Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • 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)...
  • Living Politics: Advice on Veep: Beware the Hot Dog Syndrome

    Long before he was the impresario of the Fox News Channel, Roger Ailes was the message meister of George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign. I covered Ailes, and one of the tales he told me at the time is relevant to Sen. John Kerry as he chooses a running mate now. Ailes' lesson: Don't throw a hot dog into a shark tank.Say what? Well, what Ailes was talking about (at a post-election seminar) was the way Bush the Elder, in secret, had chosen as his No. 2 an obscure senator--Dan Quayle of Indiana--and then had tossed him into the media whorl without introduction. The result, at the Republican convention in New Orleans, was a feeding frenzy of rumor and misinformation.Word spread that Quayle was worth $400 million, which wasn't true. He was from a wealthy family but didn't have much money himself. And campaign officials didn't know every last detail of Quayle's draft history and their inability to explain it clearly from the start left Quayle looking like a draft dodger, which he...
  • Living Politics: 'My Life's' Gift to Hillary Clinton

    Washingtonians lined up around the block at midnight the other night outside my local bookstore, Politics & Prose, to be the first to buy a copy of Bill Clinton's "My Life." A store manager told me the only other work to engender such Midnight Madness is J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series. After reading "My Life," I think the comparison goes far beyond the sales frenzy. Clinton is the Potter of presidents--at least in his own mind.As he tells it, the rite-of-passage fable is similar: A gifted foundling, possessed of magical but unruly powers, is pursued by an evil force he cannot escape because it is within him, and teams up with a smarty-pants young woman who insists on running with the boys. Harry has the piggish, cruel Dursleys to deal with; Clinton, an alcoholic stepfather. Harry's powers are at war within him; Clinton writes of his inner "parallel lives," and how "dark it was down there" in the secret one. Harry is haunted by Voldemort, who tries to kill him but instead...
  • KERRY: THE VEEPSTAKES TIGHTEN

    Even as Ronald Reagan's funeral was winding down in Washington, John Kerry's aides were meeting there to plan the next phase of his campaign, which this week may include a round of private, close-to-final-decision discussions with potential running mates. Kerry's advisers quietly told top contenders to keep their schedules flexible in case Kerry--as now seems likely--wants to talk to them this week. Aides also privately confirmed that the lone Republican on the list--John McCain--had flatly rebuffed overtures. That's a small victory for the remaining candidates. "The Democratic contenders were getting antsy," said a source close to the process. "They were pressing the campaign to cut the McCain thing off, because if it went on any longer they would all look like the second choice."One of those told to keep his schedule open is Sen. John Edwards. And Kerry plans to meet this week with Wes Clark after a fund-raiser the general is throwing for Kerry. Campaign sources say no decision is...
  • Living Politics: Best Advice for Kerry: Be Invisible

    I've figured out what Sen. John Kerry needs to do to win the White House this November: wrap himself in Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak. If the Massachusetts senator can only stay out of sight for long enough, George W. Bush's presidency may sink into the sands of Iraq.Bush's decision to go to Iraq is one of the most fateful calls any president has made--right up there with Harry Truman's decision to send aid to Greece and Turkey, JFK's secret agreement to pull American missiles out of Turkey to end the Cuban missile crisis, and Ronald Reagan's deal with Gorbachev to begin winding down the cold war. Because Bush's decision was so important--and because it was so clearly his own to make--it's central to the campaign. The questions of the season are and will remain: was it worth so much blood and treasure? Did it make us safer?The American public seems to be slowly but steadily coming to the conclusion that the answer is "no." Trend lines matter in politics, and the trend of support...
  • Living Politics: How Reagan's Passing Helps Bush

    As if he didn't have enough to deal with--a gaggle of cooks in his campaign kitchen, a job-creation surge that muddles his economic message, an air-hogging, book-hawking Bill Clinton--Sen. John Kerry now has to deal with this: a week of justifiable nostalgia for the late Ronald Reagan. The Gipper's passing won't be enough to re-elect George W. Bush, but it may well help the president in terms of timing, tactics and message.After a series of closed-door strategy meetings in Boston last weekend, Kerry was set this week to pop forth with a newly revised economic message, designed to stress the quality and salary level of jobs rather than their mere existence. But the rollout is now delayed, or smothered, as Kerry sensibly goes dark for most of the week, which will be dominated by Reagan's funeral.A master of the theatrical in politics, Reagan chose an exquisitely perfect time to depart the stage, especially from Bush's point of view. The former president died just as the remnants of...
  • THE 'SOCK PUPPET' STRATEGY

    In Seattle they want their coffee strong and their salmon straight from the river, a yen for flavor that may explain why the air was buzzless in McCaw Hall when Sen. John Kerry unveiled his plan for bolstering American "security and strength for a new world." But wowing locals wasn't the goal; outmaneuvering George W. Bush was. Despite rising sentiment in the Democratic Party against the war in Iraq (given voice last week by Al Gore's roar), "Kerry is not going hard left on the war," declared a top adviser. Not if he wants to win swing votes in Red States.So in a painstakingly balanced speech--crafted by a coalition of Democratic centrists--Kerry took dead aim at the mainstream, calculating that voters may want to change leaders more than philosophy. The president, Kerry declared, was an inept, simplistic, go-it-alone cowboy incapable of carrying on America's tradition of global alliance-building. Even so, Kerry agreed that creating a new Iraq was necessary for American security,...