Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • PERISCOPE

    Since the day Iraq stepped into the spotlight, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has sought to draw a clear line between himself and Washington. Where President George W. Bush used the pre-emptive-strike doctrine to justify war, Blair framed the mission as a matter of good global citizenry, consistent with his intervention in Kosovo and embrace of nation-building. "He's always set the Iraq war in a liberal-internationalist context--of doing good in the world, the 19th-century, Gladstonian idea of bearing the white man's burden," says Blair biographer Philip Stephens.Now come the graphic photographs of British soldiers abusing Iraqis. The PM quickly denounced them as "shocking and appalling," but they've nonetheless tarnished the British military's image as kinder, gentler occupiers than the Americans. "Arabs didn't expect this from anyone--but especially not the British," says Al-Jazeera senior correspondent Mostefa Souag. Few failed to miss echoes of the U.S. military's Abu Ghraib...
  • NOW PLAYING: 'ANYBODY BUT DEAN, PART 2'

    Within hours of George Bush's Inauguration, everyone was playing his assigned role. Republicans, happily united, were dancing the night away at glittering balls in downtown Washington. Democrats, meanwhile, divided into familiar warring camps: for and against Howard Dean. In Burlington, Vt., Dean and hundreds of fans gathered for an "un-Inauguration"--and in support of the former governor's quest to become the new chairman of the Democratic Party. In Georgetown that same evening, hordes of insiders partied at the stately home of Mark Penn, the Clinton family pollster, where they gripped and grinned with Bill and Hill, cheered each other up--and fretted about Dean's assault on party headquarters. "There was a ton of positive energy at the house," a guest said later, "except for the fear and loathing of Dean."If you think you have seen this movie before--"Dean Against the Machine"--you have. Ever since the early days of the 2004 presidential campaign, the country doctor from the State...
  • Lessons in Unity

    It was nearly 11 o'clock at night, and a frigid downtown Pittsburgh was fast emptying out after the Steelers game. My 13-year-old son and I had raced to a bus that, I knew from childhood memory, would take us to my mother's home. But I didn't have the right change for the $3 fare for the two of us.The bus driver rolled his eyes, but gave me time. Standing in the aisle, I asked, "Does anybody have change?" as the bus lurched around a corner to Fifth Avenue. The "71 Negley" was packed. There were other dejected refugees from Heinz Field, wearing "Big Ben" ski caps or "Bus" jerseys; maintenance workers heading home from the second shift; nurses on their way to night duty at the hospitals near the University of Pittsburgh. Rows of sympathetic eyes looked at us. Passengers fumbled with their wallets or purses. No luck. Finally, a corporate-looking fellow in a ski jacket spoke up. "Here, take the three dollars," he said. "I can't do that!" I replied. "Go ahead," he insisted. "Somebody did...
  • THE NEW POWER PLAYERS

    A veteran of the Vietnam-era Army and CIA covert ops, Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut knows how to survive in perilous situations--such as the one he finds himself in as a moderate Republican in a Democratic district. When George W. Bush put Social Security "reform" at the top of his presidential wish list, Simmons executed a tactical retreat. Asked by reporters whether he would vote to divert payroll-tax receipts into private savings accounts--the controversial core of the Bush concept--Simmons declared: "I would not consider that something I would support." His avowal won praise from some bipartisan-minded Democrats.But not Rep. Rahm Emanuel. The new chair of the Democrats' campaign committee in the House, a Chicagoan reared in the House of Daley, he ordered an immediate strike. "We did some quick research and found some stuff," Emanuel said--including a letter that Simmons had signed in May 2001 supporting "personal retirement accounts" for younger workers paying into Social...
  • Living Politics: The 'Media Party' Is Over

