Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Fineman: The Return of Tom Daschle

    Endorsements. Key staffers. Fundraising lists. Brotherly advice. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is making his presence felt behind the scenes in Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
  • Fineman: GOP Stick to Their Guns on Iraq

    Despite the loss of Congress, an unpopular president and public weariness over the war in Iraq, Republicans are marching to same old tune.
  • Fineman: Cancer and the Campaign

    Is this a great Democratic presidential campaign, or what? The number of candidate “firsts” keeps growing: first spouse of a former president, first African-American with Ivy League credentials, first  Hispanic-American. And now we have the first candidate—John Edwards—to turn his spouse’s illness, and how he and she are dealing with it, into what he contends is an inspirational metaphor for the brand of leadership he offers the country.I’ve seen a lot of press conferences, but none like the one that Edwards and his wife Elizabeth held on a sun-dappled lawn in Chapel Hill, N.C. Bottom line: yes, Elizabeth Edwards’s breast cancer had spread to the bone. No, there was no immediate danger. No, it was not curable, but yes, it was treatable—treatment would last the rest of her life, however long that may be (years or even decades). As for the campaign, he said, “it goes on, goes on strongly.”They sang a memorable duet of praise for each other, and for their determinedly sunny view of...
  • Fineman: GOP Candidates as Mr. Fix-its

    At Harvard Business School, George W. Bush was what they called a "skydecker"—a guy who sat in the top back row of the lecture hall to minimize the risk of being called on. I asked Mitt Romney, another HBS alum, if he had been one, too. "Oh, no," he assured me, sounding only barely amused by the question. "I wasn't one of those." He was the kind of focused fellow who sat down front, well prepared, hand raised. No one was surprised that he became spectacularly successful as a consultant and hedge-fund manager. He loves "wallowing in the data," as he puts it, applying quantitative methods and a deft managerial touch to knotty problems of business, nonprofit enterprises (the Olympics) and, as former governor of Massachusetts, government.Since when did a taste for data become something to brag about in a race for the Republican presidential nomination? The answer: ever since it became clear, even to most Republicans, that the term "Bush administration" was an oxymoron. A concatenation...
  • Fineman: Libby Verdict's Long Shadow

    The vice president's former chief of staff faces jail time. But his boss, Dick Cheney, becomes a political liability as never before.
  • Conservatism's Fresh Face

    At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, activists were down—but a long way from out. Meet one of the reasons why.
  • The Couples Campaign

    In January 1992, as Bill Clinton's candidacy was foundering amid allegations of infidelity, his wife joined him at a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire. They were on a rescue mission. "We love each other," Hillary Rodham Clinton told the crowd. "We support each other." As for Bill, he sold himself to the onlookers as one half of a political team; Hillary was the reason that he had run. "She woke up one morning and said, 'Bill, we have to do this'." He touted her résumé: Yale Law, successful attorney, years of work on education and children's issues. He had a new campaign slogan, he said: "Buy One, Get One Free." It worked, of course.On her first swing through New Hampshire recently, Hillary and Bill were a team once more--even if he wasn't with her. Republicans fear Team Clinton above all, she said. "I'm the one person they're most afraid of because Bill and I do know how to beat them; we have consistently, and we will do it again."But this time, the Clintons aren't the only legal...
  • Preacher Primary

    The Republicans’ first primary contest is next week, and it’s not in New Hampshire. It is in Orlando, at the annual meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters. GOP presidential candidates will be there to try to generate buzz that will translate into evangelical airtime—and support in "the base” in 2008.Unlike 2000 (and of course 2004) George W. Bush and Karl Rove don’t have the event wired. So it is wide open—just as the Republican nomination race is—and so Orlando is an important pit stop, especially for Sens. John McCain and Sam Brownback and former governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. All of them want to win the nomination by building from the base outward, the way it’s been done in the party since the days of Reagan.One candidate will be conspicuous by his absence: Front runner Rudy Giuliani. I am told that he won’t be there, but in a sense he doesn’t have to be. He’s not trying to win by getting right with the religious conservatives on cultural and faith issues. If he...
  • He's Ready to Rumble

    John Edwards played defensive back in high school, and waiting offstage to speak, he looked eager to get onto the field and hit someone. That is what he did (rhetorically) in the first scrimmage of the 2008 presidential campaign last Friday. Speaking to the Democratic National Committee after Sen. Barack Obama and before Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he accused Senate Democrats (that is, Obama and Clinton) of caving in to President Bush's Iraq escalation policy. Democrats had to use all their "vigor and tools and strength" to block the surge and begin a withdrawal. "Americans are counting on us not to be weak, political and careful," he said. "It's time for political courage."Isn't it a little early to start calling your opponents cowards, even if you don't do it by name? Not this time: nasty is in season already. One reason is the insane money scramble, which literally raises the stakes. And with such a demographically diverse field, chances for emotional collisions abound. When Sen...
  • A Man Apart

