Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Hunkering Down For The Mean Season

    Sen. Chuck Hagel had heard the stories, and he was furious. The rumor echoing in the Senate's marble corridors was about what George W. Bush's many Senate allies were up to. As Hagel had heard it, they were trashing Hagel's Vietnam buddy, Sen. John McCain, telling potential contributors that his long imprisonment in Hanoi had left him too emotionally volatile to be president. So Hagel sought out the Texas governor's Senate liaison, Paul Coverdell. "Is any of this true?" Hagel demanded to know. Coverdell flatly denied it. Everyone knew McCain had a temper, Coverdell said, but no one in W's circle was saying anything else. They'd better not be, Hagel said, because if McCain was torpedoed that way, veterans would go ballistic, and "the blow-back would engulf the Republican Party."Here we are at the beginning of the mean season in presidential politics, the final--nasty--warm-ups. It's a time of backroom rumors and threats and spin-doctored confrontations via fax, e-mail and television...
  • Bush Goes Back To School

    The Victorian parlor of the Texas governor's mansion is a cavernous place, which is a good thing, for the room was full of experts and egos. With their lofty academic pedigrees and service records in GOP administrations, they had come to Austin last summer to teach, to brief and to take the measure of George W. Bush. The topic this day was defense and foreign policy. The lecture began with a flip-chart talk. Within minutes, the governor interrupted. He'd read the briefing book. He had a question. "What's the role of an army in the new century?" There was a stunned silence. Were they witnessing "the lightweight" of enemy lore--or a CEO who knew how to cut to the core? Defense expert Richard Armitage stepped in, choosing to view the question as profound. Soon the group was in an impassioned discussion that formed the basis of an insightful speech Bush gave recently on the need to reinvent the military.Now it's exam time at George W. U--an ad hoc university with a distinguished faculty...
  • The Outside Shooter...And The Fighting Pilot

    Bill Bradley's life story seems simple to tell--and to sell. The narrative starts at a faded free-throw line on a blacktop behind his boyhood home in Crystal City, Mo. "I spent thousands of hours back here," he told a friend, Susan Reingold, on the morning he announced his presidential candidacy. Then he picked up a basketball, toed the line, closed his eyes--and swished a shot through the rusty hoop. This Sunday, Bradley will be back on the court. But this one is in Madison Square Garden, where he was lionized as a player for the New York Knicks. In what could be the biggest fund-raiser of the 2000 campaign, dozens of past and present NBA stars--including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Julius Erving and Grant Hill--will join him in schmoozing and shooting hoops with anyone willing to pay $1,000 for the privilege.John McCain's saga seems just as powerful--and marketable. He launched his campaign from his own ground zero: the U.S. Naval Academy, where he dined with the midshipmen...
  • Independents' Day

    At 31, Peter Houde of Nashua, N.H., takes his duties seriously. The grandson of immigrants, he's an accountant with a wife and four young kids. Now, as the 2000 campaign approaches, he's taking on another responsible task, this one created by New Hampshire's unique voting laws. Houde is planning to register as an "independent," which will allow him to decide at the last minute which party's ballot to use in next winter's pivotal primary. Late last week, at Alec's Shoes on Main Street, Houde went over his wish list. As a Gen-X dad, he wanted to know about proposals for HMOs and schools. But character counted more. "We could use a straight shooter," said Houde. "Someone who cares more about integrity than popularity." He was intrigued by Bill Bradley and John McCain, the two men who had campaigned that day in Nashua. "They seem decent, and pretty high on the integrity scale. Bradley may be too liberal, and I don't know much about McCain. But I'm looking. "Most of the rest of America...
  • Look Who's Running

