Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Keeping The Big Mo Rolling

    Here's a problem Bill Clinton didn't dream of having a few weeks ago: how does he keep Big Mo on his side? Though he's still well ahead, the NEWSWEEK Poll shows that he has lost nearly a third of his 27-point post-convention lead over George Bush. One response in Little Rock, Ark., is to lower expectations. "We knew the boost was artificial," said Clinton communications director George Stephanopoulos. Other Clinton insiders are nervous. "The kind of crowds we're getting, the response-it's what you want to see in the final weeks," said one. "You don't expect it in the first few days." Here's how the Clintonites hope to stay ahead-and some of the pitfalls they face: ...
  • Minus Perot: The New Math

    All week in New York, the spinners were spinning. What a fine thing it was, Bill Clinton's strategists said, that Ross Perot was in the race. He was carving up George Bush. He was making the case for change. He was drawing Bush's fire, allowing Clinton to grow, be positive. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the Garden. Hours before Clinton's acceptance speech, Perot dropped out.Ahem.Disregard previous spin. Within hours, having counseled with Clinton in his hotel suite, the spin doctors were back in the lobby to handle the hordes of reporters cruising for "React." Now the story was a little different. What a break that Perot was out of the race. Now there was a clean choice between change and stagnation. What a shrewd stroke that Clinton had picked Sen. Al Gore, a Southern moderate, as his running mate. Perot voters hated Bush; they'll learn to love, or at least tolerate, the Democrats.Feel free to be confused. Perot himself certainly was. He bowed out as a "candidate," he...
  • Sixties: Coming Of Age

    At first, the other Rhodes scholars aboard the SS United States, bound for England and college-boy glory, couldn't quite believe Bill Clinton. He was just too, well, enthusiastic. Sure, they all had been inspired by President John F. Kennedy. Yes, they all were preparing to carry the "torch" for a "new generation of Americans." They were, after all, the oldest progeny of the postwar baby boom, the vanguard of a New Generation. But this wasn't the summer of 1963. It was October 1968. The Vietnam War was raging. Cities and campuses were exploding. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Above all, most young men on board, including Clinton, faced the draft. They risked an abrupt end to an Oxford idyll that hadn't even begun. They risked, however distantly, the prospect of fighting and dying in a war most of them despised. So there were more urgent concerns than a political career. Who knew if you would live long enough to have one? ...
  • A Ground War Begins

    Dishing dirt on the enemy is a game as old as politics, a practice so familiar it has its own buzzwords: "opposition research," or Oppo for short. In case you haven't noticed, the "Oppo War" is on. Last week Ross Perot and George Bush engaged in an Oppo skirmish so nasty they finally declared a truce. With Perot bloodied and the Bush campaign on the defensive, the on-the-record, overt lines of Oppo attack ceased. But the covert hostilities-the private nudges to the press, the hunt for documents--continue. ...
  • Perot's Second Act

    He hoists children aloft at his rallies, which come complete with brass bands, balloons and his own fish-fry platitudes. Last week he barnstormed California, Colorado and Massachusetts; this week it's Maryland and Connecticut. He's hiring top talent to make ads, conduct "focus groups," "advance" events. He meets privately with melting pots of community leader&-blacks, Asians, Hispanics, gays--and hopscotches the nation to target key voters. He's even faxing his travel schedule to the press. Yes, that's Ross Perot-the non-, un- and anti-candidate -looking like a man they would call, in plain Texas talk, a "politician." ...
  • The Man And The Myth

    The great salesmen understand one thing above all: you sell yourself, not the product. Shoes, suits, data-management services: it doesn't matter. You make a sales call. You get in the door. You lend the customers your dreams, the myths of your own life, your belief in your wares. In the case of Ross Perot, candidate, the dictum is doubly apt. He's selling what he's always sold: a cocky faith in himself, in his ability to reach his goals. "This isn't about a guy with some 16-point plan on health insurance," says his top aide, Tom Luce. "This campaign is about Ross Perot's way of getting things done."Perot is making the sales pitch of a lifetime to a customer called America. We've had farmers, lawyers, soldiers and engineers as presidents. We've had an actor, and even a failed haberdasher named Harry Truman. But we've never had a salesman, let alone one like Perot. In the 1992 presidential campaign he's offering a series of images of himself--each, at first glance, with its own appeal...
  • Playing On The 'V Word'

