Eleanor Clift

Stories by Eleanor Clift

  • Character Questions

    If he was in trouble, you sure couldn't tell it. Bill Clinton strolled the aisle of his campaign plane, kibitzing with reporters and promising to do his Elvis imitation when he got his voice back. The traveling press has dubbed him Elvis, and Clinton's act-perfected in high school-is in great demand. He even curls his lip like The King. "I'm Elvis reincarnated," he jokes. "It's just another thing I could do for the country." For a man in the eye of a press hurricane, he seemed serene, stealing time to smoke a cigar and read a book. A few seats behind him, a top aide hammered away at reporters for their obsession with Clinton's personal life, calling it "the press's crack cocaine." But Clinton's mood was easy, even buoyant, reflecting a growing sense that the voters may grant him the "zone of privacy" he wants. ...
  • Bold Plans--And Trims On The Edges

    State Capitol offices in Little Rock had barely opened one recent morning when a caravan of wheelchairs rolled up to the office of Gov. Bill Clinton. In less than three minutes, 18 disabled people anchored themselves to the furniture with a logging chain. They were there to protest cuts in the state's Medicaid budget. For Clinton, vacationing in South Carolina, the disturbance threatened to distract from his national image as a caring, reform-minded governor. Fifteen hours later, Clinton restored most of the proposed cuts and created a task force to examine the issue. ...
  • Patricia Ireland: What Now?

    Feminist leaders know what people whisper about them: that they're all man-haters who put lesbian rights ahead of women's concerns. So when Patricia Ireland, president-elect of the National Organization for Women, revealed last week that she lives with a female companion in Washington while maintaining a 25-year marriage to a man in Miami, she reinforced that stinging stereotype. "I have never been anything but very honest about who I am and how I live my life," Ireland told The Washington Post. The news rocked the feminist community, which hoped Ireland--a more measured and mediagenic activist than her predecessors-- might rescue NOW from its fringe image. Instead, her confession will give conservatives more ammunition to argue that liberal interest groups are out of touch. Republican consultant Alex Castellanos savors the "cultural gulf " that Ireland symbolizes. "This is way deep in left field for the average taxpayer," he says. ...
  • How To Run Against Cuomo

    Nobody is neutral about Mario Cuomo. His admirers believe he is the only Democrat with the combat skills to beat George Bush. His detractors-and they include many Democrats-think he is the most overrated politician since John Connally spent $11 million to win one delegate at the 1980 GOP convention. One thing is certain: if Cuomo runs for president, it will be through a barrage of attacks. The GOP has crates of material analyzing Cuomo's public and private life. Roger Ailes, Bush's media adviser, envisions a series of 30-second TV spots featuring New York City streets and the soundtrack of Cuomo's "Family of America" speech from the 1984 Democratic convention. ...
  • Buchanan: Thunder On The Right

    At Gonzaga High School in the 1950s, Patrick Buchanan had a reputation for never passing up a fight. If he saw two guys going at it, a classmate recalls, he would ask: "Is this a private fight or can anybody get in it?" His love of a brawl partly explains why he is preparing to take on a popular president of his own party. ...
  • Term Limits Won't Work

    Like the citizens' tax revolt of the '70s, the term-limits craze has all the subtlety of a meat-ax. It would chop down everyone in its path and replace them with so-called citizen politicians. "It's a way for people to lash out," says Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia. It's also plain political hardball. The biggest players are wealthy conservatives who want to overturn the Democratic domination of Capitol Hill. Their dollars bankrolled Initiative 553 in Washington state, which would impose a 12-year retroactive limit for congressmen and senators, thereby tossing out most of the state's delegation by 1994 and ending the career of House Speaker Tom Foley. But public disgust with Congress is not partisan. It spans the political spectrum from David H. Koch, a millionaire industrialist who has advocated the repeal of all banking regulation, to Democratic presidential candidate Jerry Brown, who wants to "take back" America. Next year, some 15 states...
  • Taking The Low Road