    So far this fall at Harvard, Billy Graham has come to lecture, as has the former prime minister of Britain, and the presidents of Tanzania and the Dominican Republic. This week, at the request of the students at the Institute of Politics, the timbre deepens just a bit. The featured speaker in the atrium of the Kennedy School of Government will be a certain former professional wrestler. You may know of him. He's the one who says that organized religion is a "sham," that the Navy's Tailhook scandal was "much ado about nothing," and that the American "military-industrial complex" hired assassins to kill JFK. He's the one who favors legalizing marijuana and prostitution, and who tells Playboy magazine that he would like to be reincarnated as a bra of a specific size: 38DD.This is where American politics is at the moment: Al Gore, the Harvard-educated preppywho was reared in Washington, is moving his headquarters down home to Nashville, Tenn., hoping to enliven his image and show that he...
  • Pressing The Flesh Online

    From his office in Cincinnati, Rick Segal wanted to create a "swarming effect" in Iowa for Steve Forbes. The goal there, he knew, was simple: get Iowans to Ames--and get them to vote in the straw poll. GOP candidates were busy crisscrossing the cornfields, offering free bus rides and tickets, filling vast tents with food and music. Segal, an Internet marketer paid to serve as Forbes's Webmaster, came up with another idea. The campaign's computer servers in Maryland had a national list of 32,000 supporters and e-mail addresses. Why not use it? The rest of the Forbes brain trust, back in Washington, agreed. ...
  • Displaying 'The Gift Of Fame'

    Warren Beatty admits he's a "control freak," an actor, director and producer who weighs every detail of the movies he makes. Last week he was agonizing over the first draft of his newest script--the one about his possible real-life plunge into politics. In his Mediterranean villa atop Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, he worked on an op-ed piece about the evils of money in politics, the economic disparities in American life--and why he just might run for president to "shine a flashlight" on both. For each statistic he wanted backup: magazine articles weren't enough; he wanted to see the government studies. There's a way to come into a room and be invisible, he tells friends, and a way to come in and dominate it. He wanted to do the latter--but not by falling flat on his face.At first it seemed laughable: an actor who played Dick Tracy now posing as the James Madison of Mulholland Drive. But Beatty is a serious man, a lifelong liberal and campaign kibitzer. He knows that fame is the...
  • The Man To Beat

    As George W. Bush's campaign trips go, this one was supposed to be sleepy and uneventful. Karen Hughes, his hypervigilant press secretary, was hunkered down in Austin, working on speeches and a promotional book. Karl Rove, his political mastermind, was out of touch, too, chatting up fat cats in Manhattan. When a Dallas-based reporter approached Bush at a school in New Orleans with a clever question about rumors of past drug use, the governor of Texas was on his own--and therefore in peril. He proceeded to do the one thing his aides advise him not to do: depart from the script. The result was his first real clash with the media, accusations of Clintonian evasiveness and hypocrisy, and fresh doubts about Bush's ability to master the role of front runner in the Republican race.By winning the Iowa straw poll, "W" confirmed his standing as the man to beat--and beat up. Last week the pummeling began in earnest. In a recent interview, he mocked the plight of one death-row inmate in Texas,...
  • The Gun War Comes Home

    Gov. George W. Bush is a hunter, and a Second Amendment man. He signed a bill that allows Texas citizens to carry concealed weapons, and another that bars Texas cities from suing gun manufacturers. So there was a moment of dread in the Bush camp last week when the news spread of the arsenal Buford Oneal Furrow Jr. had brought with him in his van. According to police, Furrow had seven guns, one a custom-made assault rifle with an XS-15 shooting mechanism. At first, investigators thought he might have used it to wound five people in a Los Angeles Jewish community center, or to kill a Philippine-born letter carrier nearby.Every gun has a history, and this one was potentially explosive. Federal officials quickly traced the XS-15 mechanism to a company in Maine owned by one Richard Dyke. Until last month, he was Bush's state finance director in Maine. He's an ally of top Bush political supporters; he had flown down to Austin, Texas, to take part in a luncheon with the governor. And, as...
  • A War Over Who Controls The Left