    For those who wanted details about what Ross Perot would do as president, here are the first few, disclosed in his chat with Barbara Walters on ABC: He'll uphold the ban on gays in the military. No homosexuals in the upper ranks of his administration. He will not "knowingly" hire an adulterer for any job. " I put a very strong store on strong moral values," said Perot. "The American people deserve better than that." ...
  • Perot's Patriot Games

    To hear Ross Perot tell it, this presidential campaign thing came on him like a Texas twister: sudden, unbidden, too powerful to escape. Last March 16, he allowed on "Larry King Live" as how he'd run if folks placed him on ballots. Lo and behold, the switchboards jammed. If he's "stuck" in the White House, it won't be because he begged for the job, but because America begged him. Especially these days, it's an attractive story: reluctant leader, urged to serve in an era when politicians are reviled. ...
  • Filling The Political Void

    From the start, he displayed a calming sense of involvement in the agony of Los Angeles. He visited the bedsides of hospitalized riot victims. In interviews, he preached compassion-and respect for law and order-to Crips and Bloods and Simi Valley suburbanites. He hosted a cathartic "town meeting" on television where Americans of all backgrounds could voice their feelings and fears. ...
  • Leadership? Don't Ask Us

    There's nothing like a horrifying riot to expose the 1992 presidential campaign for what it's mostly been: an exercise in rhetoric and timidity. While Los Angeles burned, the finalists fiddled, looking not so much to their hearts as to their voting blocs, and less to their consciences than their caution. Caught, like most of America, between revulsion at the King verdict and disgust at the violence it engendered, the candidates met their time of testing without showing what the nation is looking for in a president: boldness, straight talk and compassion. ...
  • Throwing A Mighty Tantrum

    History shows, however, that voters tend to head home once they get a close look at the new land. The most popular modern third party, the 1912 Progressives, had a former president, Theodore Roosevelt, as its standard-bearer. Still, it won only 27 percent of the vote, and helped elect Democrat Woodrow Wilson instead of its own man. Other candidates-from the Populists' James Weaver in 1892 to the Socialists' Norman Thomas in 1932 to John Anderson in 1980 - fared worse. "They tend to appeal to the child in us," says Democratic consultant Greg Schneiders. "They arise when we want to throw a tantrum against the system." ...
  • People's Politics

    Bill Clinton had lost his voice, so he couldn't make it to Washington to speak to the nation's newspaper editors. On doctor's orders he was at home in Little Rock, Ark., resting the vocal cords he'd ravaged in pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination. The editors turned to a last-minute fill-in at their annual meeting in the capital last week, and the replacement they found had no trouble finding his voice. With his characteristic leathery east Texas twang, Ross Perot gave them a dose of the sound that has electrified the talk shows and clogged the phone lines of America. It is the voice of a $2 billion personal fortune, a can-do charisma and a mushrooming independent presidential campaign that threatens Clinton--and George Bush--by repudiating the system that produced them. "People are organized and at work in all 50 states," Perot announced to the editors. "It has little or nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with the fact that the American people are really...
  • A Blood Sport

    Bill Clinton beware: Pat Caddell is back. The 41 year-old polltaker is the permanent enfant terrible of the Democratic Party, a connoisseur and exploiter of voter anger, alienation and fear. He specializes in protest candidates who try to win by running against the party. In 1972 he cut classes at Harvard to help George McGovern's antiwar crusade. He ran the numbers for Jimmy Carter's classic outsider campaign in 1976. In 1984 he helped Gary Hart make life miserable for Walter Mondale. These days he's on the phone with Jerry Brown, whose upset victory over Clinton in Connecticut last week launched what could be another raucous season of protest politics in the party Caddell loves and hates. "Clinton's finished," he declares, in typically apocalyptic fashion. "It's over for him." ...
  • Can He Beat Bush?

    Bill and Hillary Clinton were taking a rare day off at home in the Arkansas governor's mansion last week when they got an unexpected phone call. It was former senator Paul Tsongas, saying he was leaving the race for the Democratic nomination. Clinton should have been jubilant: he had just moved a giant step closer to the presidency of the United States. Yet when he lumbered down the spiral staircase to head back onto the campaign trail, Clinton seemed oddly subdued. "This whole thing just started today," he said quietly. ...
  • The Method In His Madness

    If you hadn't accessed Jerry Brown until recently, you'd think the photograph on the right was weird. Wasn't Brown supposed to be the mad monk of presidential politics, the scourge of Democratic power brokers? Wasn't he the anti-candidate of late-night cable and the 800 number? So what was he doing with a United Auto Workers' jacket over his famous turtleneck sweater, applying the old-fashioned Big Schmooze to the labor skates? ...
  • Nasty As They Wanna Be