    George W. Bush wanted to be Harry Truman (patron saint of embattled presidents) in his State of the Union speech, but he may have reminded voters of Slim Pickens in "Dr. Strangelove." You know the famous scene: the giddy pilot in a cowboy hat hops aboard his own payload to Armageddon.Say this about the president: he is going to stick with his vision, his strategy and his decisions on Iraq—no matter what the world, the American voters, the new Democratic Congress, the ’08 presidential contenders or even his fellow Republicans want.All the buzz before the speech was that Bush would do something of a quick shuffle past Iraq. Yes, there was much domestic throat clearing—more than a half hour’s worth of it (though not a single mention of Katrina and New Orleans)—but when it came time to turn to Iraq and the “war on terror” he did not flinch.Nothing he said was remarkably new—which, in and of itself was nothing short of remarkable.Bush said, with all earnestness, that his goal in Iraq and...
  • Potomac High

    You knew Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in high school. At least I did. They were candidates in the student senate election. She was the worthy but puffed-up Miss Perfect, all poodle skirts and multicolored binders clutched to her chest. He was the lanky, mysterious transfer student—from Hawaii by way of Indonesia no less—who Knew Things and was way too cool to carry more than one book at a time. Who would be leader of the pack?Presidential elections are high school writ large, of course, and that is especially true when, as now, much of the early nomination race is based in the U.S. Capitol. It is even more the case when the party in question, and here we are talking about the Democrats, is not sharply divided ideologically.They have a good chance in ’08 to oust the fading prep/jock/ROTC/Up With People alliance.The Capitol’s tile-floored, chandeliered corridors are clammy with adolescent posturing and intrigue.Hillary thought she had the thing wired through sheer hard work and a...
  • Sidestepping The 'Surge'

    Before Barack Obama was a senator, he opposed the war in Iraq. Now that he is one, he says that sending more troops would be "a mistake that compounds the president's original mistake." But don't expect Obama--or most other Dems--to try to block George W. Bush when he asks Congress in the coming weeks for another billion-dollar bundle for the war. The party won't deny the funds, and may not even try to attach conditions to them. Obama made that clear last week when I saw him in his office, a sunny space filled with portraits of Thurgood Marshall, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi and Muhammad Ali. "To anticipate your question," said the Harvard-trained lawyer, "is Congress going to be willing to exercise its control over the purse strings to affect White House policy? I am doubtful that that is something we are willing to do in the first year."Marriages of convenience are common in Washington. The war in Iraq is producing the opposite: a divorce of calculation. President Bush has no...
  • A Crisis of Confidence

    George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup. I first interviewed the guy in 1987 and began covering his political rise in 1993, and I have never seen him, in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky. With his knitted brow and stricken features, he looked, well, scared. Not surprising since what he was doing in the White House library was announcing the escalation of an unpopular war.The president may well be right that we cannot afford to leave or lose in Iraq . He makes profound sense when he observes that a collapse of Iraq would mean the rise of a giant version of the Taliban's Afghanistan—with a million times the oil in the ground.But if he was trying to assure the country that he had confidence in his own plan to prevent that collapse, well, a picture is worth a thousand words. And the words themselves weren't that assuring either. Does anyone in America or Iraq , or anywhere else in the world for that matter,...
  • Mcconnell's Challenge

    With Congress back in session, I stopped by the sumptuous new Capitol offices of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentuckian who now has the job he yearned for—Republican Senate leader—but not under the circumstances he wanted—he leads the minority.One of McConnell’s first acts was to replace an oil painting of President Andrew Jackson (Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee had put it there) with one of Sen. Henry Clay, Kentucky’s “Great Compromiser,” who dedicated his life, unsuccessfully in the end, to preventing the United States from being torn to pieces by the issue of slavery.McConnell is going to need Clay-like diplomatic qualities to keep the GOP together, but the result may still be the same: civil war. This time, the issue is Iraq and, more generally, the Bush Administration’s approach to the “war on terror.”As the president prepared to speak to the country on his latest plan for his unpopular and costly war, Republican members of Congress generally were looking for cover as fast as they...
  • The Bushes' Saddam Drama