    Now the AMMP is reeling, and not just from the humiliation of CBS News. We have a president who feels it's almost a point of honor not to hold more press conferences--he's held far fewer than any modern predecessor--and doesn't seem to agree that the media has any "right" to know what's really going in inside his administration. The AMMP, meanwhile, is regarded with ever growing suspicion by American voters, viewers and readers, who increasingly turn for information and analysis only to non-AMMP outlets that tend to reinforce the sectarian views of discrete slices of the electorate.Yes, I know: a purely objective viewpoint does not exist in the cosmos or in politics. Yes, I know: today's media food fights are mild compared with the viciousness of pamphleteers and partisan newspapers of old, from colonial times forward. Yes, I know: the notion of a neutral "mainstream" national media gained a dominant following only in World War II and in its aftermath, when what turned out to be a...
  • Living Politics: Matsui's Poignant Passing

    Matsui, who died Saturday at 63 of complications from a rare form of cancer, will be remembered Wednesday at a service in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall.As 2005 began, Matsui's role had been clearly marked out for him. As a member of the Democratic leadership, a trusted sideman to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and as a ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, Matsui had been tapped to be field commander of the resistance movement in the Republican-dominated House, defending Social Security from those who would, in Matsui's view, "reform" the storied federal program into oblivion.Matsui's death was hard to accept for the people who knew him personally. Republicans and Democrats alike were drawn to his quiet, unassuming graciousness--even while they sometimes battled him on policy. He was an uncompromising liberal on many issues, Social Security among them, and could wield the sword of partisan attack with the best of them. But he passed up several...
  • EYES ON A NEW PRIZE

    Seated at his desk in Louisville's Federal Building, his coat and tie carefully in place, Sen. Mitch McConnell is the master of all of the Kentucky he surveys. Starting a Biblical 40 years ago as a student at the University of Louisville, the owlishly remorseless McConnell has assembled--in the wilderness of a once Democratic state--a Republican machine that now runs the governorship, both U.S. Senate seats, five of six House seats and the state Senate. Poring over his field maps, McConnell relishes the party's latest conquest: the Jackson Purchase, a cluster of western counties along the Mississippi River that had voted solidly Democratic since the Civil War--and that provided McConnell's beleaguered colleague, Sen. Jim Bunning, with just enough votes to survive in November. Pundits and academics who see a nonpartisan "Purple" America, rather than one divided between Red and Blue, are searching for an excuse, McConnell says. "They're looking for a way to explain away what happened...
  • MISTER RIGHT

    For most denizens of Washington, politics is a living, perhaps a way of life. For Rick Santorum, it is a bruising crusade. As a student in the dissolute 1970s, he smoked his share of pot at Penn State and was, by his own account, somewhat casual about his Roman Catholic faith. Now, still boyish at 46, he is a devout and devoted family man--father to six home-schooled children--and a senator determined to champion the church's traditional moral principles in the public square. In the reception area of his office, there's a predictably appropriate portrait of Pennsylvania's Ben Franklin, bibulous deist. But the one on the wall in the sanctum of Santorum is of Thomas More, sainted for losing his life in defense of Rome's control of English Christendom. "That picture's up there for a reason," Santorum said in an interview. "There was a guy who was willing to stand up for things that were not particularly popular, and he paid the price for it."Thus far, however, Santorum's story is the...
  • A Sweet Victory...And a Tough Loss

    THEY LIKED HIS WAR ON TERROR, AND HIS MORAL STANCE. HOW BUSH TOPPED HIS FATHER, DEFEATING KERRY ON THE STRENGTH OF HIS STRENGTH.
  • THE NEXT FLORIDA

    Presidential candidates love baseball in October. Sitting in front of a tube, they can bond with couch-potato America without having to give a speech, work a rope line or risk being booed at the ballpark. It was that kind of light duty for George W. Bush and John Kerry last Wednesday night. The president, a baseball executive whose childhood hero was Willie Mays, kept an eye on the Astros-Cards playoff game as he flew east from Wisconsin aboard Air Force One, then caught the Yankees-Red Sox nightcap at the White House. At a Holiday Inn near Youngstown, Ohio, Kerry summoned the press corps to observe him--Bud in--hand, buddies at his side--watching his beloved Red Sox complete their improbable comeback as he testified to his own fan history, which includes playing hooky and taking the "T" to town to see the legendary Ted Williams at Fenway. Even as the Red Sox piled up early-inning runs, the cautious Kerry cautioned caution. "There's a lot of game left," he said. "You gotta play...
  • Living Politics: Who's Got the Best Final Strategy?

