Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Report From La: Rebranding The Political Parties

    The political conventions have turned into trade shows, so think of the Democratic Convention in the Staples Center here as the Comdex of Politics: a hive of marketers hawking wares primarily to each other--and only indirectly to the country.As I raced around the Staples Center (and, a few weeks earlier, the First Union Center in Philadelphia) I got to thinking about the parties as struggling old-line companies. To be blunt, they're in deep doo-doo. They've been losing market share for years with the "independent" bloc, now the most numerous category of voter. All segments of the electorate are increasingly suspicious of the product lines they're hawking. And as they furiously chase declining "sales" (spending vast sums to do it), the parties sound more and more alike. No one seems to know what they do anymore, aside from serving cold shrimp to fat cats.I think I know what action the parties must take. In the language of marketing, they need to be "rebranded." They need names and...
  • How Al Will Fight Back

    The skybox high above the convention floor in Philadelphia brimmed with campaign aides, canapes and quiet confidence. Down below, George W. Bush was about to deliver a secular sermon to the Republican convention, promising a baby-boomer crusade to the sunlit uplands of "essential values." (Translation: away from the example of Bill Clinton.) It was time, Bush declared, to "tear down that wall" separating haves from have-nots, and unleash the power of markets and hearts to ensure that "no child is left behind." In the box, architects of Bush's carefully thought-out campaign gazed down on what they had wrought. "The people like him and are inclined to vote for him," said the campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh. "Our job from now until November is reassurance: to reassure voters it's OK to do what they already want to do."Which is why, at that very moment, the researchers in Al Gore's Nashville "kitchen" were in action. Working feverishly from an advance text made public minutes earlier,...
  • Ready For Their Close-Up

    The Ticket: Bush's Choice Is A Trusted Veteran Of His Family's Political Wars. Dick Cheney Now Joins The Struggle To Win For Bush Junior What Bush Senior Lost. Here Come The Avengers.
  • Getting Serious

    Bill Daley was 11 when the Democrats last held their convention in Los Angeles. It was July 1960, and he was the wide-eyed son of Mayor Richard J. Daley, the legendary Chicago power broker and key supporter of John F. Kennedy. The Daleys idolized JFK. When the nominating votes were counted, the family was close by. "I still have the official tally sheet," Daley says. Forty years later, the Democrats are heading back to L.A., and so is Daley, this time as the new boss of Al Gore's campaign. But though Gore is the candidate, the Kennedys are still the drawing card. In one of his first acts as chairman, Daley asked his close friend Ted Kennedy to cajole the senator's camera-shy niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, into speaking in L.A. She agreed to lend her support--and her cachet.It's a long way from the intense, tribal Kennedy campaign to the one Daley now runs: a sprawling enterprise that stretches from one end of the Democratic Party to the other. Gore's campaign doesn't have the...
  • Bush's Business Model

    George W. Bush didn't emphasize the phrase, but it jumped out at me in neon letters. When he introduced Dick Cheney as his running mate, Bush promised that Cheney would be his valuable partner if there's a new Bush administration.THAT'S BIG NEWSFor if he means it, Bush is proposing a new model for the presidency, the commander-in-chief as CEO, with the veep as COO. It would be a tag team: the charming Mr. Outside and the substantive Mr. Inside. Cheney is the heaviest of heavyweights: White House chief of staff, rising Republican star in the House, true architect of Desert Storm and head of Halliburton, a global company with 65,000 employees.You don't hire Dick Cheney to attend funerals. You hire him to run your government for you, while you go out and sell your policies to the stockholders (voters). Will voters accept the management chart Bush implicitly is drawing on the white board? The election in November may well hinge on how voters answer that question.BUSH'S FLOW CHARTBush's...
  • Generation Y's First Vote

    Bill Clinton and Tawan Davis should be soulmates, leaders in youth politics 33 years and a generation apart. In 1967, when baby boomers were coming of age, Clinton was in the political vanguard. As a junior at Georgetown, he ran for student-government president, and lost--but still found his life's work. He became an intern on Capitol Hill, studied documents about Vietnam and idolized Martin Luther King Jr. When King was assassinated and Washington erupted in race riots, Clinton loaded his white Buick with groceries for the ghetto. Then, in the summer of 1968, he went home to Arkansas to work in his first campaign. Within six years Clinton was running on his own.Davis, 21, now has the job Clinton coveted long ago. But in other ways his story, surroundings and outlook couldn't be more different. There is no war or draft to give politics life-and-death urgency. Race remains an issue, but in a less sweeping, more personal way. There were incidents of intolerance on campus last year--a...
  • Will A Woman Ever Become President?