    When Bill Clinton first ran for president, he wanted to be known as a centrist "new" Democrat, not an old-fashioned liberal. So at an AFL-CIO convention, he openly disagreed with Big Labor's big-spending agenda, and sent his spin doctors into the press room to underscore the point. Then, at a Rainbow Coalition conference, he picked a fight with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Without warning his host, Clinton criticized the harsh lyrics of a rapper whom the civil-rights leader had invited as a tribune of black street anger. The maneuver worked--Jackson was furious--and a new entry soon appeared in the field manual of political warfare. To "pull a Sister Souljah" is to impress the center by dissing, and distancing yourself from, your party's most loyal base.Now Al Gore wants the same job, but he can't use the same tactic. Rather than moving away from what's left of the Democratic left, he's being forced to embrace it, conspicuously. The AFL-CIO and Jackson's Rainbow Coalition are meeting in...
  • Among The Believers

    In the old days--when Ronald Reagan was on the rise--the Virginia suburbs of Washington were enemy turf for a candidate named Bush. The conservative movement was based there, in storefronts on busy highways, deploying new grass-roots techniques--direct-mail fund-raising, attack ads on TV, appeals against abortion and the United Nations. The aim was simple enough: to destroy a Republican establishment symbolized by the Bush family. The local hero was Reagan, who felt at home on the ramparts of the old Confederacy, and who refused to move his own headquarters across the Potomac until he took the oath of office.George W. Bush's royal progress passed though the same northern Virginian territory last week, and in so doing demonstrated that everything had changed--on the ground and in the party. The "movement" remains, in the form of the headquarters of Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer and Steve Forbes, and in the offices of groups such as the National Rifle Association. But the action is...
  • A Man On The Move

    Backstage at "The Tonight Show," munching a carrot in the green room, Bill Bradley shrugged when asked how he'd just done onstage chatting with Jay Leno. "Oh, fine," he said. "You do what you can do to be yourself, and stay within the limits of the medium." It hadn't been a riveting eight minutes of late-night TV. And, as usual, Bradley wasn't quite as blase about it all as he appeared to be. He'd changed into a blue shirt for the show. He'd discussed his riffs in advance with Leno. There was a video clip to go with his appearance. Even so, Bradley seemed genuinely unconcerned about a gig that would have put most politicians in a swivet. He came off on TV as a relaxed public man unusually comfortable in his own skin. "I'm having the time of my life," he said, and sounded like he meant it.As a basketball player, Bradley's skill was to move without the ball. He let the flow of the game come to him. He was slower than other guys, and short for his position. But he knew where to be when...
  • Here Comes The Son

    George Walker Bush can't sit still. Hosting a lunch at the Texas governor's mansion in Austin, he taps his foot under the table like a schoolboy waiting for recess. He is 52 years old (53 next month), yet he hums with the kind of energy that led him to drink--a lot--until he quit cold turkey 13 years ago. He's a toucher and a leaner. He gets in your space, physical and otherwise, whether you want him to or not. He'll give you a nickname you didn't know you had--because he just made it up. He's a clean-desk man. He runs his life according to what's in front of him. He doesn't care much about history, including his family's--or his own. The day after the Texas Legislature ended recently, his vast desk had nothing on it. He now was ready, he told NEWSWEEK, for the next task: to get elected president. "If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out," he shrugged. "I'm going to give it my best shot--in one of the most amazing and important adventures someone can go on."Bush left Austin last...
  • With Foes Like These...

    Now Hillary Rodham Clinton has confirmed it: she's jumping Ferragamos-first into the New York Senate race. She said last week that she would form an exploratory committee. She's expected to disclose this week that she's taken a lease on a Manhattan apartment. And while she's lost her first-blush lead in the polls, there's something encouragingly Clintonian about her political situation: she may share her husband's luck in enemies. ...
  • The Potholes Of New York

    She's made the calls Harold Ickes told her to make--all 200 of them. She's made eight trips in and around New York state, with another one this week. She's been to Ireland recently, will soon visit Israel, and the joke in the city is that Italy can't be far behind. She has talked to the consultants she wants to handle her, the moneymen who want to help her, the organizers who want to turn out the unions, blacks and liberals. This week Hillary Rodham Clinton checks off the next big item on her yellow legal pad. On a Florida vacation with her husband and daughter, she'll ask if they can think of one good reason she shouldn't run for the Senate from New York. They aren't likely to find one.It appears that we are about to see something new in American politics: a de facto national ticket featuring a First Lady and a vice president, each laying claim to the boss's legacy. While she could still back away, sources tell NEWSWEEK that she will almost certainly form an "exploratory committee"...
  • Under Fire