    Folksy and witty, Alan Simpson was once lauded as the Senate's Will Rogers. He made all the Georgetown party A lists, and his irreverent commentary made him the darling of the Washington press corps. But the days of Simpson Chic are over. Now he is more often compared to Red-baiter Joseph McCarthy, The image of Simpson flinging open his jacket and declaring he had lots of "stuff " against Anita Hill-while revealing nothing-was the lowest of many low points in the Clarence Thomas hearings. Any senator with a sense of history should have said as attorney Joseph Welch eventually did to McCarthy, "Senator, have you no shame?" ...
  • The Clinton Experiment

    It was hard to tell who was more uneasy, the press or Bill Clinton. At a Washington breakfast last week, it took 30 minutes before a reporter finally asked The Question: as a potential presidential candidate, did he still defend his right to a "zone of privacy"? It was the kind of moment that could unhinge a candidacy, but the Arkansas governor was ready. "I thought you'd never ask," he grinned. Then, his voice dropping to almost a whisper, he confronted the rumors that had been dogging him about extramarital affairs. "Can't hear!" a reporter shouted from a side table. Seizing the moment to relieve the tension, Clinton joked, "This is the sort of thing they were interested in when Rome was in decline too." With his wife, Hillary, at his side, he went on to admit that their 16-year marriage "has not been perfect" but said that the couple intended to be together "for the next 30 or 40 years, whether I run for president or not ... And I think that ought to be enough." Clinton's...
  • The Bachelor Candidates

    Standing on the steps of Virginia's capitol building Sand flanked by his three photogenic children, Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder announced his presidential candidacy last week. His campaign portrait had all the right symbolism for the grandson of slaves running for the nation's highest office. But there was one element missing: an adoring wife. In recent elections, traditional values have become such hot-button issues that a devoted wife is a candidate's first defense. Yet the divorced Wilder is one of three single men lining up for the Democratic nomination. The others who have yet to declare-are Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, the divorced father two teenagers, and former California governor Jerry Brown, who has never been married. All will have to figure out how to play the delicate game of bachelor etiquette. ...
  • So You Want To Be A Madam

    A how-to course on the escort business stretches the definition of the "service economy." But Sydney Biddle Barrows has never worried about what people think. The so-called "Mayflower Madam," a direct descendant of Pilgrims, was busted seven years ago for running a high-priced New York call-girl operation. Now she is redefining "adult education" with a road show of one-night seminars on the escort business. Barrows denies she is promoting prostitution-"but if people are going to do it, I'd rather they do it right." Besides, she says with a flippancy that almost makes you forget she has a criminal record, "if you don't negotiate money for a specific sex act, you're not committing prostitution." ...
  • The Senator Who Knew Too Much

    With his Kennedy haircut and shirt monogrammed "JFK," John Forbes Kerry wasn't always taken seriously by jealous colleagues and cynical reporters. Swept into political life as a Vietnam War hero turned antiwar activist, Kerry's talent for getting on TV earned him the nickname "Live Shot." But the 47-year-old junior senator from Massachusetts showed up his critics last week as he chaired a congressional hearing on the BCCI imbroglio--a scandal that he, as much as anyone, had helped uncover. As the widening allegations engulfed prominent Washington figures, Kerry rode high on the media circuit, recounting his lonely battle against a hostile establishment. "It's easier to look the other way," Kerry said, blaming "Washington insiderdom" for his inability to persuade anyone to move against BCCI. ...
  • Rocky For President?

    With health care one of the nation's top pocketbook issues, Democrats want a candidate with a good bedside manner. West Virginia Sen. John H. (Jay) Rockefeller may be just what the spin doctor ordered. Rockefeller has name recognition, a towering physical presence, and the respect that comes from being one of the Senate's leading health-care advocates. "We have to act now to make sure you don't have to be a Rockefeller to afford decent health care in this country," he says. Rockefeller is among the latest undeclared candidates to be talked up as the Democratic standard-bearer in '92. Because of his expertise, he is better positioned than other presidential hopefuls to use health care as a metaphor for Bush's failure to address domestic problems. But Rockefeller has trouble translating his good intentions into crisp campaign speeches. He is a candidate in search of a sound bite. ...
  • A Problem With Women

