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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday February 15, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 7)

Profane McCain; Recessionary 1980s?; Defining "Reform"

1. In a rare tip-toe toward scrutiny, Newsweek’s Evan Thomas noted John McCain’s idea of senatorial courtesy is repeatedly calling Sen. Pete Domenici an "a--hole." U.S. News writer Franklin Foer reported McCain called Domenici "chickens---." But Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and Howard Fineman argued McCain is "scrappy" while Bush is "increasingly vitriolic." Time claimed "Bush tore into McCain like a pit bull let loose in a slaughterhouse."

2. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter and U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman railed against tax cuts. Alter cheered McCain’s campaign for causing "the end of tax cuts as a panacea." Zuckerman’s article was summarized: "The GOP’s tax-cut plans would risk all our economic gains for a rerun of the recessionary 1980s."

3. Time’s Eric Pooley gave George W. Bush a mixed review on his "reformer with results" slogan, but complained on "poverty and hunger, the death penalty, gun violence, health insurance for the poor, pollution -- Bush has shown little willingness to lead or even think deeply."

On the covers of this week’s newsmagazines. Newsweek featured the recent hacker attacks on the Internet. U.S. News & World Report touted the liberal cliche, "The Rich Getting Richer: Why those at the top are leaving the rest of us behind." Time lunged for teenage female readers with a cover story on movie star Leonardo DiCaprio.


In a rare tip-toe toward scrutiny, Newsweek’s Evan Thomas and U.S. News & World Report’s Franklin Foer both ran very similar articles describing McCain’s acrimonious relationship with many of his Senate colleagues. In "Senator Hothead," Thomas rote a relatively balanced piece highlighting some episodes of McCain’s famous temper, his favorable media coverage, campaign finance reform hypocrisy and his support for a $500 billion dollar tax increase. "Of the 55 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, only four support John McCain for president. Most of the rest – 39 in all, with two more signing on last week – back George W. Bush. Why can't McCain win the votes of his own colleagues?

"To explain, a Republican senator tells this story: at a GOP meeting last fall, McCain erupted out of the blue at the respected Budget Committee chairman, Pete Domenici, saying, "Only an a--hole would put together a budget like this." Offended, Domenici stood up and gave a dignified, restrained speech about how in all his years in the Senate, through many heated debates, no one had ever called him that. Another senator might have taken the moment to check his temper. But McCain went on: "I wouldn't call you an a--hole unless you really were an a--hole." The Republican senator witnessing the scene had considered supporting McCain for president, but changed his mind. ‘I decided," the senator told Newsweek, "I didn't want this guy anywhere near a trigger.’"

In case anyone still thought McCain was just having a bad day, Thomas then added a debate over the fate of Vietnam MIAs, when Sen. Chuck Grassley asked "Are you calling me stupid?" McCain replied: "No. I’m calling you a f---ing jerk!"

Elsewhere in the magazine, Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff flew their pro-McCain colors by beginning with yet another POW story, and then wondering which campaign will struggle: "Is it McCain’s remarkable (and deceptively shrewd) insurgency – or George W. Bush’s increasingly vitriolic Establishmentarian counteroffensive?" While McCain, "the scrappy confrontationalist, has turned pacifist, dramatically forswearing the use of negative ads....Bush has turned his own strategy upside down. Mr. Geniality has become Mr. Mean."

Not to be outdone, Time’s James Carney claimed in a story on "My Jog with George" that "Bush tore into McCain like a pit bull let loose in a slaughterhouse." That’s how Carney rewards Bush for granting him access.

In U.S. News, Franklin Foer focused on GOP hostility to McCain due to a perceived holier-than-thou approach and his support for so-called campaign finance reform. "First there was the Whispering Campaign. Quiet efforts by Senate Republicans to discredit their colleague, John McCain. But as McCain's presidential bid picks up momentum, it now takes little prodding to get top congressional GOP-ers to take shots at him. They eagerly recount the meeting where he called Sen. Pete Domenici ‘chickens---.’ And the time he tried to cancel his colleagues' parking spaces at Reagan National Airport… ‘He doesn't just take contrary positions. He uses them to grandstand,’ says one GOP aide. ‘He'll say whatever it takes to land [him] on Meet the Press.’"


Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter and U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman cheered on the media effort to derail tax cuts as a political issue. One major reason the press loves McCain so much is his criticism of tax cuts with liberal language. Alter licked his chops for a more Big Government-friendly Republican Party under McCain: "If elected, he'd take some of the ‘old’ out of the Grand Old Party. A McCain presidency might be more about ends than beginnings the end of tax-cutting as a panacea; the end of the hard right intimidating everyone in the party; the end of Trent Lott and Tom DeLay and the old order on Capitol Hill. Losing is safe; winning is scary. ‘President Al Gore’ would present a lucrative foil for conservative direct-mail solicitations."

Let’s get this straight: conservatives are silly to oppose a candidate who will deny tax cuts, dismiss the "hard right," and crush the power of DeLay and Lott. Nothing "scary" in "winning" this?

In his issue-ending editorial, Zuckerman echoes the same anti-tax cut sentiment but goes the extra step in once again pursuing the media crusade to discredit President Reagan’s tax cuts as a major force for turning the U.S. economy around in the 1980s. He asserted: "Why doesn't the GOP go back to the good old days of fiscal conservatism, when it stood for a budget surplus, debt reduction, and constrained government spending? The answer is: It is still hooked on nostalgia for Ronald Reagan and the sense that he won in 1980 by promising tax cuts. That's a convenient bit of Republican mythology, the perceived convergence of good economics and good politics. But it wasn't quite like that. Reagan didn't win because he promised tax cuts. He won because the country was fed up with Jimmy Carter. Nor were Reagan's cuts good economics. They didn't trigger an economic recovery. In 1982 and 1983, recall, we were sunk in the deepest recession since 1929, weighed down by the Federal Reserve's sky-high interest rates. They were necessary to crush the inflation Reagan inherited from Carter. It was the decline of inflation that led to Reagan's landslide victory in 1984."

The summary of Zuckerman’s article – a sentence not in the text – is even more liberal: "The GOP’s tax-cut plans would risk all our economic gains for a rerun of the recessionary 1980s."


Time’s Eric Pooley wrote a lengthy article in this week’s issue to determine whether Bush can truly lay claim to the mantle of reformer that the media have given McCain. Pooley commended Bush for "really having a record of reform" on welfare and torts, taxes and education. "On matters he cares about, Bush has displayed a clear vision and a knack for getting down in the policy weeds that is wholly at odds with his featherweight image. But on other crucial matters – poverty and hunger, the death penalty, gun violence, health insurance for the poor, pollution – Bush has shown little willingness to lead or even think deeply."

Maybe the important issue for Pooley isn’t who the actual reformer is, but who is the actual liberal.

-- Paul Smith





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