    Whose late-inning strategy is going to work? That's the crucial question as we head into the last few days of this nasty, nervous and narrowly divided election. It's so close that two fateful decisions, one by each campaign, could decide the outcome next Tuesday. The first: George Bush's decision to leave Ohio and go prospecting in the Upper Midwest. The second: John Kerry's decision to spend at least five days talking about a munitions dump in Iraq.Earlier this month, for reasons that are in dispute, Bush essentially left Ohio uncovered as he went searching for votes in the Blue States of the Upper Midwest. He was gone from the Buckeye State for 20 days. Did Karl Rove send the president away because he was confident of the GOP base in Ohio? (That's what they claim at BC04). Or was it because he knew that Bush was in trouble there, especially after the Treasury Secretary told Ohioans that job-loss numbers were a "myth?"I tend to buy the Democrats' theory, but, either way, it was a...
  • Living Politics: In Eight Minutes, Clinton Shows His Mastery

    They mapped Bill Clinton's path to the stage in Center City so that he wouldn't have to climb too many stairs, which was thoughtful, because he looked like what he was: a guy who had had quadruple bypass surgery only a few weeks ago. The shock of light-gray hair was familiar, as was the ironic, world-weary smile; as was the European cut suit. But he was so skinny that he didn't fill it out, and his skin was sallow, and his long sculpted fingers looked as though they had been painted by El Greco. When he spoke, his voice was reedier, thinner and more tentative than we remember: no anger, no volume and no Lewinsky-era drama.Still, in eight minutes in front of a crowd of 80,000 Democrats that stretched from City Hall to 17th Street, the former president summarized the case against George Bush and for John Kerry better than Kerry himself has ever done, with more humor, concision and bite. Among the pundits, the assumption was that Clinton had come to town to jack up the black vote,...
  • TO THE BITTER END

    Gentlemen of Yale that they are, or were, George W. Bush and John Kerry made a show of good fellowship when the contest was over: two guys, eager to hammer each other politically, acting like they were booking a tennis date. "Where are you going to be on election night?" the president wanted to know, shaking hands after their final debate last week at Arizona State in Tempe. In Boston, Kerry told him, with Teresa, at the town house on Beacon Hill. Bush will be at the ranch in Texas to vote, then at the White House to watch returns. A few winks and arm pats, and they went their separate ways.So much for steely niceties. Now come the desperate hours, stretching from here until election night, when they will talk again--and, if 2004 is like 2000, no one will concede. Bush and Kerry are crisscrossing battleground states with a clear message: the other guy is profoundly unfit for office. In four and a half hours of largely decorous televised debates--watched by more than 160 million...
  • Living Politics: Kerry Runs Warm and Cold

    Several months ago, back during the New Hampshire primary, John Kerry told me, in an off-the-record conversation that he later repeated in one other interview that I know of, about his mother's dying moments. She was a gracious, beloved figure--the Forbes in the name John Forbes Kerry, from an old Boston Brahmin family. "As she lay dying, she said to me, 'John, the only thing that matters is: integrity, integrity, integrity'."It's a nice story, and the fact that the normally rather shy Kerry told it to 50 million viewers in the last presidential debate was noteworthy--and a good move. You don't win the White House without giving people some appealing personal glimpse into who you are, and Kerry needed to do so.For beyond the fusillades of facts (and anti-facts) that Kerry and President Bush hurled at each other was a deeper, harder-to-quantify contest: to connect on an emotional level with the American voter.Love him or hate him, all Americans at this point have a fix on the...
  • Ninety Minutes Later, A New Race

    GAME ON: THE BUSH TEAM WENT FROM COCKINESS TO CONCERN TO RESOLUTION TO STOP KERRY'S POSTDEBATE SURGE. HOW 'THE CLOSER' MADE IT A DEAD HEAT.
  • Living Politics: Sounding Desperate