    More than any other public figure, Ted Kennedy is the conscience of the Democratic Party's liberal wing. But to say "Kennedy" and "conscience" in the same breath is to invite ridicule. The senator's after-hours behavior is testing the loyalty of some of his core supporters: women who call themselves feminists. If they continue to support the public Kennedy, are they condoning his private life? Kennedy's apparently compulsive womanizing, his frisky behavior in Palm Beach and his fraternity-boy passion for drinking do not square with the feminist model for the modern man. "Kennedy has the virtue of consistency, both the good and the bad," says Bebe Bahnsen, a consultant to pro-choice groups. ...
  • Senator Robb's Walk On The Wild Side

    It may have been a midlife crisis, no different from what thousands of other American males go through. But last weekend, Virginia Sen. Charles Robb's life passage was scheduled to be explored in embarrassing detail on NBC television's "Expose." A straight-arrow former Marine who is on Washington's short list of presidential contenders, Robb apparently took a walk on the wild side during his term as governor of Virginia (1982 to 1986). He attended beach parties where some of the guests used cocaine. (Robb denies knowing any drugs were used.) And he admits to spending an evening in a New York hotel room with a Virginia beauty queen, who was then 21 years old. The woman, Tai Collins, discusses the alleged incident in a segment called "The Senator's Secrets." Robb, now 51, is still married to his wife of 23 years, Lynda Bird. He told The Washington Post he has never "loved anyone emotionally or physically" other than his wife. And friends say the couple is closer than ever after a ...
  • 'The Hairdo With Anxiety'

    If privacy ends where hypocrisy begins, Kitty Kelley's steamy expose of Nancy Reagan is a contribution to contemporary history. The revelations about the First Lady's "promiscuous" lifestyle as a Hollywood starlet, her "intimate relationship" with Frank Sinatra and her eagerness for daughter Patti to undergo an abortion expose the cracks in the Reagans' family-values veneer. "They told us how to live our lives, and in that light, this is interesting," says Kelley. Interesting doesn't touch it. In the first 100 pages of "Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography," we are told that Ronald Reagan had an affair that resulted in an abortion, and that he forced himself sexually on l9-year-old starlet Selene Walters. "It was the most pitched battle I've ever had," Walters recalls. "They call it 'date rape' today." ...
  • Crashing The Capitol Club

    Newcomers to the U.S. Senate's clubby confines tend to take their seats quietly, leery of ruffling the institution's cherished go-along-to-get-along ethos. Paul Wellstone's first week in Washington, D.C., was anything but clubby, confined or quiet. The 46-year-old Minnesota Democrat - the only candidate to beat a Senate incumbent last fall - started by violating receiving-line protocol when he presented Vice President Dan Quayle with a tape of Minnesotans voicing their concerns about going to war with Iraq. He snubbed his state's senior senator, Republican David Durenburger, by asking former vice president Walter Mondale to escort him to his swearing-in ceremony. He also found time to anger Vietnam vets by using their memorial as a backdrop for a press conference opposing war in the gulf. But he probably made his most enduring enemies by parking his Woodstock-vintage school bus on Capitol Hill - hogging four precious parking spaces. His noisy arrival even irritated President Bush,...
  • Slow Out Of The Gate

    Just one month ago, the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination looked about as desirable as a weekend in Baghdad. With George Bush riding high in the polls, party strategists talked of a sacrificial run by Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who would lose gracefully; others proposed clearing the field for Rev. Jesse Jackson and "getting him out of our system," as one official put it. But the fallout from the budget follies has dramatically altered these scenarios. For the first time in a decade, voters think the Democrats would manage the economy better than the Republicans, and '92 is starting to look like a real opportunity. "In the next few months, a lot of 'vision' speeches are going to be cranked up," says Democratic speechwriter Kevin Sullivan. ...
  • Mr. Reagan Went To Washington