    Power breakfasts are routine at the Waldorf-Astoria, but this one was special: a thousand women at a $125-a-seat fund-raiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton. The ballroom was packed: West Side matrons with fond memories of the Movement; twentysomething B-school grads with top-quality pearls and portfolios; high-heeled ward heelers such as the grandmotherly borough president of Queens, whose job used to be held only by cigar-chomping men. "Look around this room," said Clinton. "We've made progress. But we have a long way to go." The way to get there, she said, was for women to unite, to focus on "women's issues" and to keep climbing the political ladder. The applause was generous, but not thunderous, at least at the younger tables. "I agree with her on the issues," said Claire Lundin, an equities analyst. "But why do we have to be 'women voters'? Why not just 'voters'?"It's unavoidable. There won't be a woman in the Oval Office next year, and it's unlikely--though not impossible--that...
  • How Bush Made The Call

    When the faxes arrived on the plane, the "body guy" didn't think the governor had to see them right away. Karen Hughes, George W. Bush's right hand, knew better. She'd checked in with Austin. Ricky McGinn's appeals were failing. The DNA issue was hot. The execution was set for 6 p.m. the next day. With Bush out of state, any reprieve technically was up to the acting governor, a Democrat who hoped to grant one. If Bush wanted to deny a reprieve, he'd have to rush home.So in a car in Albuquerque last Wednesday morning, Bush focused intently on the case. He'd tentatively signed off on it 13 days before--but only as one of four cases in a two-hour briefing during a busy day at home for "state business." Now he read the faxes from his counsel, Margaret Wilson. He spoke to her by mobile phone, hashed things out with Hughes and made his call: yes, new DNA technology might well cast doubt on McGinn's guilt. Bush would tell the press that he was "inclined" to give a reprieve. The story made...
  • Al Gore's Next Makeover

    It was near midnight, and Al Gore was still aboard Air Force Two, flying home to Washington. In the forward cabin he'd changed into slacks and a Timberland shirt, cleared his desk of all but his Palm, and was explaining--yet again--why the polls showing him trailing George W. Bush meant nothing. "Most people aren't paying attention right now," he shrugged. "Nor should they be, if they're pressed for time." He was using the lull to "communicate in depth" by spending an "enormous amount of time, locked away in schools all day long and in four-hour meetings with voters." That "may not produce a week-to-week surge in the temporary poll numbers," he told NEWSWEEK, "but it may well show up later."He has to hope so. It's of course way early in the race, and the economy still is on his side. Gore's handlers are plotting yet another rollout of their candidate, this one a massive ad campaign based on the notion that he's not so much an alpha male as a thinking man with a heart: a former...
  • Now It's Hillary Against A New Kid

    News travels fast in new york, but now it was racing at the speed of light. Mayor Rudy Giuliani called Gov. George Pataki at 12:15 p.m. last Friday to give him the word: his prostate cancer would force him out of the U.S. Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Pataki instantly called Rep. Rick Lazio, the governor's (and the Republican Party's) choice to replace Rudy. Lazio was in Washington, but within minutes was on his way to the airport --while aides frantically drafted an e-mail declaration of candidacy for reporters. Hillary, meanwhile, got the news from a cable producer. She and her aides gathered in front of a television in a Manhattan union hall to watch the mayor call it quits. She was evidently moved by his new creed: love and survival were more important than politics. "I've got to call him," Hillary declared. The ensuing chat was brief, but also surprisingly amiable.The Hillary-Rudy conversation might turn out to be the last moment of calm --or civility --in a race...
  • Sex And The City

