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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday July 13, 1999 (Vol. One; No. 7)

Clinton’s Anti-Poverty Legacy; Is Hillary Too Smart?; Is George W. Dumb?

1. Newsweek and U.S. News appraised the Bill Clinton poverty tour. Newsweek touted how "Clinton has quietly done more for the poor than some liberals admit." U.S. News wondered "Is poverty fixable?"

2. Time praised both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Eric Pooley reported Hillary "is a vessel for the hopes, dreams and sympathies of her supporters...and for the fears and hatreds of her many detractors," but threatens to intimidate voters with her policy smarts. Despite the Mayor being a "self-absorbed dictator," Margaret Carlson noted, "I find him more charming than his press clippings."

3. Newsweek promoted presidential hopefuls from the Northeast: Bill Bradley...and Lowell Weicker, who has "an almost pathological need to stand up for the little guy"?

4. U.S. News asks: "Is Dubya Dumb?" But doesn’t ask: is Gore goofy?

With their late Saturday deadlines, Time and Newsweek put the victorious US Women's World Cup soccer team on their July 19 covers (Time used "What a Kick!" Newsweek pushed "Girls Rule.") U.S. News & World Report produced its annual "Best Hospitals" issue. In the wake of Benjamin Nathaniel Smith’s shooting spree, all three carried an article on the serious national problem of white hate groups that they can’t be sure number in the hundreds or the low thousands.


A sanguine Jonathan Alter reported for Newsweek from the front lines of Clinton's poverty tour in "Trade Mission to Misery, USA." Alter wrote: "It's hard to believe, but Clinton is the first American president since Franklin Roosevelt to visit an Indian reservation -- a stunning reminder of generations of neglect. Unemployment at South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, the nation's poorest census tract, is 73 percent; alcoholism is off the charts. The other stops on the seven-state 'poverty tour' were less desperate but plenty grim. Even so, I came away strangely hopeful."

(Speaking of neglect, Alter didn’t note how many Newsweek articles he’s written on Indian reservations).

Alter also defended Clinton's record on helping alleviate poverty: "As President, Clinton has quietly done more for the poor than some liberals admit. The rising economic tide has pushed unemployment for blacks and Latinos to historic lows; half a million former welfare recipients have been hired by the private sector." Minorities also benefited in this way from the Reagan recovery, but you didn’t see it touted in Newsweek. Alter also boasted: "He never properly highlighted his expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit or gave it a jazzier name. But that $30 billion a year in direct payments to the working poor -- rewarding those who just scrape by -- is arguably the most successful anti-poverty program in a generation." Alter concluded: "Clinton has another New Markets tour planned for the fall, starting in Newark. If he makes 10 or 12 more such trips before leaving office -- cajoling, coordinating, leveraging, leading -- then his domestic legacy will move to the higher plateau he covets."

In U.S. News & World Report, Franklin Foer and Jodie T. Allen were more skeptical, wondering whether Clinton's poverty tour would yield results after years of little progress in "Is Poverty Fixable?" Foer and Allen were not so sure: "While poverty here has shrunk considerably, progress has been concentrated on the fringe of rapidly growing metropolitan cores such as Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Birmingham, Ala. Here, in the remote hills of Kentucky and West Virginia, however, the poor have only inched ahead," but they concluded "Symbolism -- a reminder the the poor exist -- has its virtues, too....even if the President's initiative rings hollow to expert ears, it resounds appealingly in the hollows of Appalachia."


Time praised both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Time Senior Writer Eric Pooley underscored the polarizing quality of the First Lady's bid, not between liberals and conservatives, but between lovers and haters: "Sixteen months before the election, Clinton is a vessel for the hopes, dreams and sympathies of her supporters (typical refrain: 'I admire you so much as a person') and for the fears and hatreds of her many detractors (HILLARY GO HOME signs sprouted wherever she went last week). There are legions on both sides, and neither can quite believe she is actually going to bring her soap opera to their state. But bring it she will. Where a lesser person might be having a post-traumatic breakdown right about now, Hillary is having a campaign -- and, it would seem, the time of her life. Is this politics, psychotherapy, or a little of both? Whatever the answer, the campaign for Senate is filling a large need. It would take a cataclysm to keep her out of this race…After all those years spent learning from the master, it's no surprise that her candidate's persona last week was profoundly Clintonian -- by turns folksy and falsely humble, dazzlingly smart and suddenly peremptory, as when she ignored or brushed aside inconvenient questions about the Lewinsky scandal (the affair that helped make this run possible, after all, by boosting sympathy and softening her image)."