    Bill Clinton was ready to lock and load. He had surveyed the battlefield and concluded that a dreaded foe--the gun lobby--had suddenly become vulnerable. There had been a new high-school shooting spree, this one in Georgia, the day before, and he'd just returned from an emotional tribute to the students slain in Colorado. Now, sipping a Diet Coke at the big conference table in the Roosevelt Room, he assured House Democrats that it was safe to enact new gun-control measures. He'd been wrong on the politics in 1994, he conceded, when he had counseled them to pass the Brady Bill and Assault Weapons Ban. The National Rifle Association had mowed down Democrats in conservative rural districts, which helped Republicans seize control of the House. "I was wrong then," he said. "I don't think I'm wrong this time. The country has really changed on this issue."If it has, it's because of tragedies like the one last week at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga., a suburb in the piney woods east of...
  • Al Gore’S Best Hope

    The library in the home of a prominent man says who he is--and how he wants to be seen. In the airy vice presidential residence on a Washington hilltop, Albert Gore's is painted a leafy, earth-in-the-balance green. A Naval Observatory clock reads out official time in red digits to the hundredth of a second. In the corner stands a Nashville-style guitar, signed by country-music greats. The bookshelves are full of popular works of history and politics and a massive, leather-bound Family Religious Reference. The profusion of photos are all-in-the-family. The four kids, Gore's parents, most of all Gore's wife, Tipper: the two of them as wooing youths, young parents, a mature couple. If you look carefully--very carefully--you can find Bill Clinton. He's with the veep in two tiny, black-and-white news shots: a run-of-the-mill Oval Office meeting and a "reinventing government" photo op.>Is Al Gore's campaign in trouble? Join Newsweek political writers for a live, online discussion on...
  • Watch Out For Hurricane W

    Back east, thunderheads were forming over George W. Bush's campaign. A conservative columnist taunted the governor of Texas for failing to push a voucher plan through his legislature, even though his kid brother (and fellow governor) had done just that in Florida. Newspapers reported ominously that Bush had discussed legislative agendas with GOP House leaders Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, often depicted as mirthless right-wingers. "That's Bush's first big screw-up," declared a top adviser to Al Gore. "The country hates those two, and we're going to staple the three of them together." A few pundits went so far as to pronounce Bush an untested, oversold hothead. "He's ripe for the picking," said Charlie Cook, dean of the D.C. political touts.But down in Austin last week, it was nothing but blue skies: eerily blue. Highly credentialed experts shuttled in to give Bush yet another tutorial at the governor's mansion, this one on defense issues. Over at the Four Seasons, venture capitalists...
  • The Buzz About Bradley

    Al Gore's aides had arranged a picture-perfect setting for his big Earth Day speech. He'd choppered up to the Blue Ridge Mountains' Skyline Drive. He looked fit in his jeans and polo shirt, and posed for the cameras on a hilltop in the sunshine overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. Gore was there to announce a new clean-air program, and the audience was filled with smiling schoolchildren and local "electeds." There was only one problem: swarms of ravenous flying bugs. The vice president, like everyone else, swatted them furiously as he waited to speak. "So let me turn to the subject at hand," he said, "before these gnats eat me alive!" And so it goes for the vice president: on top of the mountain, under siege.The gnats weren't nearly as annoying as the swarm Gore left behind in Washington: the Bradley Buzz. The Gore camp is already burdened by Clinton-scandal fatigue and the war in Kosovo; their attitude hovers between "oh please" and "let's panic" in response to Bill Bradley, the veep...
  • The Kosovo Primary

