Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Perot: Rattling The White House

    White House economic aide Gene Sperling, a Yale-trained lawyer with a sharp eye for weak spots in an opponent's case, has a new task these days: poring over the writings of Ross Perot. Elsewhere in the West Wing, aides are expecting that Perot will oppose Bill Clinton's health-care plan-and are reacting accordingly. They're wondering aloud how much money Perot's data-processing firms have made handling health-care claims. "What's his stake in the system as it exists?" asks one adviser. Even the normally equable president has begun taking an occasional shot at Perot, while his aides debate whether it's time for escalation. ...
  • Marching To The Mainstream

    Let's switch away for a moment from the blanket coverage of the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. Away from the trend-surfing movie stars, homosexual warheroes and "Lesbutante" charity balls. Away from the hundreds of thousands of Americans who streamed into Washington intent on turning the capital, for the weekend, into a sprawling metropolis of samesex gender preference, complete with a mass "commitment ceremony" for thousands of gay couples. Let's leave that and check out the quiet but remarkable events that took place last week in, of all places, Springfield, Ill., bucolic capital of the Land of Lincoln. ...
  • Clinton's Brain Trusters

    In Washington, it's as though the student activists--or maybe the junior faculty--have taken over the administration building. They've occupied the dean's office, seized the university. And they have big plans. ...
  • Bill Clinton's Odyssey

    Any student of our government knows that, for a bill to become a law, it must be approved by two representative branches: the call-in talk shows and the lobbying groups on K Street. ...
  • Hillary's Role

    They sat in the Oval Office for 40 minutes: President Clinton and the woman he was considering naming as his second nominee for attorney general. Clinton and U.S. district court Judge Kimba Wood of New York talked of many things, including, as the president put it, whether she had "a Zoe Baird problem" with her child-care arrangements. No, she said, and she had documents to prove it. ...
  • The Power Of Talk

    Let's talk about the power of talk, of calling in to your favorite show: ...
  • Off The Books, Out Of The Chair

    Live on C-Span, the new "People First" president was spending his first full day in the White House calmly greeting thousands of ordinary folk who filed through the Diplomatic Reception Room. But off camera, in other parts of the mansion, there was chaos. President Clinton's aides were still finding their offices when they got word of a revolt beyond the Beltway. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Joseph Biden was calling. His message: Clinton's nominee for attorney general, Zoe Baird, was being swamped by public anger over her hiring of illegal aliens and failure to pay taxes. By that night, Baird had withdrawn, leaving the president and his embarrassed staff to explain how they could have been so insensitive to the concerns of average Americans. ...
  • The New Age President

    It was the final weeks of the primary season and Bill Clinton was concerned about ... Lamaze classes. He wanted to make sure that his on-board speechwriter, Paul Begala, could attend them. Yes, there was a convention to put on. The campaign was not rolling in dough. But Clinton urged Begala to fly home each weekend at campaign expense to attend birthing classes with his pregnant wife, Diane. As her due date approached, Clinton suggested that Begala go home-and stay there. "Don't leave her side, no matter what," he said. ...
  • How Much Clout Does Hillary Have?

    They sat in the Oval Office for 40 minutes: President Clinton and the woman he was considering naming as his second nominee for attorney general. Clinton and U.S. district court Judge Kimba Wood of New York talked of many things, including, as the president put it, whether she had "a Zoe Baird problem" with her child-care arrangements. No, she said, and she had documents to prove it.Fine, then, there was only one other person to see before the legal technicians and the FBI "vetted" her. So Wood headed upstairs to an office on the second floor in the White House's West Wing nerve center. There she spent 50 minutes talking to the person whose political network and personal views had helped her get in the door to begin with-Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Clinton, eager to see a woman chosen as attorney general, was impressed. No red flags were raised or seen. Soon word leaked out: Wood was very likely to get the job.As the world now knows, Wood didn't. A week after her White House...
  • HELP WANTED

    Everybody wants to get to Bill Clinton. For Whoopi Goldberg, it's no problem. Hers was the third call he took on election night--after George Bush's and Dan Quayle's. For somewhat less glittery mortals, it's not so easy. Ivana Trump, in Little Rock for a charity event, tried to drop by the governor's mansion last week unannounced. No dice. She was politely turned away by an aide. In neighborly Arkansas, the Clintons have always published the number of the governor's mansion in the phone book. Now, desperate job seekers are clogging the line. A platoon of staffers has been called in to deflect thousands of calls. ...
  • Knowing When The Party's Over

    In 1972, Charlie Black was hungry, nerdy and usefully crazy. He was a 25-year-old conservative, a charter member of the Ronald Reagan fan club and a director for the Young Americans for Freedom. He wore polyester pants, worked all night for token pay and thought Richard Nixon was a dangerous accommodationist. ...
  • Running Scared

