraham Lincoln ever said they were “going to rebuild America on an executive order.” It turns out Meacham was pretty baffled, too.
“I’ve had worse mornings, I’ve said dumber things, but I can’t remember when,” a sheepish Meacham told TPM in a phone interview.
During an appearance on “Morning Joe,” Meacham expressed skepticism toward President Obama’s pledge to use more executive orders in his second term.
“We make fun of the executive orders and that is in fact something that — you know, you never really heard Lincoln and FDR say, ‘I’m going to rebuild America on an executive order,” Meacham said on the show. “You know, it’s not something that resonates off the tongue.”
It was an odd observation. After all, didn’t FDR issue more executive orders than any other president, including many to implement his “New Deal” agenda? And didn’t Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation?
Meacham was sympathetic to his critics. In a statement on his Facebook page, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author said he was “at best imprecise and at worst just plain wrong.”
He told TPM that the point he tried to make is that executive orders are “a good starter,” just as Harry Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces paved the way for the Civil Rights Act. But Meacham said he had a “brain freeze.”
“In no way was it a useful contribution to the national life, what I said,” Meacham said while laughing.
Meacham also said he was unaware that Obama’s intention to use executive orders has drawn criticism from Republicans and conservatives.
“There’s an ideological component and an historical component, and then there’s the fact that I just wasn’t making any sense,” Meacham said, adding that he supports Obama.
This post has been updated.