    George Bush's real political enemy now isn't so much John Kerry as it is the flow of the news. Not long ago, Kerry's decision to attack the president as commander in chief (remember all those Swift Boat vets in Boston?) was dismissed by analysts (including me) as naive at best, folly at worst. Well, it may turn out to have been the move that wins this race.Presidential campaigns take on a life and shape of their own in the last stretch and this one now has. It's the president desperately trying to tear down Kerry as the news tears down the president. Good things are happening in the war on terrorism--the voting in Afghanistan, for example--but they are all but unnoticed in the rising flood of stories from and about Iraq.As things now stand, Bush is left with only one argument and justification for having launched a war that has cost 1,000 lives, $150 billion and whatever goodwill America had won in the aftermath of 9/11. His last-resort reason: Saddam Hussein might have developed...
  • THE GROUND GAME

    The line began to form early for George Bush's noontime "conversation on education" at the Valley Forge Convention Center. By the time the doors opened, people were standing quietly in a single file that snaked up the stairs, out the main entrance and a hundred yards across the parking lot. Even when the line started moving, it moved slowly, as volunteers near the door carefully checked tickets and photo IDs against a master list, and uniformed Secret Service agents funneled everyone through airport-style magnetometers.Here was a rich Pennsylvania seam for Cheryl Boyce to work, harvesting addresses, phone numbers and e-mails, recruiting volunteers for a special "72 Hours" get-out-the-vote drive through Election Day, a new plan to use urgent, last-minute phone calls and volunteer drivers to get every last Bush supporter out to the polls. A 44-year-old mom, housewife and aspiring author (she's working on a "romance mystery" called "Soul Assassins"), Boyce is the archetype of the new...
  • Beware Debate Spinners

    MIAMI, FLA. - Sometimes you see a candidacy collapse before your eyes on the television monitor in the press room of a presidential debate. At the first one I covered--at UCLA in 1988--I watched Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts lose what little chance he had of beating Vice President George Bush.Bernie Shaw of CNN, a gritty guy who could come at you from weird angles, asked the rather nerdy Dukakis what he would do if he learned that his wife had been raped and murdered. Rather than saying that he would exact bloody vengeance, Dukakis plunged into a monologue about the need to convene a hemispheric summit on drug abuse. I was a few seats away from Tom Oliphant, the mordantly witty reporter for Dukakis's hometown paper, The Boston Globe. "Say goodnight, Mike," Oliphant declared, and lay his head on the table.It isn't usually that simple. Pivotal moments aren't usually apparent at first glance. They are like a old-fashioned photographic print in a chemical bath; they take time to...
  • Living Politics: Debate Checklists for Kerry and Bush

    KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. - At a rally here, President Bush was in fighting trim: spirited, focused and rhetorically flub-free. His much-practiced and oft-repeated applause lines were well-chosen and confidently delivered, clearly spelling out his domestic priorities for a second term. It was a state-of-the art campaign event.But now comes the hard part: the debates--or, more particularly, the debate. Karen Hughes and Condi Rice, the president's two "mother hens" on foreign policy and language, were on the trip but out of view. When Bush finished on the stage at the Valley Forge Convention Center, I'm told, he spent more than an hour in a holding room working on debate prep before leaving for his next stop.It's no exaggeration to say that the first presidential debate, to be held next Thursday night at the University of Miami, will be the key moment of the campaign. If Bush doesn't blow it, the race may be over. If he screws up--if he loses big time to Sen. John Kerry--Election Day may...
  • Slime Time Live

    IN YOUR FACE: FUELED BY SHADOWY CASH, THE ATTACKS GET UGLIER AND UGLIER. WHY THE MUD'S FLYING SO THICK AND FAST.
  • Living Politics: War Leaves An Opening For Kerry

