Remembering the Past, Pontificating About the Present, Infesting the Future

No, you’re not diplopic. And the identical cover images of a grinning, cowboy-hat-and-denim-shirt-donning Ronald Reagan are just the start of the similarities between this week’s commemorative issues of Time and Newsweek. Both newsweeklies take a break, for the most part, from coverage of campaign 2004 to bring us Reagan, “The Dreamer-In-Chief,” and Reagan, “American Dreamer.”

And so this week The Magazine Report turns to publications with pre-Reagan’s-passing closing dates to get our fill of campaign-related reportage.

The Atlantic delivers in spades, having consigned two writers to different but equally painful purgatories. James Fallows spent the spring watching “dozens of hours’ worth of old videos of John Kerry and George W. Bush” debating assorted opponents in order to write “a viewer’s guide to this fall’s asymmetric warfare” — that is, the Bush-Kerry debates. “The political establishment assumes that John Kerry has a big advantage in this fall’s debates,” Fallows writes. “I am not so sure.” After watching and re-watching Bush debate incumbent Texas governor Ann Richards in 1994, Fallows “developed a new respect for the power of [Bush’s] determination to stick to his main point” — as well as the Bush camp’s ability to prep their man for debate and to deftly lower external expectations. And yet, Fallows writes, “sitting through the videos of Kerry’s old debates and interviews produced an effect I hadn’t remotely anticipated: I was sorry when they were finished, because it was a treat to see this man perform.” Fallows’ conclusion? When Bush and Kerry debate this fall, “the clash of personalities will be more interesting than the differences over policy.”

While Fallows spent hours screening debate videos, fellow Atlantic correspondent P.J. O’Rourke consumed as many conservative talk shows as he could stomach. “I tried watching ‘The O’Reilly Factor,’” O’Rourke writes. “I tried watching Hannity shout about Colmes. I tried listening to conservative talk radio. But my frustration at concurrence would build, mounting from exasperation with like-mindedness to a fury of accord, and I’d hit the OFF button.” O’Rourke, who describes himself as “a little to the right of Rush Limbaugh,” wonders, “When was the last time a conservative talk show changed a mind?”

From minds to hearts, The New Yorker’s Hendrick Hertzberg wins both here at Campaign Desk with a “Talk of the Town” criticizing campaign coverage. “One of the sillier interludes of the current campaign season,” he opines, “was the mini-flap over when John Kerry would ‘accept’ the Democratic nomination for President.” Writes Hertzberg: “The entire episode may indeed demonstrate the degree to which money drives modern presidential politics. But it also demonstrates the degree to which mindlessness drives the coverage of modern presidential politics.” Hertzberg then thoroughly trashes (some of) the press treatment of the “mini-flap.”

Unflappability is the tone The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol seems to be shooting for in a piece titled, “Yes, Bush Will Win.” How convincing is Kristol? “How do I know [that Bush will win]? Needless to say, I don’t,” Kristol writes. “And, God knows, the Bush administration often seems to be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” But Kristol sees “grounds for hope” in that “we are actually winning the war in Iraq and the war on terror,” and “Kerry is surrounded by loony supporters [such as Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, and George Soros] whose extremism will hurt him.” He calls Bush’s campaign “ham-handed” but insists that the incumbent will “win anyway.”

Bush won’t win favor with Ohio voters who read this week’s US News & World Report (the retirement guide issue, not the commemorative Ronald Reagan one). According to “Washington Whispers,” during a recent trip to the Buckeye/swing state President Bush may have brought with him, via airplane, a handful of noisy pests (and not just the traveling press corps). It seems that some cicadas hitched a ride on Air Force One and flew out of the plane upon landing in Youngstown. “A political problem in the key election state? ‘Not for another 17 years at least,’ says a Bushie.”

Relax, Bushites — 2021 is not an election year.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.