Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Election 2009: Rejecting the Big Boys, Again

    Maybe I'm crazy, or just jealous, but my favorite—and I think most emblematic—contest this Election Day was the mayor's race in New York City. Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, despite spending more than $100 million of his own money, ended up in the race of his life against a relative unknown named William Thompson.What does that have to do with Republican victories in the governor's race in Virginia and New Jersey? Well, everything. Americans (and certainly those few who voted in this off year) are still mad at the Big Boys, whether they are in Washington or on Wall Street, or, in the case of New York City, down at City Hall. Voters see the Big Boys getting their bonuses again, or getting their gold-plated health care, or spending the voters' tax money like it’s rainwater in the rainforest, and they are angry at the System—as angry as they were when they plucked a skinny guy named Obama out of obscurity and made him the exalted 44th president of the United...
  • Election Results Show Lack of Confidence in Obama

    Election Day 2009 was not a repudiation of Barack Obama, but it sure wasn't a vote of confidence, either. Exit polls in Virginia and New Jersey showed that fewer than 40 percent of voters factored the president per se into their polling-booth equation. But the deep skepticism that the (shrunken) electorate showed toward Democratic candidates can't be interpreted in any other way than as a vote of not-quite-confidence in the man in the White House. The fact is, as the exits showed, voters are overwhelmingly worried about the economy—and the president has done little or nothing, it seems, to allay that fear. That presents an opening to the Republican Party next year, if they can take advantage of it.Two gubernatorial elections do not a new national party make. Nationwide, the GOP currently has the allegiance of only one in five voters—the lowest percentage since Abe Lincoln was building the party a century and a half ago. If the Republicans are going to build on the momentum...
  • The Sarah Palin Show. First Stop: Oprah.

    After its modestly successful way-way-out-of-town tryout in Hong Kong, The Sarah Palin Show is getting ready to hit the U.S.A. next month. To coincide with the release of her ghost-assisted book, Going Rogue, Palin and her advisers are planning a careful TV and Web rollout in mid November, to be followed by paid speeches to business, civic, and college groups. Assembled with the advice of her Washington lawyer, Bob Barnett, and her speech agency, Washington Speakers Bureau, Palin's junket will go light on the free-ranging, traditional hard-news venues and heavy on personality: one major stop will be Oprah. ...
  • Obama Made Arlen Specter Big Promises for Switching Parties. Now, Specter Wants Him To Pay Up

    Barack Obama and Ed Rendell were delighted when they convinced Sen. Arlen Specter to switch parties earlier this year. But now that coup falls into the category of "be careful what you wish for," because the president and the governor of Pennyslvania have a problem on their hands: Arlen Specter. Here's the problem: Specter is up for reelection next year, and he was promised the full campaign backing of Obama and Rendell—not just in the general election but in the primary next May, if there was one. Well, there is one, and it is shaping up as a fierce one, against Rep. Joe Sestak, who represents the Philly suburbs. Specter, a notoriously tough and nasty campaigner, will expect his two big backers to support him to the hilt. And Specter, a 79-year-old cancer survivor with enough fortitude for the three of them, has leverage: he's the "60th vote" in the Senate. Read one way, Specter has no choice but to support Obama down the line; read another, Specter...
  • New SCOTUS Term: Watch for Loosening of Gun Regulations

    When John G. Roberts Jr. testified at his confirmation hearings, he promised to be an umpire at the baseball game of constitutional law, cautiously calling balls and strikes with his eyes firmly fixed on a well-understood and relatively static strike zone. Well, as chief justice, he's turning out to be more like the owner of a baseball team, or even the commissioner, eager to rewrite the rule book if not build a whole new ballpark. His activism is a boon to conservatives─but not necessarily good news for Republicans.The latest example of the Roberts Court's activist ambitions is its quick acceptance, for decision next year, of a gun-rights appeal from Chicago. Last year the court ruled 5-4 that the right to bear arms flows to and from individuals, even though it is mentioned in the Constitution in the context of a "well-regulated militia." Reading the Constitution in that way, the court struck down a handgun ban in the District of Columbia. But there was some...
  • Fineman Predicts: Justice Stevens to Retire Next Spring

    Less than two weeks ago, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens made news in a typically elliptical court way. He announced that he had hired only one─as opposed to the full complement of four─clerks for next year. Reporters and bloggers (not always the same thing) speculated that Stevens, who is approaching 90 and who has been on the court since 1975, will retire at the end of the court's spring term. But let me replace the speculation with something a little firmer. Though there are no sure things in life or judging, Stevens's legion of former clerks are convinced that he will in fact retire late next spring. Stevens is known as particularly punctual and exacting about lining up new clerks early in the year. The fact that he did not do so is a certain indication that he will step down, one of his former clerks told me this week. "There is NO WAY he would go into next year without the full group," said this clerk, who spoke on background out of respect for...
  • Fineman: On Health Care, Obama Should Read His Teddy Roosevelt

    In America, we invented a way to tap the energy of the free market without letting it run wild. It's called federal regulation. When an industry becomes too big and powerful for our own good─railroads and oil in the late 19th century, radio networks and electric power companies in the 1930s, for example─We the People step in via Congress, not to "socialize" commerce in a Marxist sense, but in the name of the American tradition of the Common Good.In America we cannot abide unaccountable power, or at least we say we can't.The health-care industry has become the railroad oligopoly of our day─as essential to commerce and the literal health of our education-and-brainwork-based society as cheap and fair rail transportation was when the continent was raw and indispensably connected by ribbons of steel. United Heath, Wellpoint, Cigna, Aetna─you name it─are the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Santa Fe of our day. They are too big and too powerful to be left to their...
  • Fineman: The Democrats' New Strategy on Health Reform

    I think I understand the Democrats' latest strategy for passing a health-care reform plan. At least I think I do after talking to some plugged-in party types on Capitol Hill. For want of a better term, I'm calling their strategy "50-218," which stands for the minimum number of votes President Obama and his party are aiming for in the Senate and House, respectively, to pass a piece of legislation they can plausibly call "reform."Here is the first point: forget bipartisanship, meaning forget Republican votes. Yes, I know that the Senate Finance Committee's "Gang of Six" is still negotiating, but Republicans on and off the committee are making it increasingly clear that they are fundamentally uninterested in a deal of any kind. And Democratic Hill leaders are concluding the same thing. Indeed, they've been deeply skeptical all along of the wisdom of the White House's insistence on trying to craft a bipartisan pact. "If there...
  • Will the Birthers Help or Hurt Obama?

    The Obama White House may see political advantage in exposing the 'Birthers.' But they shouldn't discount the dangerous sentiment of the radical rejectionists.
  • Sotomayor Masterfully Saps Tension From Hearings

    In the old common law, there was a form of pleading called “confession and avoidance.” You admitted the facts the plaintiff alleged, and then asked the court for permission to explain them away with other (exculpatory) facts.  Judge Sonia Sotomayor, cautious and shrewd as expected, used that old tactic to good effect in what was supposed to be (but so far is not) a contentious day of her confirmation hearings. She took any tension out of the proceedings with that one move.The essential (if only halfheartedly pressed) essence of the Republican attack on the 55-year-old New Yorker is that she is ruled by her personal ethnic biases, and that those biases led her to side, in the now infamous New Haven Ricci case, with black over white firefighters who were seeking promotion.The first part of their two-part argument is that she had repeatedly, at college and law-school colloquia and other speeches, said that a “wise Latina” woman would, more often than not, reach a “better” decision than...
  • Fineman: Sotomayor Is a Shoo-In

    If she keeps her cool and her answers learnedly vague, the lifelong New Yorker will make history this week.