Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • Running Hard By Staying Out

    If you want to send a message in Washington, issue a press release—or go to the Palm. It's a restaurant where the jocular masks the manipulative: a stock exchange of politics, with bigger portions. It was perfect for Michael Bloomberg, the nominally Republican billionaire mayor of New York, who wants to run for president as an independent. Not long ago he asked Sen. Chuck Hagel, the maverick antiwar Republican, to dine with him there. They sat at a prominent table. Predictable things happened. The Washington Post ran a gossip item the next morning. TV bookers read it. "Face the Nation" booked Hagel, who praised Bloomberg as a man "not tied down and captive of a political ideology" and didn't say "no" to running mate. "It's a great country," he said, "to think about a New York boy and a Nebraska boy teaming up to lead the nation." Check, please!We are in the Palm phase of the 2008 campaign. Alluring (or merely diverting) scenarios of late-entering, out-of-the-box candidacies flow...
  • Jerry Falwell, 1933-2007

    Jerry Falwell loved his jet. in 1980, it was no small thing for a preacher to have one, even if he was a preacher with a TV show, "The Old Time Gospel Hour." The plane was a Lear, he told me as we climbed aboard on a September day in that crucial year, "specially reconfigured by an Israeli company." He saw this as providential—as if the jet had been anointed by the engine oil of the Holy Land. And it was dart-quick. His congregation, Thomas Road Baptist, was locked away in the Blue Ridge town of Lynchburg, Va. With the plane, he could roam the Bible belt, from Okeechobee to Oklahoma. This trip, the destination was Alabama.We lifted off with a prayer in the name of Jesus, but the flight wasn't aimed at saving souls. It was about electing Ronald Reagan. With the advice and financial backing of national conservative and GOP activists, Falwell had launched a group he had the chutzpah to call the Moral Majority. The goal was to use the then-new tactics of "independent" grass-roots...
  • Fineman: Leveling the Media Playing Field

    As the 10 Republican presidential candidates debate this week on their favorite cable network—Fox News—Capitol Hill Democrats are planning a new drive for access elsewhere, on talk radio and local broadcast TV.The goal? To level the media playing field in time for the 2008 election.Talk radio has long been a crucial power base for conservatives and Republicans; local TV stations are not.They shy away from public-affairs programming altogether, and yet they rake in ever-larger wads of cash on political advertising.Democrats have two media-access goals.One is to prod local broadcast television and radio stations to renew their atrophied commitment to producing and airing their own public-affairs programming—shows that Democrats think would at least give them a chance to be heard. Some Democrats want to require stations to give free time for campaign debates, and even free campaign advertising as part of the stations’ “public-service” licensing requirement.The Democrats’ more ambitious...
  • Fineman: The Megastates Gamble

    The New Yorkers in the presidential race are placing their bets on California, Florida—and their home state. But there's a danger in writing off the grass roots.
  • Both Parties Struggle With War Message

    It is absurdly early in the '08 campaign for pivotal moments, but Sen. Hillary Clinton's handlers were convinced they spotted one at the Democrats' first presidential debate, in South Carolina. Answering a question about how he would react to another Qaeda strike, Sen. Barack Obama talked about the lack of disaster preparedness in New Orleans and the need for reliable intelligence. He said that he would carefully target "some action to dismantle" the terrorists' network, but do so without the "bluster and bombast" that would "alienate the world community." The one thing he did not explicitly mention: the use of military force. Asked the same question by moderator Brian Williams of NBC, Clinton morphed into the commander in chief as aggrieved New Yorker. "I understand the extraordinary horror of that kind of attack," she said. "I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate." In Clinton's staff holding room at South Carolina State, there were smiles and high...
  • Fineman: Obama's Secret Service Protection

    I got word of Sen. Barack Obama’s new Secret Service protection in an appropriate spot: the Reagan Library, on a stage beneath a gleaming Air Force One. The retired plane, polished to a mighty shine, is a symbol of the presidency’s role as the most crucial job on the planet. We (and I mean the world) invest it with the power to summon us to soaring flights of hope, but those flights can shake loose deep forces of hatred and violence.We probably care too much about the presidency, but we can’t seem to help ourselves. In a busy and fragmented American life, it is our relentless focus.And that can be dangerous.We tend to forget that Ronald Reagan’s presidency nearly was snuffed out at its start by an assassin in 1981. The Gipper was lucky to have survived the attack by a lunatic gunman, which took place at the entrance to the Washington Hilton—the same doorway that partygoers use each year for the White House Correspondents Dinner. Reagan’s “Morning in America,” the sunny upland of a...
  • Fineman: The Power of GOP 2nd-Tier Candidates

    They don't grab the headlines, but the second- and third-tier candidates are worth watching in tonight's GOP presidential debate. They help set the conservative benchmarks the front runners will have to meet.
  • Fineman: Obama's Talking Points

    Here’s the private advice Sen. Barack Obama’s staff gave him the other day as he prepared to make a series of phone calls in search of support:Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee is a “huge finance wonk,” and the way to win him over is by “giving Cooper a role in policy discussion.”The route to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s heart is a spot on your “national leadership team” and a role as a “national surrogate” and adviser on education.Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York is in play—the only Democratic in the New York delegation not to endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton—because Hillary’s “senior press aide worked on behalf of Clarke’s primary opponent” last year.Federico Peña , Bill Clinton’s secretary of Transportation, “would be a good high-level Hispanic endorsement, especially considering the recent endorsements of both former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez for Senator Clinton. YOU should make a hard ask for his endorsement and offer him a position...
  • Fineman: Previewing the Democrats' Debate

    Tonight's Democratic debate, the first of the '08 campaign, will showcase the battle for black votes—a bloc as vital to the party's fortunes next year as evangelicals have been to the rise of the GOP.
  • Fineman: The Return of Pragmatism?

    As he prepared for the Democrats’ first presidential debate, Sen. Barack Obama sought advice from a wide circle, including, I am told, Gen. Colin Powell, who now deeply regrets his role in making the case for war in Iraq.On the Republican side, Gov. Mitt Romney (another foreign policy neophyte) has reached out to a number of advisors, among them, I am told, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, an early foe of the war in Iraq and a close ally of Powell’s from the first Bush presidency.We are in a crucial—but little understood—phase, not only in the presidential campaign, but also in the shaping of foreign policy. ...
  • Starr: Don Imus Is Us

    There's another hot story in morning radio: African-American comedian Steve Harvey. In 17 months, his show has rocketed to prominence in top-50 markets. He's based on urban stations, but exhibits strong crossover appeal. He and his studio gang talk about race, to be sure, but with nonabrasive humor and upbeat music. They dispense advice on subjects ranging from love (be faithful) to barbecuing in the front yard (don't). "He's not a shock jock," says his syndicator, Martin Melius of Premiere Radio Networks. "He wants to be inspirational and positive, not divisive."Winning by division has long been the reigning theory of radio—not to mention politics and, in the age of George W. Bush, international relations. Democrats and Republicans compete to see who can be more convincingly apocalyptic about the other side. No sense addressing the entire country, let alone the world. You stick with your crowd. You target and narrowcast. To combat terrorism, you identify an Axis of Evil, and...
  • Fineman: Gun Control? Don't Hold Your Breath

    The shooting spree in Virginia will trigger the usual round of calls for tighter restrictions on gun traffic. But politically, that dog likely won't hunt, even now.
  • 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...