    It wasn't pretty to watch, unless you liked the food-fight scene in "Animal House." Last week Sen. Bob Kerrey sneered that Gov. Bill Clinton would crack "like a soft peanut" if the Democrats made him their standard-bearer. Clinton derided Kerrey as a confused tool of his handlers and Paul Tsongas as a "cold-hearted" soak-the-poor toady to CEOs. Tsongas pleaded for a cease-fire but traded insults with rivals in a debate in Denver last Saturday night. ...
  • Wondering Who's 'Electable'

    Political insiders have a fancy word for it: "electability." It's jargon for the obvious, which is that the Democrats, who have lost five of the last six presidential elections, need to pick a winner. ...
  • Buchanan's Shock Troops

    They were at Pat Buchanan's side throughout his New Hampshire jihad against George Bush: hungry, hellbent young conservatives pledged to help their new mentor cleanse the Republican Party of what he calls "the Exeter-Yale GOP club." These are no ordinary campaign brats. They're a new generation of right-wing strategists, nurtured by Reaganites who staged their own 1976 uprising against Gerald Ford. They view the Bush presidency as a betrayal of the Reagan revolution and regard Buchanan as an avenging angel. Growing up in the Reagan-Bush era gives them an unusual edge. Unlike their '70s role models, they actually remember when conservatives held power. And they're hungry to get it back for themselves. "We want our turn," says Frank Luntz, the 29-year-old Oxford Ph.D. who serves as Buchanan's polltaker. ...
  • Now It's 'Don Quixote' Cuomo

    The Democratic Party insiders (DPIs) are very unhappy-unhappy enough to take Mario Cuomo seriously again. Well before New Hampshire voters turned out for this week's primary, the DPIs declared their distaste for the front runners, Paul Tsongas and Bill Clinton. The web of operatives, moneymen and state-capital intriguers see Tsongas as a regional, unelectable nudnik and Clinton as damaged goods, no matter what the New Hampshire voters think. The other declared candidates, in the insiders' view, are nonstarters. "We're watching a winnowing-out process that's going to winnow out everyone," said fund raiser Duane Garrett of San Francisco. ...
  • Northern Exposure

    Presidential front-runnerhood is the high-wire act of American polities, a dicey proposition with long falls, no nets and only the rare comeback. Even George Bush, who enjoys the cushy prerogatives of incumbency, feels every twitch and twinge at the top. But last week in New Hampshire it was Bill Clinton who struggled to keep his balance. As the final week of the crucial primary began, the Arkansas governor faced a late surge by former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas and gnawing concern among party leaders that tabloid allegations of marital infidelity-as well as a new charge that he contrived to evade the draft-had irreparably compromised his electability. Just a few short weeks after he was all but anointed Democratic nominee by most political journalists and Beltway chattermeisters, Clinton appeared to be fighting for his life. ...
  • The Books That Shape The Debate

    For Democrats, the road to New Hampshire began two years ago - in the bookstores of Washington, D.C. Without old-time bosses to steer them or a coherent, popular ideology, Democrats turned to authors for guidance. The gist of their message: middle-class resentment at Republican excesses can put the Democrats back in the White House, but only if they can shake their image as a party of big government, 1960s-style permissiveness and minority rights. In the candidates' speeches and ads, careful listeners can hear the echo of the books that shaped this year's campaign zeitgeist: ...
  • Bush's Bad Dream

    With No Vision To Sell To A Nation Desperate For Leadership, Bush Is Off To A Stumbling Start--Stalked By Buchanan, The Bully Boy Of The Right
  • Politics: The Inside Track

    Sen. Bob Kerrey's campaign was not going well. The candidate was supposed to be the Democrat with star quality among the unknowns who make up the 1992 presidential field. But his message was fuzzy, his staff in turmoil, his poll numbers going nowhere. It was Panic City. Time for his Washington consultants to get on a plane, fly to New Hampshire and meet the candidate. That's not "meet" as in "join up with." That's "meet" as in "nice to meet you." ...
  • The Man Called 'Nunu'

    Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater had barely reached the podium of the White House press room when the shouting started. "Has Boyden Gray been fired?" one reporter bellowed. "What about Nunu?" yelled another, derisively employing the Bush family's nickname for chief of staff John Sununu. Fitzwater smiled wanly and shook his head. "No, no, everybody's on the job," he said. It was the straight line the reporters had hoped for. "That's what we're afraid of!" they jeered. ...
  • Playing A Dangerous Game