    Evil was on the loose in the world, President George W. Bush had told the country, and on his first Thanksgiving in office--November 2001--he was on his way to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to dine with newly trained troops heading out to fight the (evil) Taliban in Afghanistan. In the conference room aboard Air Force One, we talked about evil. "Is Saddam evil?" I asked. Glancing across the table at his aides, he demurred. I asked again; again, a demurral. We went on to other topics. Several exchanges later, Bush interrupted an answer to blurt out a declaration: "By the way, Saddam is evil!"When the history is written, the saga of the Bushes and the Butcher of Baghdad will be a central thread of the family's story--and of America's at the millennium. It is not personal in the literal sense; neither President Bush ever met Saddam. True, intelligence sources (not all of them necessarily reliable) said Saddam tried to have Bush 41 killed in 1993. And in 2002, drumming up support for the...
  • The Coming War on the War

    Ever since the Twin Towers fell, President Bush has had an easy time getting money from Congress for his war on terror: At least $400 billion has been poured into Iraq and Afghanistan. But the spigot soon may tighten. As Democrats assume control for the first time in 12 years, they are planning to refer Bush's next "emergency supplemental request"—likely to arrive this month and total upward of $150 billion—to the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.That would be a profoundly boring legislative detail except for this: the chairman of the subcommittee is none other than Rep. Jack Murtha. You may remember him. He's the beefy former Marine who declared in 2005 that the Iraq war had been a failure—and that we needed a rapid "redeployment." Murtha, say leadership aides who did not want to be named discussing his plans, is hiring a brace of government investigators specifically detailed to probe Iraq spending. The congressman will have subpeona power. "He'll make sure the questions...
  • Deval Patrick

    Boston is the ancestral home of Democratic Party politics. The denizens of Beacon Hill--where the statehouse sits, overlooking Boston Common--see themselves as the wisest of the wise guys. They concluded two years ago that Deval Patrick had no chance to be governor of Massachusetts. True, he had punched establishment tickets--Milton Academy, Harvard, Harvard Law, white-shoe law firms, the Clinton Justice Department. True, his name was as Irish as four-leaf clover. But: he had never run for elective office. He had no money. He had not gotten in line and paid his dues to the party. He had no organization. He was too liberal to win a general election: a supporter of gay marriage and tuition breaks for illegal immigrants. Worse, he was not a Boston native, but an immigrant--from Chicago, of all places. One other thing: he was black.So much for the wise guys. In January, Patrick will be sworn in--only the second African-American since Reconstruction to lead any state. He will become a...
  • The Democrats' New Fault Lines

    George Miller was reared in the liberal Democratic Party of Northern California--not the fancy Nob Hill kind, but the fiery kind bred in the docks, shipyards and canneries of the East Bay. His father was state party chairman and taught his son to distrust Big Money and to "go to work like you're killing snakes." Elected to Congress in 1974 at the age of 29--in the wave of Democrats sent to Washington by Watergate and Vietnam--Miller is now the Man of the House: the closest ally of and adviser to the already-embattled speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. "It sounds corny," he told me, "but I was taught that you acquire power for one reason: to help the seriously disenfranchised."Ellen Tauscher was reared in business. Her dad was a grocer in New Jersey, and after college she went to Wall Street, where she became one of the first women with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1989, she migrated to an upscale East Bay suburb. Elected to Congress in 1996--in a district next...
  • How the West Is Being Won

    Jon Tester's farm isn't in the duded-up part of Montana, where hedge-fund managers go fly-fishing. It's in a north-central plain, where his Swedish ancestors settled in 1916. Until seven years ago, Tester's bio read: organic dryland farmer, custom butcher and music teacher. Then the power company was deregulated, prices skyrocketed, and he ran for the legislature as a Democrat. Last week he ousted Republican Conrad Burns from the U.S. Senate in a contest that cost $20 million--a number that would impress even a fly-fishing hedge-fund manager. "The West is growing," Tester told me. "It's where the action is."American politics has always been defined (or imprisoned) by Mason and Dixon, by regional rifts engendered by slavery, the Civil War and the Bible Belt. But now the relevant names are Lewis and Clark. The land west of the Mississippi, especially west of the 100th meridian, is the new swing region--and the place where Democrats hope to win the White House. "It's our 21st-century...
  • Her Own Worst Enemy

    The old mayor would not be pleased.Years ago I spent Election Day in San Francisco with Rep. Nancy Pelosi as she made her way around town. She was elegant, smart and popular, moving from restaurant to clubhouse to street corner in the Italian hilltop neighborhood of a city that is more like her native Baltimore than tourists realize. It seemed that her ambition, and perhaps her destiny, was to be a Democratic Boss in the manner of her late father, who had been Baltimore mayor.If Speaker-to-be Pelosi is going to succeed as Speaker of the House, she had better learn—fast—from the fiasco known as the Hoyer-Murtha Race. She violated every conceivable rule of Boss-like behavior: she lost, she lost publicly, she lost after issuing useless and unenforceable threats to people she barely had met, knowing (or having reason to know) that they would tell the world about her unsuccessful arm-twisting. And she lost big: by 149 to 86 votes.One of the first rules of politics is that power is the...
  • The Democrats' Engine Room