    FOR A PRESIDENT SO DEPENDENT ON TV, RONALD REAGAN HAS DONE A FAST FADE FROM THE BIG SCREEN OF POLITICS. HE APPEARS IN PUBLIC ONLY RARELY, AND IS NOTICEABLY ABSENT FROM ANY OF THE DEBATE SURROUNDING THE ISSUES OF HIS EIGHT YEARS IN OFFICE. REAGAN'S JUST-RELEASED AUTOBIOGRAPHY, AN AMERICAN LIFE,[*] WRITTEN IN THE HONEYED PROSE OF A HOLLYWOOD PRESS RELEASE, OFFERS FEW CLUES TO TAKE US BEYOND THE MAN'S POPULAR IMAGE. MUCH OF THE BOOK IS FAMILIAR, FROM THE HARANGUES ABOUT GOVERNMENT HANDOUTS TO THE OFT-TOLD STORIES OF HIS EARLY CAREER AS A SPORTSCASTER. REAGAN'S WHITE HOUSE RECOLLECTIONS ARE SO ROSE-COLORED, THERE ISN'T EVEN ANY GOOD GOSSIP. THE FORMER PRESIDENT DISPLAYS NONE OF THE VENOM TOWARD HIS AIDES THAT NANCY REAGAN SPILLED IN HER BOOK, "MY TURN." ...
  • Bushwhacking The President

    Only a few months ago, GOP candidates were lining up outside the Oval Office to tape campaign commercials with President Bush. Now they're afraid to be seen with him in public. Arizona Republicans canceled a scheduled stop by Bush last week because statehouse candidates didn't want their antitax campaigns undermined. In New Hampshire the GOP's senatorial candidate stood Bush up. In Vermont, Rep. Peter Smith did show up--only to use Bush's visit as a chance to spotlight his disagreements with the president. But it may have been Ed Rollins, cochair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who delivered the ultimate insult. In a memo to GOP House members, Rollins warned incumbents that the mood of the country had shifted and that if they wanted to win, they should run against Bush. "Do not hesitate to oppose either the president or proposals being advanced in Congress," Rollins declared. ...
  • The New Mario Scenario

    It's that time again when Democrats start dreaming of the Mario scenario. The latest fantasy has the New York governor announcing for the presidency early next year, soon enough to clear the field of any other candidates (including Jesse Jackson). Then, in a triumphal march through the primaries, candidate Cuomo would subject George Bush to his verbal pyrotechnics. Voters would be dazzled by the contrast between Cuomo's soulful poetry and Bush's fractured syntax. "He's already made S&Ls sweet music for the Democrats," says Cuomo aide Brad Johnson. The fall election would be like old times, with the Democrats riding a populist wave of discontent against the GOP. Cuomo's running mate would be Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Vietnam veteran with a Congressional Medal of Honor. Democrats are gleeful at the thought of Kerrey debating Dan Quayle, who served in the National Guard rather than go to Vietnam. ...
  • The Inside Guerrilla

    For a time, no one took Dick Armey seriously. Elected in 1984, the Texas congressman was just another conservative ranting on C-Span against every spending program. He was a little kooky to boot, sleeping on a cot in his office to save money. But he tired of being the class clown and decided a better way to beat the system was to join it. Learning the intricacies of pork-barrel politics, he brokered an agreement in 1988 that will result in the closing of 86 outmoded military bases. That victory emboldened Armey to take on another sacred cow the House Agriculture Committee. This summer he is pushing a bill that would bar federal subsidies to farmers whose net income is more than $100,000. While relatively few in number (33,000 out of 2.2 million), fat-cat farmers received 60 percent of crop-support money in 1988. ...
  • The Right Wing's Cultural Warrior