Pooley painted Hillary as very smart, but maybe too smart: "Hillary knew more about health care and education than most of the panelists she was listening to last week. She displayed an extraordinary command of policy detail, a steely anger on behalf of those getting screwed by the health and education systems, a fine ear for the telling local anecdote (such as the Ithaca car-crash victim denied insurance coverage after she failed to get preapproval for her emergency helicopter evacuation because she was unconscious at the time). But she was the Woman Who Knew Too Much." Pooley reported Hillary’s listening-tour listeners were driven into silence by her know-it-all answers. "In politics, it's not smart to seem too smart. Bill Clinton uses his intellect to dazzle audiences, but he does it in an inclusive way. He articulates things people know but can't quite express. Hillary sometimes can't help intimidating them."

Margaret Carlson's column depicted New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a "take-charge Man of the People" in his handling of the New York City blackout last week: "It was the crisis from Central Casting: exquisitely timed, high profile but manageable, with an identifiable villain -- an unsympathetic power utility worthy of the mayor's scolding, warring self." In spite of herself, Carlson couldn't resist grudging respect for Giuliani and his accomplishments: "Although he is known as a self-absorbed dictator, Giuliani would be only an average blowhard in the Capitol, so I find him more charming than his press clippings. He speaks without a text, makes his own calls, never goes off the record. We stop for lunch, and he puts a $20 bill on the counter, and so do I -- one of those postmodern-ethics moments when neither of us can accept the other's hospitality. He gives me half of his deep-dish pizza, having made the better choice. Sure, he's pleased with himself. But unlike a lot of smug pols, at least he has some reason to be."


Newsweek promoted presidential hopefuls from the Northeast. Howard Fineman focused on former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's nascent campaign with basketball analogies: "As a basketball player, Bradley's skill was to move without the ball. He let the flow of the game come to him. He was slower than other guys, and short for his position. But he knew where to be when the game was on the line, and used sharp elbows to get there. As it was then, so it is now. After twice shying away from running for President -- in 1988 and 1992 -- Bradley, at 55, sees the game coming to him. He'll never be must-see TV. He's not a warm charmer, and he has a habit -- born of resentment at being a 'jock' at Princeton -- of lecturing and sermonizing. In any other time and place, he'd be an impossible sell. But in a country tired of Clinton's off-court antics, Bradley is methodically working his way toward an open shot."

Fineman advised Bradley's run poses serious problems for Gore: "As they confront Bradley, the Gore team's choice is to ignore him, or take him on and confirm what insiders already know: that he is a real threat. And Bradley is a tempting target. When he quit the Senate, he pronounced politics 'broken.' But he is capable of the kind of sanctimony and hypocrisy that led to the breakdown he decried."

Matt Bai focused on the budding friendship between Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker, spurred by Ventura's efforts to get Weicker the Reform Party presidential nomination: "It's an odd friendship: Ventura, the former pro wrestler, and the blueblood Weicker, heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. But during a three-hour meeting in Manhattan last month, the two men had an animated talk about building a more powerful third party. They share the same brash, bullying style, along with contempt for standard politics and an almost pathological need to stand up for the little guy."

Bai didn’t ask any "little guys" in Connecticut how they liked that new income tax that got Governor Weicker bounced from office in 1994.


U.S. News asked: "Is it Wrong to Call Him George Dumbya Bush?" Roger Simon elaborated in his opening paragraph: "Is Dubya dumb? Is George W. Bush not the sharpest knife in the drawer? We know he doesn't know Slovakia from Slovenia, Greeks from ‘Grecians,’ or that there is no ‘standard’ version of the Ten Commandments. And we also know that the big bookshelf in his Austin office contains baseballs and not books. But this begs the question: How bright do you have to be to be President?"

Simon then briefly recounted how "For much of American history, too much intelligence has been a problem for presidential candidates. William Henry Harrison's advisers worked to take off his patrician edge when he ran for President in 1840. When Bill Clinton's campaign staff found out that people associated him with Georgetown, Yale, and Oxford, it took great pains to ‘dumb down’ Clinton and stress his roots in tiny Hope, Ark., and his love for Big Macs, Ray-Ban sunglasses, and the AstroTurf he had in the back of his pickup truck as a youth." But unlike Harrison and Clinton, "That won't be Bush's problem."

Simon also quoted sources within the Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee who (surprise) felt Bush wasn't up the job intellectually vis a vis Gore. Citing the frequent faxes attacking the GOP front runner as "Bush lite," Simon accepted the premise that Bush wasn't all that bright: "Ronald Reagan made dozens of misstatements both as a candidate and as a President, and the public never seemed to mind much. Reagan's Gary Cooperesque aw-shucks attitude (which Bush has cultivated) got him through many a scrape." Simon concluded: "It is revealing that the Bush campaign does not make any great claims as to Bush's intellect."

What's even more revealing is Simon's failure to mention Gore's innumerable blunders, including his claim of Internet creation and his assertion that he and Tipper served as the inspiration for Love Story.

-- Mark Drake


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