    If you're running for president, there's nothing like cuddling a child, on camera. Elizabeth Dole flew all the way to a refugee camp in Macedonia last week to find both--the child and the camera. The lost boy at her side, she explained (live, via satellite, on two successive shows), had fled Pristina, the devastated capital of Kosovo. "He and his family were driven from their home," she said. "He's living here in the camp, and he's been my escort all afternoon." The tales she'd heard were "absolutely horrific," said Dole. "This is a war we must win," even if it takes American troops to do it. The cable-ready compassion was cloyingly stagy, but give the former head of the Red Cross credit for candor in accounting: Dole's campaign committee paid for the trip.Politics never really "stopped at the water's edge," but now, as the Y2K campaign gains speed, there's no "edge" at all. The distant war in Kosovo has become the first, perhaps defining issue. Why? The reasons range from planetary...
  • The Good Soldier

    In presidential politics, revolts tend to start in Iowa living rooms. So Al Gore, in the midst of his first long campaign swing, knew he had to tread carefully when he walked into Professor Jan Flora's crowded home last week in Ames. He led the assembled in singing "Happy Birthday" to a fabled local Democrat. He spoke fondly of life on the farm, including the buttermilk pancakes he'd had that morning at the kitchen table of a family with whom he'd spent the night. He preached the gospel of Iowa's deep faith in education, a crowd-pleasing theme in the home of an Iowa State faculty member. "I want to be the next president of the United States!" Gore declared cheerfully. His rationale was simplicity itself: "Let's continue the prosperity!"No revolt potential there. But then came the real questions. Steffan Schmidt, in jacket and tie, respectfully called out the crucial one from the back of the room: what about sending American troops to Kosovo? Suddenly, Gore wasn't just a safe,...
  • In The Line Of Fire

    In theory, Bill Clinton should have been nervous. It had been nearly a year since he'd held a full-scale press conference--a year in which he'd been exposed, impeached, humiliated and nearly convicted for lying under oath. The networks were going live for the auto-da-fe. But as he prepared, Clinton was eerily upbeat. Monica Madness, he knew, was history: his counsel, Charles Ruff, spent mere minutes briefing him on the legal detritus of the case. More important, the president had something else, something grave, to talk about--not as a sullen defendant on videotape, but as commander in chief. Up in the residence, knotting a gold tie carefully just before air time, he was "totally relaxed," a top aide said later, and full of confidence as he strode to the elevator.At that moment, Serbian troops and armor were on the move in Kosovo, rumbling across the rolling hills that lie along Europe's fault line of faith. Outside a Kosovar Albanian rebel stronghold called Llap, tanks revved their...
  • Back In The Amen Corner

    Elizabeth Dole takes pride in her heritage of faith. Growing up in North Carolina, she heard stories of an ancestor who preached the gospel with John Wesley. Her grandmother was a fervent Bible reader; her mother played organ in church. Elizabeth was in a Methodist youth group, and played piano for the Bible class. Climbing the ladder in Washington, she once wrote, she cured her "spiritual starvation" by joining an after-work "spiritual-growth group."So when Dole moved toward seeking the GOP presidential nomination last week, there was an inevitable preacherly tone in her Piedmont drawl. Ringed by supporters at a restaurant in New Hampshire, she portrayed her possible candidacy as a witness for Christian decency. "There's yearning to make us a better nation," she said, clip-on mike in place. "We need to get back to basic values: personal responsibility, honesty, integrity ... cooperation over conflict." Leading the Red Cross, she said, she'd enabled people to share their blessings. ...
  • Watch Your Back

    IN AMERICA WE HAVE NO KINGS. We have front runners, and these days Gov. George W. Bush is wearing the crown. The Texas-bred Tudor is holding court in Austin as delegations of Republican legislators arrive in waves to endorse him at the white-brick mansion. Last week Bush joined a group from the Carolinas for lunch in the dining room, gave them a tour (he likes to point out the Davy Crockett portrait) and escorted them out to the cobblestone courtyard to greet the press. Up in New York City, meanwhile, Vice President Al Gore conducted a royal progress among the moneyed. On his first presidential fund-raising trip, Gore was feted at three parties in three hours: by blacks in the entertainment industry, high-tech millionerds and Wall Street machers at the palatial apartment of Lazard Freres executive Steve Rattner. By the time Gore got back on Air Force Two, he'd picked up commitments for a cool $1.5 million.But the front runners don't look so regal when they don their Woolrich shirts...
  • The Survivor