    Middle-class voters are angry at the status quo--that's a given. Outsiders are in--also a given. But in Washington survival is all--and that, too, is a given. So survivalists in the capital are focusing on new ways to express "middle class" outrage, on how to masquerade as angry outsiders and on finding candidates (or clients) who really are new to the System and who can radiate the outrage reflected in last week's election results. "I'm gonna get me some real outside guys for next year," says Democratic consultant Dane Strother. "And I'm gonna throw long!" Leave it to the Washington political industry to turn voter alienation into new business. ...
  • Gops, Look Out! The Democrats' Atwater

    He's a Southern good ole boy, a political consultant with a hell raiser's reputation and an inborn feel for the fears of the middle class. His campaigns are as nasty as he can get away with, full of dark accusation, half-truths and last-minute leaks. He chuckles when the word "principle" comes up. ...
  • The Cuomo Dilemma

    His voice arrives on the speakerphone enveloped in an echo, as though he is talking from the Great Hall of a castle in, say, medieval Denmark. "Mario Cuomo," he announces, then picks up the receiver. Leaders, he says, must project ,'strength and sweetness." The telephone effect is just so: a lonely grandeur followed by sudden intimacy. Time for another Mario Scenario interview. It's become a ritual: watching the governor of New York decide whether to run for president. The Yankee Stadium of politics fills up; the playing field is Cuomo's own capacious mind. "The thing that confuses some people is that I tell the press exactly what I'm thinking," he began. "I'm not in a cabin in the woods deciding this." ...
  • Playing White Male Politics

    They sat 14 in a row, like so many graying birds on a wire. The Judiciary Committee panel that presided over Clarence Thomas's fate was symbolic of white male power in America. So was the Senate, all white and 98 percent male. Name any other power precinct of society and it's controlled by white men. So why do they think they're so oppressed? ...
  • The No Bull Campaign

    It's an angry, blunt-spoken American voice, loud and insistent. On talk radio, the nation's bitter vox pop, the voice is syndicated host Rush Limbaugh, the self-appointed basso profundo foe of Bull. In print, it's P. J. O'Rourke, whose cheeky, frat-boy tour of Washington, "Parliament of Whores," remains a surprise best seller. At the grass roots, it's the frantic newspaper ads of Florida retiree Jack Gargan. His "I'm mad as hell!" campaign to unseat Congress--every one of its members--has brought hundreds of thousands of fan letters and support from the likes of visionary tycoon H. Ross Perot. In Washington, the No Bull banner was unfurled recently by actor Tom Laughlin. Formerly "Billy Jack" of movie fame, he now plugs his own semi-serious presidential candidacy, lacing it with disgust at "double-talk and gobbledygook. " Don't laugh. When he finished his spiel on the "Fox Morning News," the stagehands gave him a standing ovation. ...
  • The '60S Democrats

    As a college student in 1968, Bill Clinton would recite solemnly, to close friends, inspirational passages he had memorized from the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Paul Tsongas says his "formative experience" was his Peace Corps duty in Ethiopia. Bob Kerrey discovered his ambivalence toward government in 1969, when he was a wounded Vietnam War hero convalescing in a naval hospital. Tom Harkin's politics were honed by Vietnam, too, as a pilot and then as a congressional aide who opposed the war. Jerry Brown visited Mississippi in 1962, eager to see the civil-rights movement. And when Doug Wilder entered the Virginia state Senate in 1969, his maiden speech was pure '60s: a protest against Jim Crow lyrics in the state song. ...
  • Bush: The Churchill Scenario

    Democrats have this fantasy of history repeating itself. A patrician leader with globe-spanning contacts presides over the demise of a totalitarian enemy nation. He expects praise and easy re-election. But he has no deep interest in domestic affairs, and his foes seize the opening. Shockingly, he is defeated by a sudden change in the voters' mood and their long pent-up demands for government action on jobs, national health insurance and education. ...
  • This Time, Being Outside Is In

    Russian President Boris Yeltsin transformed an empire when he stood on a tank and faced down the Soviet old guard. Now that the whole world has seen the power of outsider politics, the question for the Democratic Party may well be: can anybody jump on the tank? Big-name Democrats have concluded the '92 presidential nomination isn't worth much. But the latestarting race is made for an unconventional candidate with a megamessage. ...