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 Magazine Watch

Wednesday January 26, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 4)

Conservatism Hurts Bush; "Cold Hearts and Small Minds;" Excellent Eskew

1. In "Bush’s Forbes Obsession," Newsweek’s Howard Fineman predicted that George W. Bush’s conservatism would hurt him the general election.

2. Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy lamented Bush’s conservatism in Time (who once "spanked the House Republicans for their cold hearts and small minds," in the latest example of a personal attack by the media).

3. U.S. News columnist Gloria Borger broke from the pack in suggesting moderate Democrats fear Al Gore has traveled too far to the left, and worry he is "pandering to the left so blatantly that he may never be able to get anything done."

4. Time reporter Karen Tumulty marveled at the Gore campaign’s "Zen like focus," and praised top Gore message-meister Carter Eskew. In the midst of all the praise, you might miss the magazine’s first casual mention of Eskew’s tobacco ties.

On the covers of the big three news weeklies. Newsweek led with a look at Alzheimer’s, U.S. News & World Report featured an examination of "Hell: A new vision of the netherworld," and Time’s cover presented the media-anointed quartet of leading candidates for president: George W. Bush, John McCain, Al Gore and Bill Bradley. In their "Conventional Wisdom Watch," Newsweek suggested Bush winning 45 percent in Iowa would be better than expected (but it was better than reality), and that for Forbes getting 25 percent would be better than expected.


In "Bush’s Forbes Obsession," Newsweek’s Howard Fineman credited Steve Forbes for moving George W. Bush to the right on abortion, taxes, and fund-raising, and concluded that Bush’s conservative "moves won’t help in the fall election against Al Gore or Bill Bradley."

Fineman wrote of Forbes: "The conservative publisher also figured in the calibration of the Bush tax-cut plan. The Austin Powers knew they would have to face off against Forbes in New Hampshire, where, they assumed, Republican voters still liked the idea of slashing taxes. Bush's $483 billion tax-cut plan was bigger than the one House Republicans had put forward last year – and had been unable to sell. But it would help insulate the Texas governor against Forbes's attacks. Ironically, both strategic decisions have aided Sen. John McCain, whose crusade against ‘special interests’ and the national debt takes advantage of the openings created by Bush's obsession with Forbes. If Bush manages to win the nomination, his moves on money and taxes won't help him in the fall election against Al Gore or Bill Bradley."

Fineman summed up distorting Bush’s pro-life position: "In Colfax, Iowa, Bush tiptoed away from Roe v. Wade, saying that the Supreme Court had ‘stepped across its bounds and usurped the rights of the legislatures.’ At the weekend, he said he favored including a strong anti-abortion plank in the party platform. It was another statement Bush might regret next fall – and another that Forbes had drawn him into making." As National Review recently explained, Bush hadn’t changed his position at all. It’s just that reporters are asking about it, and they think the answer is new.


Sounding a lot like Fineman, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy argued in Time’s cover story that Bush’s conservatism would come back to haunt him in November and took a not so subtle swipe at the GOP Congress: "George W. Bush never had to fight for name recognition; he never had to fight for money or friends in high places. But the really costly war he never had to wage was the one that time and again has crippled Republicans by Easter – the fight to win over the conservative faithful with all sorts of promises and pledges and litmus tests that haunt the candidate for the rest of the campaign. From the very first day, Bush positioned himself as a new kind of Republican, who talked about the poor and spoke Spanish and spanked the House Republicans for their cold hearts and small minds. Democrats may think Bush's vow to cut taxes, ‘so help me God,’ will backfire in the fall, but Bush believes Republicans were put on earth to cut taxes, and he at least brags about how much his plan would do for the working poor." 

(Two weeks ago, Gibbs wrote the opposite: "When Trent Lott boasts that Republicans, who once vowed to abolish the Education Department, actually put more money for education into the budget than Clinton requested, you have to ask, Did God really put Republicans on earth to outbid Democrats on domestic-spending programs?")

Gibbs and Duffy continued: "Maybe conservatives have kept quiet about all this moderation because they know something about Bush's actual record: the abortion restrictions he's promoted, the felons he's executed, the welfare rolls he's pared. Or maybe they just want to win and are winking at him as he flirts with the minivan moms. Last week he dutifully denounced Roe v. Wade, and there is a good chance that in the coming days, he will have to step further to the right to stave off last-minute surges from conservative rivals Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes. But these are baby steps compared with the desperate lunges of recent Republican campaigns."


U.S. News columnist Gloria Borger broke from the pack in suggesting moderate Democrats fear Al Gore has traveled too far to the left.

Borger focused on moderate Sen. John Breaux, who can’t get Clinton or Gore interested in Medicare reform: "Back in 1988, Gore was the Blue Dog ‘raging moderate’ who ducked Iowa and New Hampshire in favor of a Southern strategy; now he's Nanook of the North, happy to cater to every frozen liberal constituency. Granted, Gore faces a tough challenge on the left from Bradley. His moderate allies say they don't blame him for trying to win (especially since it seems to be working); they do blame him for pandering to the left so blatantly that he may never be able to get anything done."


Time reporter Karen Tumulty praised the Gore campaign’s new success: "Since Gore's old friend Eskew took over his campaign strategy last summer, what was once a messy tangle of infighting advisers with conflicting philosophies, interests and agendas has become an operation with Zen-like focus, throwing Bradley off stride. More than anything else, aides say, Eskew has fostered Gore's instinct to go for the jugular."

Tumulty added that Eskew saved Gore from his gaffe "overstating his role in uncovering Love Canal." (He must have worked his magic on Time, which never mentioned it until now.) Tumulty waited until the end to note Eskew’s tobacco ties, very casually: "Gore knew that he would take some hits for it. Eskew's ad campaigns for the tobacco industry helped kill Administration efforts for a tobacco deal and subjected the Vice President to charges of hypocrisy that have yet to die down entirely."

That’s funny. For something that’s yet to "die down," it’s the first occasion Time ever touched on it.

-- Mark H. Drake





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