    The day began quietly enough for the First Lady of New York. Donna Hanover was at home, in the official residence, a quiet, tree-shaded refuge on the East River called Gracie Mansion. She had gotten the kids off to school, exercised, had lunch. A TV anchor and actress by trade, she was editing scripts when panicked friends started calling. Had she seen her husband--Mayor Rudy Giuliani--on TV? Why, no, she had not. At a routine "press avail," looking wan and troubled, the mayor had declared that he wanted a legal separation after 16 years of marriage. Given his illness--he will soon undergo extensive treatment for prostate cancer--the 55-year-old Giuliani said he craved the company of his new significant other, an East Side divorcee named Judi Nathan, 45. "I'm going to need her more now than maybe I did before," he said.He certainly can't expect to rely on Donna Hanover anymore. She and the mayor had privately--but obliquely--discussed perhaps "altering their relationship," as one...
  • Mccain's Two-Front War

    You've got to hand it to John McCain. He's probably the only politician on the planet able to infuriate—simultaneously—communists in Vietnam and capitalists in Texas. McCain traveled to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City last week to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of what the locals call "The American War" and to appear on NBC, which paid his way. McCain has long favored good relations with the country he'd bombed and in which he'd been imprisoned and tortured. But on his eighth visit since 1985, he may have undone 15 years of diplomacy in two minutes of Straight Talk. Annoyed at the slow pace of democratic and market reforms, he let fly. "I think that the wrong guys won," he told reporters in the marble lobby of Saigon's old Rex Hotel. McCain had said similar things before, but speaking on the eve of a national holiday, he outraged his hosts. Americans in Saigon also were dismayed. "He's actually helped the [Vietnamese] hard-liners," said an expert on U.S.-Vietnamese relations.As if...
  • Return Of The 'Reverend'

    The ceremony was grand and a little odd, which isn't surprising, since Pat Robertson scripted it. In an auditorium he named after himself on the campus of the university he founded in Virginia Beach, Va., Robertson recently led a "service of reaffirmation of ordination vows"--and reattached to his name the title "reverend" 13 years after he jettisoned it to run for president. To play Handel, there was an austere trio of flute, harp and cello; to hear his witness, a semi-ecumenical set of clergymen that included a fiery charismatic from L.A.; an Episcopal bishop from Orlando, Fla., and an evangelist named Dhinakaran who saves souls on the Indian subcontinent. Robertson knelt before them as they laid on hands. VIP guests at Regent University shouted "Hallelujah!" Employees of his Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc., watched on closed-circuit TV.Is Pat Robertson mellowing out or just lying low? Last month he was ground zero in the bombsights of Sen. John McCain, who called him a force...
  • Rudy's Toughest Foe

    The Rev. Jesse Jackson declared that the mayor of New York was "becoming mental." Ed Koch reached back to ancient Rome to explain the behavior of Rudy Giuliani. "It's like Caligula is running the city," he said. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Giuliani's Democratic rival in the U.S. Senate race, accused the mayor of "dividing and polarizing New Yorkers." Even the normally supportive New York Post chimed in, accusing the mayor of ducking his duty to give straight answers.A former prosecutor, Giuliani thinks of himself as Batman in Gotham, a heroic defender of order. But his furious attacks on the reputation of yet another unarmed black man who died at the hands of city cops has left even his supporters wondering if there isn't a politically self-destructive alter ego inside the Batsuit.Giuliani indeed has a crime-stopping record worth bragging about. Murders, rapes and robberies have plummeted during his tenure, which has made him popular not just in New York City but in the suburbs around...
  • A Battle Royal

    The Don Quixote of the desert had given his concession speech: elliptical "best wishes" for George W. Bush, but no praise--and no endorsement. John McCain then retreated to his Arizona hideaway, a group of tree-shaded cottages overlooking a creek in Cottonwood. He'd donned jeans, and was out on the deck with his aides, sipping beer and listening to rock and roll, when the phone rang. "It's for you, John," said his wife, Cindy. But the wrong John--political aide John Weaver--got on the line. Bush plunged in without identifying himself. "I just want you to know, John, that I appreciate all the kind things you had to say about me and my family," Bush said. "Huh?" said Weaver. "Wait a minute," said Bush, "this isn't John McCain!" Weaver handed over the phone. Bush and McCain chatted briefly--estimated time: one minute. They would get together "in due time," McCain said. Meanwhile he and Cindy were going to Bora-Bora.Bush needs a better McCain Connection if he expects to beat Al Gore....
  • Get Ready For A New Air War