    He's done it again. Born lucky, smart and reckless, Bill Clinton routs his foes and wins his Senate trial. But his real reckoning--the one with history--is still to come. ...
  • A Time Of Trial

    BILL CLINTON was out of town, at the Auto Show in Detroit, when James Ziglar arrived at the White House in a big, black Chevy Suburban. Washington looked bleak, the skies a leaden gray, the streets coated with icy snow. From the West Wing door, the Senate's sergeant-at-arms was escorted to the office of the staff secretary, where he was met by White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff. Pleasantries were not exchanged. Ziglar handed over a document. It was a ""writ,'' commanding the president to answer the charges--perjury, obstruction of justice--made against him by the House. In ornate words lifted from an earlier era, it admonished Clinton to ""abide by, obey, and perform such orders, directions and judgments as the Senate shall make,'' and ended with a warning: ""Hereof,'' the writ said, ""you are not to fail.'' In the slang of street law, Ziglar had just dropped papers on the perp.Time, as they say in the Senate, to ""call the question.'' And it is this: in our age of tabloid...
  • Bill's Last Chance

    Washington seems dead--a capital obsessed with collecting cash. But a war for the future is taking shape. In a new global age, will we turn inward? Or can Clinton persuade us to embrace the world? ...
  • Potholes On The Road Ahead

    DR. Horward Dean is not the kind of guy you'd think could get a rise out of Al Gore. An internist, he's the Democratic governor of Vermont--a state with one Socialist congressman, two ice-cream magnates and 150,000 dairy cows. Gore is the vice pres ident of the United States--a man with a humming economy and a new, clean legal bill of health. Still, Gore grew testy when Dean dropped by last week for a chat. In all likelihood, Dean said, he'd challenge Gore for the presidential nomination. The veep' s reaction, sources tell NEWSWEEK, was as frigid as an ice storm in the Green Mountains. No backslapping, no pre-holiday good cheer. ""Do what you have to do," Gore said--and showed him the door. ...
  • Playing From The Rough

    AS COMMANDER IN chief, Bill Clinton is the unquestioned leader of U.S. forces. In Washington, where he's merely president, it's not that simple. His political army--the Democratic Party--is divided and deserting. Republicans aren't taking orders, or prisoners. Less than a year into his second term, Clinton was on the verge of becoming a diminished figure until the Iraq showdown put him back on center stage. Now the question in the capital is whether he can regain the kind of clout at home that presidents command in crises abroad.Last week was anything but easy. Federal investigators quizzed him about questionable fund-raising phone calls he may have made in 1996. Paula Jones's sexual harassment case got air time as she and Gennifer Flowers gave depositions. In Congress Democrats undercut his bid for broad power to negotiate new trade deals--a power enjoyed by every president since Gerald Ford. The GOP majority, meanwhile, obstructed the nomination of Bill Lann Lee, an Asian-American...
  • Can Rudy Go To The Bigs?

    NEW YORKERS AREN'T SUPPOSED TO care about Iowa. When he found- ed The New Yorker magazine in 1925, Harold Ross declared that it wouldn't be written for the ""little old lady in Dubuque.'' But last week Manhattan Republicans were crowing about an invitation Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had received from Des Moines. He'd just been re-elected mayor after cutting the crime rate in half, cleaning up Times Square and making Gotham safe. So might he be interested in attending a GOP presidential ""cattle show'' in the state that will choose the first delegates for 2000?The answer was no. For now. ""At this point I'm focused on being mayor for a second term,'' Giuliani told NEWSWEEK as he prowled the city in his huge GMC Suburban, with four cellular phones and a brace of aides to relay his commands. ""But you never rule out anything in politics.'' Someone, he says, needs to teach the nation the lesson he's learned: the best policy is a nonpartisan, incremental focus on improving ""quality of...