The Case for a Dumb President

The Case for a Dumb President

The Case for a Dumb President

Summaries of what's in Time, Newsweek, etc.
Dec. 3 1999 9:30 PM

The Case for a Dumb President


New Republic, Dec. 20


A cover story argues that it pays to play dumb in politics. While Al Gore "has the appearance of a man who prepared for a spelling bee and found himself in a swimsuit competition," George W. Bush's apparent "boredom with the details of governance" is a political asset. Voters are seeking "a president who will make us proud--and do little else." A cover story traces the similarities between George W. Bush and John F. Kennedy. Both were privileged, preppy "reluctant dauphins" to political dynasties, who caroused and earned C's at college. Both relied on daddy's allies, outspent their opponents, and sought to avenge their fathers' political defeats. An article celebrates the Battle in Seattle: Protests against such minor matters as genetically modified food demonstrate that the world has conquered more critical problems. (Slate's " Frame Game" explains how the World Trade Organization became a boogeyman.)


Economist, Dec. 4

The cover editorial applauds the establishment of a power-sharing parliament in Northern Ireland as providing "a realistic hope for durable peace." The new North-South council will appease Nationalists, and the British-Irish council will reassure Unionists. Dispersed government, European Union membership, affluence, and secularization could defuse ancient animosities. (For more on Northern Ireland, see "International Papers.") A piece explains how the "open content movement" will transform the way we work. Open-source projects--such as the operating system Linux--rely on online collaboration to improve. An "Open Law" experiment asks Web surfers to contribute arguments to a high-tech legal brief. An article recommends the LifeShirt--a turtleneck with six built-in medical sensors. LifeShirts measure vital signs and relay the information to palm-sized computers, which download the data for online diagnosis.


New York Times Magazine, Dec. 5


The last of the magazine's special millennium issues chronicles the making of a Times time capsule. It will preserve until the year 3000 special acid-free New York Times Magazine issues and other soon-to-be-determined stuff. A piece describes the contending capsule designs. One entrant proposed encoding the magazine's contents in cockroach DNA. Another suggested sheathing the contents in a metal earring for the Statue of Liberty. The winner is a steel origamilike capsule. Several articles try to explain our time to readers of the future. A field guide to deceased species informs 31st-century readers that global warming killed the Galápagos Penguin and truffles were "gourmandized to extinction." An "Encyclopedia of Lost Practices" explains that smoking was "the most popular form of recreational suicide ever devised" and "reproductive sex" was "the union of male and female genitalia resulting (with often stunning rapidity) in the ejaculation of semen."


Time, Dec. 6

A week after decrying millennium hype, Time celebrates Jesus as the unofficial man of the past two millenniums. In the weirdest bit, a novelist recreates the Gospels' most dramatic moments and recounts his own meeting with the son of God: He was suddenly transported to Galilee, where Jesus cured his cancer and forgave his sins. An article examines the glamorization of mathematics. Good Will Hunting and best-selling biographies of celebrated mathematicians have made math sexy. This season there are two books about zero, and Fendi is peddling a fragrance called Theorema.


Newsweek, Dec. 6


The Mars cover package says that if the probes landing this week find frozen surface water, it could indicate that liquid water remains in the planet's warmer interior and that life could exist there. A sidebar notes that controversy remains over the Mars meteorite that crashed into Antarctica about 11,000 years ago: While scientists have demolished most of the evidence that the meteorite contained living creatures, they cannot explain why the meteorite contains a molecule that on Earth is only produced by biological processes. An excerpt of a new Al Gore biography points out that by enlisting in the military, Gore all but ensured he would avoid Vietnam combat, but it rejects the claim that Gore received special treatment or protection. A piece describes the horrific trade in Mexican boxers. Poor Mexican street fighters are brought to the United States by unscrupulous promoters to serve as patsies for American boxers. Several have been severely injured in mismatched bouts.


U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 6

The cover package reviews the century's top 10 crimes, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of seven mobsters by Al Capone's henchman; the brutal 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, which galvanized support for the civil rights movement; and the Manson family rampage, which ended the social experimentation of the '60s on a sour note. Among others: the Rosenbergs, Son of Sam, and O.J. Simpson. A piece claims George W. Bush and Al Gore are "spiritual twins." Bush prays with Methodist ministers via cell phone. Gore is a born-again Baptist who regularly invokes biblical verse on the stump. Bill Bradley does not talk about his religous faith on the campaign trail.


The New Yorker, Dec. 6

An issue devoted to the digital age. An article argues that digital encryption has neutered the National Security Agency by making it virtually impossible for the agency to decode enemy transmissions. The NSA is also hobbled by budget cuts, brain drain, and shortsighted management. A piece applauds the overlooked innovations that make e-commerce possible. Shopping online would be impractical without bar-coding, warehouse automation, and express delivery.


Weekly Standard, Dec. 6

A piece argues that there is no evidence of a Republican smear campaign against Sen. John McCain. He has been winning sympathy and good press because of allegations that George W. Bush's allies are whispering that he's unstable, but even McCain's supporters can't produce any actual evidence of smears. A review trashes George W. Bush's ghostwritten autobiography as perhaps the worst campaign book ever. A Charge to Keep is banal, disorganized, and packed with platitudes, revealing Bush as both boring and filled with "overweening Baby Boomer self-regard." (Read Slate's similarly vicious review here.)