    There are two presidential races going on: One here, one in Iraq. George Bush has to convince voters he isn't losing the second to be sure of winning the first.Putting all the polls together, it's clear that the president has forged a real, if not rock-solid, lead against Sen. John Kerry. But in an odd way the race right now isn't between Kerry and Bush but between Bush and the murderous insurgents in Iraq.Bush's lead in the polls is built in good measure on questions relating to the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. On both topics--unlike, say, the economy or health care--the president has a fat lead. As commander-in-chief, he's seen as a far steadier, tougher and more successful leader than Kerry would be.Don't Count Kerry OutBut Kerry can't be counted out because, despite his many flip-flops and nuances--actually, because of them--he's maneuvered himself into position for a potent attack in the final weeks: that Bush is a delusional gambler who lured us into a deadly quagmire...
  • In The Driver's Seat

    Changing Lanes: He's Governed To The Right. The Convention's Up The Middle. Can Bush--And Karl Rove--Have It Both Ways?
  • Living Politics: McCain Could Wind Up in Swift Boat Cross-Fire

    Sen. John McCain's aides told me that he was on a trip to Latvia, Ukraine and Norway when the latest battle in The War over the War over the War erupted. From their point of view, it wasn't a bad thing that the boss was away. For by trying to keep the peace--to keep the war in Vietnam from being refought yet again--the senator from Arizona risks getting pinned down in a crossfire during this vicious season. By the time he gets back things may have settled down a bit, though I doubt it. This is getting ugly.I went on vacation the other week and am back to see my beat (national politics) at least temporarily consumed by events that took place more than three decades ago. It's weird. In the late '60s and early '70s, American society was torn apart by the political war over the Vietnam War. Now there's a third war, over who was right or wrong back then, and over who has the moral authority to speak on the topic to begin with.The questions were and are: who has the right to speak for and...
  • THE BIG GUNS OF AUGUST

    By the time John Kerry reported for duty at the Democratic convention in Boston at 2200 hours, the president was asleep in the White House. So George W. Bush did not hear the Massachusetts senator's unexpectedly sharp attack, delivered at a forced-march pace to instill urgency--and ensure a balloon drop at 2300. Kerry proclaimed a familiar, if slightly reworded, promise to make the country "stronger at home, respected in the world." But as he did in Vietnam, he made straight for the enemy's stronghold, in this case Bush's vision and performance as commander in chief. Inferentially but unmistakably, he depicted Bush as an untruthful, self-deluded war leader blind to the brutality of battle and the complexities of diplomacy. At the same time, Kerry portrayed himself the better prepared. "I will fight a smarter, more effective war on terror," he said. "After decades of experience in national security, I know the reach of our power and the power of our ideals. We need to make America...
  • Can Kerry Make the Sale?

    SPEECH THERAPY: IN BOSTON, HE MUST SHOW AMERICA THAT HE HAS WHAT IT TAKES TO LEAD--AND TELL US WHO HE REALLY IS.
  • Digital Dispatches

    So I'm here at Logan Airport, and as long as I was in an apologizing mood I couldn't let Al Sharpton pass without offering him one, too. I'm not a fan, and I think he lied about the Tawana Brawley case, but among the truly stupid things I said on TV the other night was something to the effect that his noisy speech might even turn off black voters. Maybe a few, but they're already voting Republican. And though I have been covering campaigns such as Jesse Jackson's since 1984, it was a dumb thing to say on more levels than I can count, as I just told Sharpton here at Logan. He accepted my regret with grace and, after saying that John Kerry had wanted him placed prominently on the stage last night, he smiled and shrugged. "I've said a lot of stupid things on TV myself." Now I really feel awful.--------------------------Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless HandheldBoston, Friday, July 30, noonSometimes when you are tired--when you've been yakking all week and racing from a convention hall...
  • Warming Up Kerry

    BLUE SKIES: THEIR ENERGY WAS INFECTIOUS, BUT THEIR NUMBERS BARELY MOVED. CAN KERRY-EDWARDS CONVERT SMILES INTO VOTES AGAINST TEAM BUSH? GAME ON
  • 'THE BEST PERSON IN THE COUNTRY'