    Hacks are hacks, but let's be fair: the folks who run political parties have sophisticated tastes. At GOP headquarters, foreign films are the rage. Their favorite: a documentary in Mandarin Chinese showing Al Gore at the Buddhist-temple fund-raiser in 1996. Over at Democratic headquarters, they're studying obscure Protestant sects. Their favorite: the one based in South Carolina, at Bob Jones University. Democrats have film, too, and will air it some day. It shows George W. Bush embracing the school's president, Bob Jones III.The nomination contests aren't over, at least on the Republican side. But already the next--middle--phase of the campaign has begun. Gore's allies will soon hit the airwaves with attacks on Bush. The issues will include pollution in Texas, gun control, abortion--and Bush's cheery visit to a university known for its virulent anti-Roman Catholic, anti-black, anti-gay orthodoxy. If Bush can sweep John McCain in next week's Southern primaries, his allies plan to...
  • Winning One As The Gipper

    In California, TV ads tell the story. George W. Bush is running one called "Once in a Generation." It depicts a sunny, "successful governor with a fresh leadership style"--and a "tax-cut proposal that's been called 'Reaganesque'." John McCain's spot--called "Reagan Conservative"--is even more to the point. He is in the living room of his ranch-style home in Arizona, but it could be anywhere in the West, perhaps even in California. "I am a proud Reagan Republican," he declares.Like a political El Dorado, the mantle of Ronald Reagan looms on the horizon of the Republican race. Flush with money and momentum after twin victories last week in Michigan and Arizona, McCain now is arguing that he can reassemble the fabled "Reagan coalition" of GOP and traditional Democratic voters. Bush, his treasury dwindling and his candidacy in peril, answers that he's the only candidate with the Reagan-style record--and beyond-the-Beltway base.Reagan himself is out of sight in Bel Air, suffering from...
  • Back From The Brink

    In A Nasty Game Of Hardball, George W. Bush Wins Big In South Carolina, Saving His Campaign From Oblivion, Steeling Himself For The Long Haul--And Infuriating John Mccain. The Battles Ahead.
  • Dixie Donnybrook

    As a POW, John McCain learned a profound lesson: a carrot in your soup doesn't mean you're going home. On the "Straight Talk Express," McCain usually is a jovial flyboy. But he turned somber in South Carolina last week as he recited a parable of ruined hopes. In Hanoi, he said, inmates would spot a tiny change in routine and think the war was over. "I got a piece of carrot in my soup today!" they 'd say. "We're going home!" But they weren't, and didn't, for years. "I swore then: I'm not going to get excited until I see an American in uniform," he recalled. Same thing now, in politics. He closed his eyes and pulled his arms to his sides, as though trying to restrain himself. "I'm not going to get excited until they tell me I've won the nomination. I have to keep my emotions down--and remember: there are an awful lot of campaigns that have gone haywire."But which campaign will go "haywire"? Is it McCain's remarkable (and deceptively shrewd) insurgency--or George W. Bush's increasingly...
  • 'Ready For Prime Time?'

    Karl Rove and George W. Bush have been partners in politics for a quarter century, so it was up to Rove to deliver the bad news. It was his duty, as a consultant, to cadge early exit polls, and by lunch on Election Day in New Hampshire he had them. Bush was in his hotel room in Merrimack when Rove arrived and gave it to him straight: they would be blown out by John McCain. In such situations, a handler might offer to resign, if only to elicit a vote of confidence. Rove knew he didn't have to; indeed, a breakup was unthinkable. "Are you kidding?" Rove shouted in dismay when asked if he'd made the offer. "George W has been my friend for 25 years!"But the friendship could be tested in the weeks ahead. Rove is in a war he didn't expect--not only with McCain, but with critics of his stewardship of the Bush campaign. "We're doing fine," Rove said. "Everybody's calm." But outside the "Iron Triangle" of Bush's closest aides, it's a different story. Out loud, and sotto voce, GOP critics...
  • The McCain Mutiny