    When Sen. Jesse Helms invites you to see his etchings, he's not kidding. As Capitol Hill's point man against obscenity, he keeps a small stash of Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photographs in his office. He often makes viewing them a condition for news interviews. When a television station refused his request that they air the pictures, Helms had made his point. If showing Mapplethorpe's work on television could cost a broadcaster his license, he argued, why should the NEA get a free ride? Helms insists he is not a prude or a censor. He just doesn't want the NEA spending tax money to offend God-fearing Americans. "If America persists in the way it's going, and the Lord doesn't strike us down," he says, "he ought to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." ...
  • 'Major League Mud Fight' Over The S&L Fiasco

    Attending a street fair in his Brooklyn district, New York Rep. Charles Schumer couldn't walk five feet without someone collaring him about the savings and loan bailout. In Rep. Dick Armey's suburban Texas district, voters are "just furious," says an aide. "They think these big-money guys got away with murder." As the cost of the S&L fiasco keeps climbing--$200 billion, $300 billion, maybe even $500 billion--angry voters are beginning to blame the politicians. The politicians, not surprisingly, are blaming one another. The fall elections, says a Republican operative, are shaping up as a "major league mud fight" over the scandal. ...
  • 'A Job Wellesley Done'

    Their husbands had the easy job. Putting the cold war to bed is nothing compared with negotiating the conflicts of modern-day feminism. But Barbara Bush and Raisa Gorbacheva did some disarming of their own in a joint commencement speech at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. The First Ladies were models of diplomacy. They clasped hands and shared the stage like partners in perestroika. Gone was the "cat i fight" atmosphere that colored each meeting between Raisa and Nancy Reagan. Confronting the controversy over whether she was chosen to speak because of whom she married, Mrs Bush urged the all-woman graduating class to "respect difference [and] be compassionate" --and to remember there is more to life than a job. Then she won their hearts by suggesting that one day someone in the audience might follow in her footsteps as the president's spouse. "And I wish him well," she added, to an approving roar. ...
  • The Right's War On Poverty

    The phrase "bleeding-heart conservatives" may sound like a contradiction in terms. But there's a new War on Poverty, and the shock troops are coming from the Republican right. GOP House Whip Newt Gingrich is offering to pay third graders in five poor Georgia communities $2 for every book they read this summer. He'll cover the cost of Earning for Learning with his speaking fees. HUD Secretary Jack Kemp wants the federal government to "find a way to guarantee college educations for inner-city, low-income, underclass, minority children." To those who question the cost, Kemp says tartly, "This country is affluent enough to make that commitment." ...
  • Kennedy Enters 1980 Presidential Race

    Quite early one morning last week, a familiar figure in a sober business suit stepped from the door of his home on the Virginia side of the Potomac. Blinking for a moment in the bright sunlight, he slid into the passenger seat of a blue 1971 Oldsmobile convertible and headed for the United States Senate. As the car inched through Washington's rush-hour traffic, he asked the driver to put the top down. Suddenly a construction worker at the side of the road caught sight of his curly dark hair and Boston Irish jaw. "Hey, Mister President?" the man yelled, and when everyone started waving, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy broke into a grin as broad as Back Bay. Turning to the reporter in the back seat, he asked cheerfully, "Have you got that down?" No one missed the message. After more than a year of diplomatic evasion and political feinting, Teddy Kennedy laid down an unmistakable challenge to Jimmy Carter last week. Dropping his longstanding endorsement of the President, Kennedy announced that...
  • Kennedy and Carter in 1980 Race

    In the crystal-lit Senate Caucus Room, where his two elder brothers began their quests for the Presidency, the Last Kennedy proposed a revolutionary womb-to-tomb health-insurance plan for all Americans last week and dared Jimmy Carter to join him. His challenge and his choice of theaters set Washington chattering yet again that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy must be gearing up to take the Democratic nominanation away from Carter in 1980. The senator, in public and private, uttered his usual rote denials. But this time they were shadowed by the quickening spread of a dump-Jimmy, draft-Teddy insurgency in the provinces—and by the wakening belief among Kennedy's most senior political advisers whether he wants to or not. What Kennedy offered was a vote-now, pay-later program expending Federal health benefits for the needy and mandating private insurance for everybody else (following story). By his estimates, the plan would add $28.6 billion to the budget and would cost employers and employees ...