    In their first joint interview as ticket mates, John Kerry and John Edwards sat down in a conference room at Ft. Lauderdale airport with NEWSWEEK's Howard Fineman and Richard Wolffe.NEWSWEEK: Is John Edwards the best-prepared person that you could have picked as your running mate to deal with defense and foreign-policy questions?KERRY: If I were just looking for someone who is solely versed in one topic, I could go find someone who would know a little more than him or even me on some one topic. But that's not what the vice president is or what the president does. I selected the best person in this country, in my judgment, to exercise the judgment of the presidency, whose lifetime of experience, his values, his way of thinking, the example of his family, all of the ingredients of his life commitments and beliefs, make him the best-prepared person, if something were to happen to me, to lead this country in the direction that I care about.As VP, you would be one of the principals on...
  • Living Politics: Frist's Gay Marriage Fumble

    It's a river that exists only in the minds of political strategists, but it's the key body of water in the presidential campaign of 2004. The Democratic ticket, George W. Bush keeps saying, is "out of the mainstream" because of its stands on abortion, gay rights, guns and defense spending." The Kerry-Edwards team responds by saying the president and the Republicans dishonor "American values" with their policies on Iraq, taxes and social programs.That's why the Democratic convention in Boston won't look anything like the recent fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Bill Clinton will speak, but there will be no crotch jokes from Whoopi Goldberg--indeed, no Hillary Rodham Clinton. You'll see lots of Vietnam veterans, including former senator Max Cleland, the triple amputee, war hero and Kerry friend. At the Republican convention you won't see Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell in prime time (a mistake Bush's father made in Houston in 1992). You'll see the Bush family and...
  • KICKING INTO HIGH GEAR

    The Heinz family estate, north of Pittsburgh, is rustic baronial: 90 acres of rolling farmland, woods and streams, crowned by a columned white mansion with swimming pool and oversize carriage house. Through the decades, various Heinzes have tended its garden plots (in the tradition of the Founding Heinz), and there are trails on which the present man of the house, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, can ride his bike. He and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, went to ground there last week with a skeleton crew of aides. Kerry's agenda: to swim, pedal and finalize a plan--it runs through July--to sell himself to the American people in ads, at campaign events and at the Democratic convention in his real hometown, Boston.In Hollywood parlance, Kerry is "opening wide"--and none too soon in the eyes of many Democrats. Ever since he effectively wrapped up the nomination last March, he and his advisers have been content--too content, some Democrats fret--to operate in the shadow of the...
  • Living Politics: Is Edwards Moving Too Fast?

    I've written a fair amount about John Edwards for MSNBC.com and NEWSWEEK--how he was a man to watch, how he hit the ground running in the capital at a furious pace, how he campaigned for a job you aren't supposed to seek, the vice presidency. Now, a mere five years after Edwards entered politics, this man in a hurry has arrived. He's talented, and fortune favors the brash. But is he moving too quickly for his own good--or John Kerry's? Maybe Dick Cheney has given caution and experience a bad name. At least critics of the war in Iraq, which he championed, would say so. Still, just because the speedometer goes all the way to 120mph doesn't mean you have drive the car that fast.Except for Ike, I can't think of anyone in modern times that entered electoral politics and gained a place on a major-party ticket on such a hurried timetable. Dan Quayle, who'd held office for 12 years when George H.W. Bush picked him, was a grizzled veteran compared with Edwards. Yes, George W. Bush had been...
  • HOW TO RUN FOR VEEP

    For Sen. John Edwards, it was "Groundhog Day" in downtown Des Moines. He had been through this movie before. Once again he was in Iowa, at the Polk County Convention Center, painting a picture of "two Americas"--George Bush's and everyone else's. And once again reporters were asking whether his real goal was to be No. 2 on the Democratic ticket. Last winter his answer was a resounding no. Back then he was aiming to win the caucuses and the nomination. Of course, John Kerry did that. Last week Edwards ducked The Question. Even an oblique discussion of it was like "stepping into quicksand," he said. But his presence at the Democrats' annual Iowa convention was enough to prove that his answer these days is a silent, empathetic yes.There are many ways to run for the vice presidency, all requiring that the contender somehow be simultaneously indirect and clear. That's especially so now, when the sole vote belongs to a deeply secretive, highly complex, superbly connected and (usually)...