    Deflating George W. Bush's Great Expectations, John Mccain Pulls Off A Decisive Upset In New Hampshire. Can The Straight-Talking War Hero Go The Distance? Behind His Big Win--And The Tough Battles Ahead.
  • Bush's Forbes Obsession

    Steve Forbes is like the moon. He's not a star. He doesn't emit a lot of heat. But he does affect the tides. For a man with little chance of becoming president, Forbes has had a disproportionate impact on the race for the White House. Four years ago, he swamped Bob Dole, portraying the senator as a hopeless insider, and opening him up for Pat Buchanan's assault.Forbes began exerting his influence on George W. Bush a year ago. Facing what his aides regarded as a weak GOP field, the Bushies were obsessed with avoiding Dole's fate. One way to do it: raise more money than Croesus--or Steve Forbes. If they raised enough dough, they figured, they could reject federal spending limits. No matter how much Forbes spent on TV ads, they would spend more.The conservative publisher also figured in the calibration of the Bush tax-cut plan. The Austin Powers knew they would have to face off against Forbes in New Hampshire, where, they assumed, Republican voters still liked the idea of slashing...
  • Smiles And Sharp Elbows

    The labor leaders gathered in the private room at the Hay-Adams Hotel late last September weren't ready to endorse Al Gore. They wanted to know how--and even whether--he could win the Democratic nomination. Bill Bradley had become the media's darling, surging to the lead in polls in New Hampshire and New York. He'd raised tons of cash, and was closing in on Gore's fund-raising totals. As for the vice president, he was, to put it bluntly, floundering: firing longtime aides, shuffling campaign staff, groping for a theme, changing suits and styles like a runway model. "Those were dark days," recalls Tad Devine, now a top Gore adviser.To plead his case to the unions, Gore dispatched his new campaign chairman, Tony Coelho, and a team of aides. Gore, they noted, would have the full backing of elected party officials. The vice president would step out from behind the podium--and out of Bill Clinton's shadow--and present himself as a "fighter" for working families. As for Bill Bradley, they...
  • On The Wild Side

    Al Gore wasn't about to be outflanked on the left by Bill Bradley again. For months, with lofty language, Bradley had wooed Democratic constituencies the vice president has served for years: environmentalists, pro-choice voters, blacks. Now Bradley was trying to do the same with gays, declaring that they should be allowed to enlist openly in the military. So when asked about the issue by Peter Jennings in New Hampshire, Gore said he'd require that his picks for the Joint Chiefs of Staff "be in agreement" with his own view that gays should serve openly. You mean a litmus test? asked Jennings. After some throat-clearing--this was not something he had hashed out with advisers--Gore gave his answer: "Yes."The next night, on the same stage at the University of New Hampshire, George W. Bush was in the same position, only with the polarities reversed: Bush wasn't about to be outflanked on his right. As governor of Texas, he'd pushed through $3 billion worth of tax cuts, the largest in...
  • A War In The Corn

    Michael Whouley is the Mr. Fix-It of Al Gore's presidential campaign. Last summer, when Bill Bradley's forces tried to overwhelm the Democrats' state convention in Massachusetts, it was Whouley who hurried to Springfield to beat back the challenge. A tough-talking Bostonian with good labor ties and a dozen campaigns under his belt, Whouley last week took on his toughest assignment: saving Gore's campaign from being strangled in its cradle in the snowy cornfields of Iowa. "I'm here for the duration," he said, sounding like a beleaguered commando in a foxhole. "Nobody would have expected it months ago, but we're seeing war."This week the ground fighting begins in earnest in Campaign 2000. So far most of the media attention has focused on New Hampshire, which votes on Feb. 1. It has an open primary; irascible, quotable citizens—and easy air connections to Washington and New York. The unofficial cross-party ticket of challengers—Bill Bradley and Sen. John McCain—is wooing independent...
  • You Sure Don't Fit The Profile