    No one accuses Eliot Spitzer of being a nice guy. His handshake is bone-crunching, his wide smile vaguely predatory. As attorney general of New York state, he terrorized Wall Street, collaring a pin-striped menagerie of inside traders, CEOs and other club-level ganefs . Campaigning for governor last week in the Hudson River Valley, he sounded more like a prosecutor than a happy-talking Democrat. In fact, Spitzer's hero is not FDR, but the other New York governor named Roosevelt: Teddy, a trust-busting Republican. To inspire the state, Spitzer vows to flush out the "ossified" systems of government in Albany; to spur the economy, he wants to trim taxes and lance a bloated health-care system. "There are going to be tough decisions," he told editors of the Middletown newspaper. "We're going to close hospitals. We have to brace for reality."Outside Washington, D.C., realism was selling well in this campaign season. Spitzer, dutifully working the booths of diners along the interstate, was...
  • The Boys Are Back in Town

    President George W. Bush's Iraq policy is now in the political equivalent of receivership—a bankrupt project that is about to be placed in the hands of the worldly-wise pragmatists who surrounded the president's own father. Think of them as receivers in bankruptcy, looking for ways to salvage America's military and moral assets after a post-September 11 adventure that voters (and most of the rest of the world) concluded was a waste of blood and treasure.Here's another analogy: the Shakespeare histories and tragedies in which battlefield mayhem ends with a restoration of order in the person of the Respected Nobles. In this case, these are the old royals from the Castle of Bush the First: a coterie of commercially minded globalists (as opposed to those ideologically minded globalists, the neocons) who have spent their lives as advisers and friends of former president George Herbert Walker Bush.The man who is about to be isolated in the White House is not the president, but Vice...
  • George Bush's Last Campaign

    Backed into a corner, George W. Bush gets louder and more deeply West Texas: a high-school football coach, down by 20 points at halftime, banging on the metal lockers for inspiration. He thinks that even a trace of presidential doubt will embolden Democrats at home and evildoers in Iraq. So here he was, at a not-oversubscribed Washington fund-raiser, launching the last drive of his last campaign with grim determination and warnings of apocalypse if Democrats take Congress. "They are the party of cut and run," he said. "Victory in Iraq is vital for the security of a generation of Americans who are coming up. And so we will stay in Iraq! We will fight in Iraq! And we will win in Iraq!"The Bush administration now administers two Green Zones, one in Baghdad and one in the White House. The question raised by both is the same: can the people inside deal with the people outside? In and around the Oval Office, I am told, there is little mention of--let alone game-planning for--the very real...
  • Bush = Truman?

    They are calling them “pre-mortems”—explanations in advance for what are expected to be Republican losses in the midterm elections next month. I heard a fascinating “pre-mortem” over dinner the other night from no less a personage than Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee.It went roughly as follows: The Democrats are running against George Bush and the Iraq war. To the extent that they succeed, it will largely be because of the president’s low job-approval numbers—which are at rock bottom mostly because voters can’t see that he is leading us in a new and “different kind of war, an insurgent war” against Islamic fascists. The last president to lead us “for the first time in a different kind of war” was President Harry Truman. The war was the Korean War, which started in the summer of 1950, and which was going badly that fall. “People thought at the time that the Korean War was a failure,” Mehlman said. “Now we look back and see that it was an incredibly...
  • For the Faithful, A Trying Time

    In Florida, you drive North to reach the South. The "I-4 Corridor" is a Mason-Dixon Line in reverse. I crossed it the other day headed north out of bland, Disney-fied Orlando on a state road with four numerals--past the BBQ shack with palm trees in the dusty parking lot and the Brazilian "ground fighting" school, past orange groves and cow pastures, to the turnoff for the dog track. Across the street stood the Northland Church Distributed; "distributed" because it conducts services at myriad sites simultaneously via the Internet. It is the kind of fast-growing, interdenominational megachurch that is a key to Republican hopes of avoiding electoral disaster next month.There may not be much Good News in the pews for the GOP. The tawdry parable of Mark Foley is only one reason. Maturing from rebels to political insiders, evangelicals are divided on tactics and agendas, and beginning to doubt whether it is possible to ennoble society, let alone save souls, through Christian political...
  • The Devil Wears St. John

    The Rev. Jerry Falwell caused a stir when he made a comparison between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lucifer...