    So there is, after all, an October Surprise. Just when the politico-media-industrial complex was ready to anoint Bill Clinton and consign George Bush to oblivion, here comes Ross Perot--billionaire skunk at the garden party of conventional wisdom. ...
  • THE TORCH PASSES

    Coatless in the chilly Arkansas night, his voice weak but his heart full, Bill Clinton stood before a raucously happy crowd in Little rock this week and evoked the leader of generational change who had inspired him-and whose burden he now carries. "My fellow Americans," he began, echoing the salutation of that young victor of another presidential race 32 years ago. "With high hopes and brave hearts, in massive numbers," Clinton proclaimed, "the American people have voted to make a new beginning." ...
  • THE INNER CIRCLE

    It was a kitchen cabinet--literally. In the summer of 1991, as he was inching toward running for president, Bill Clinton would convene informal breakfasts in the kitchen of the Arkansas governor's mansion in Little Rock. Seated around the central counter, Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, would talk things over with two of their best friends, Bruce and Bev Lindsey, and a procession of other guests. At the end of one particularly intense chat, Bruce Lindsey had a question. "Bill," he asked in mock distress. "What do we do if we win?" ...
  • FACE TO FACE TO FACE

    George Bush seemed reluctant to look the camera in the eye even though 70 million Americans were waiting to be convinced that he should be president for another four years. Whatever was said in St. Louis Sunday night in the first, and probably most pivotal, presidential debate, it was the body language that had a story to tell: Bush, often staring down at his lectern, smiling his oddly apologetic smile, had not convinced himself, and therefore could not convince the country. ...
  • MIXING IT UP--AGAIN

    Ross Perot's first half-hour infomercial airs this week in a $380,000 chunk of prime time. And here's the beauty part: he's pre-empting a show on CBS called "Rescue 911." Only it isn't clear who's being rescued. Is it George Bush, who attracts a mere 36 percent of the voters in the new NEWSWEEK POLL, and who needs to shake up the race? Is it Bill Clinton, who's tiptoeing along at a less-than-secure 44 percent, and who needs Perot to help him undermine Bush's economic credibility.? Or is it Perot himself (14 percent), who needs to prove that his revived candidacy isn't just an ego trip? ...
  • What Does He Want?

    Ross Perot is just inquiring, of course. His London-based advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, networks to ask about buying half-hour chunks of prime time. He wants to air the ultimate political Veg-O-Matic ad: an " infomercial" featuring him, his apocalyptic charts, his spread the-pain plan to save the economy. Though he's now on the ballot in 50 states (at a cost to him of $18 million), the networks say they won't sell him time because they don't consider him a "candidate." ...
  • Stumbling Blocks On The Draft

    At Bill Clinton's headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., James Carville is in full cry: a piercing whine of programmed disgust. As strategist and chief of "rapid response," he's denouncing the national press corps's "fixation" on Clinton's draft record during Vietnam. "It's 'gotcha' journalism," he says, a game for dimestore "conspiracy theorists," a beside-the-point pastime for Washington elitists who know nothing about real concerns. "The only people who care about this," he shouts, "are pundits on 'hot air' shows who don't see poor people or know anyone who is unemployed!" ...
  • Bush: What Bounce?

    George Bush was eerily confident, even jovial. Presiding at a family dinner at The Houstonian on the eve of his acceptance speech, he offered needling toasts, gently teasing his grandson George P., who would have to shill for "Gampy" that night on national television. To hand-wringing Republican leaders who dropped by the president's condo, he offered a soothing mantra: read the new biography of Harry Truman. Just like Give 'Em Hell Harry, the president would come from behind and confound the pundits. He had a game plan, ancient but serviceable: he would savage Bill Clinton as yet another "out of the mainstream" liberal. His old buddy Jim Baker was back to run the show. Clinton wasn't so tough-"a mile wide and an inch deep," said a Bush family member. No need to worry. It would all work out. ...
  • Texas Two-Step

    In 1957, when Ike was president and sputnik had put the fear of God-or godless communism-into America, two lanky young men teamed up on a tennis court in Houston. They were ideal doubles partners: lefty and righty, excitable and cool. They were products of the same world: of boarding schools, the Ivy League, military credentialing. They shared a knack for business, a hunger to lead and a desire to build the Republican Party as their vehicle. ...
  • Bush: Back To Basics

    The last time Ray Price wrote a speech for a president, they ear was 1974, his boss was Richard Nixon and the topic at hand was resignation-Nixon's. Price evidently enjoys the close air of a political bunker. At 62, the New York author and PR man has come out of speechwriting retirement to craft George Bush's address to the Republican convention next week. GOP strategists and foot soldiers think the speech is make-or-break. "It has to have vision," says Connecticut Republican chairman Richard Foley. "Not a vision 'thing' or a vision mode,'but vision." ...
  • 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. ...