    In Louisiana, where Donna Brazile was born in 1959, race did not just matter, it mattered more than anything else. As a black child--the third of Lionel and Jean Brazile's eight children--she learned that everyday life was about drawing lines. Segregation by law was ending, and the civil-rights movement was rising, but in New Orleans there were still whites only signs in store windows, and on water fountains, and in the hearts and minds of the men who ran the city. Brazile's father was a laborer, her mother a maid. Reared on hard work and wearing Goodwill clothes, Brazile made her way to Louisiana State University. The school had been desegregated, but remained a moss-draped citadel of what she calls "white-boy attitude"--an urge to "exclude, denigrate and leave behind." She was on the other side of the campus from them--and felt as though she lived on a different planet. "A black female in America," she says, "is the most invisible object in the world."Not quite, and not anymore,...
  • Campaign 2000: Words From The Heart

    George W. Bush hadn't expected the question, and said later that he may have misinterpreted it. Nevertheless, the governor of Texas made news with his answer at NBC's recent GOP debate in Iowa. He and his five rivals were asked to name the "political philosopher or thinker you most identify with." Steve Forbes picked John Locke. Alan Keyes chose the Founding Fathers. Then came Bush. "Christ, because he changed my heart," he said. "When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me." The audience, papered with Bush fans, cheered.As the new year approaches, faith is becoming an organizing principle of the first election of the third millennium. A quarter century ago, Jimmy Carter became the first major contender to put his faith front and center. After Watergate, the country was ready for a cleansing, and found it in a candidate who promised "never to lie." Now, at the...
  • The Tax War Goes Online

    When Bernadette Malone Connolly moved from Washington, D.C., to New Hampshire, there were some things she already knew--and appreciated--about the state's political traditions. For one, it has neither an income tax nor a sales tax. For another, the locals value their image of ornery autonomy. Registered "independents" are free to crash either party's primary. But one thing surprised her. The state was full of Netheads. "It seems like everyone here is on the Internet," she says. She's right. Only Alaska has more modems per capita. From Concord south, the place is wired.It didn't take Connolly long to realize that she had a story on her hands--and an issue with which to shake up the Y2K campaign. Trained in Washington by conservative columnist Robert Novak, she's the new editorial page editor of the Manchester Union Leader, and is leading the local crusade to extend New Hampshire's "Live free or die" ethos to cyberspace. Her cause: no taxation--ever--of any type of transaction on the...
  • Bradley's Episodes Of The Heart

    Bill Bradley knew he'd have to talk about his heart, but he wanted to do it on his own terms. In mid-1998--months before he declared his candidacy--he told his closest aides what only his wife and doctors had known: that in 1996 he'd been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a treatable irregularity in his heartbeat. The condition (some 2.2 million Americans have it) produces episodes that often end as they begin: without an explanation. But Bradley had needed electroshock treatments three times to restore a regular heartbeat, and now was taking an antiarrythmic drug. "He said, 'Look guys, I have this'," recalled campaign chairman Doug Berman. "'At some point we'll have to put it out'."But in life--and in a presidential campaign--you can't be candid at your own convenience. Late last week in California, Bradley had an episode after attending the kind of event--a fund-raiser--that could make any candidate ill. He had forgotten to take his heart pills the night before, and he felt weak...
  • A Question Of Caricature

    As they prepped George W. Bush for debate, his handlers considered every detail. For example, should he wear a watch? Dad had worn one in his debate with Bill Clinton in 1992. The result was disaster. TV cameras caught the president glancing at the time, as if he wanted to leave the stage--or the White House. So maybe "W" shouldn't wear one. But he always does. Someone might notice its absence--and bring up 1992. Final answer: wear it, but, whatever you do, don't look at it. Nothing else was left to chance. He studied a briefing book that listed every attack line against him. He endured mock debates. His team came up with a zinger to use against Steve Forbes. They even laid on a rally for Bush's arrival just before air time last week in Manchester, N.H. The aim wasn't to get him coverage, but to get him pumped."Debate prep" for Sen. John McCain was more like shore leave than basic training. He motored here and there in his "Straight Talk Express" bus, giving interviews between swigs...