- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

Charles Krauthammer and Rich Lowry agreed that writing about President Clinton was becoming tedious and tiresome.
"He was an interesting story in a way, but personally, I was getting quite bored with him," says Mr. Lowry, editor of National Review, a conservative opinion magazine.
Mr. Krauthammer, a conservative syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, says that writing columns during the Clinton administration did not pose much of a challenge.
"A 9-year-old could write columns poking fun at Clinton," he says. "Look at his last-minute pardons and his behavior on Inauguration Day. He's like a clown." But both men admit the conservative press will have a more difficult job now that Mr. Clinton is gone and President Bush is in the White House. Conservatives no longer have an easy target to criticize.
However, their loss has become the left's gain, as liberal opponents prepare to mount a frontal assault on Mr. Bush's political agenda. "It's a clarifying moment in the liberal community," says Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, a leftist opinion magazine.
The liberal press may have an obvious target in directing criticism toward Mr. Bush, but that doesn't make their task easy, says Peter Beinart, editor of the New Republic, a Washington-based liberal opinion weekly.
"It's always simpler to be writing about an administration with which you generally disagree, as we do with a Republican administration," he says. "But the trick is disagreeing without being predictable."
The New Republic recently ran an editorial warning the Bush administration not to abandon its plan for school vouchers. Unlike most liberal publications, the New Republic supports voucher initiatives, at least on an experimental basis.
The magazine also ran positive articles on Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Tommy G. Thompson, Mr. Bush's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. The editor says he doesn't want his magazine to be viewed as a blanket opponent of the new Republican president.
In fact, Mr. Beinart was, in some ways, happy to say goodbye to the Clinton administration.
"We found ourselves in the position of agreeing with the policies, but finding the culture of the administration to be distasteful," he says. "That's a difficult position to express in print."
Yet for all the turmoil of the Clinton years, the liberal press has no intention of going easy on the Bush administration.
"I think one of the vulnerabilities is they insist on acting as if they won an uncontested election," Mr. Beinart says. "They are going to act as if they didn't lose the popular vote, as if Florida never happened. I think that makes them down the road politically and ideologically vulnerable."
Miss vanden Heuvel is even more critical of what she calls "George W. Inc."
"With Bush, you really do see the corporate power, the money-soaked politics, the extremism and the intolerance far more vividly," she says.
Miss vanden Heuvel and Mr. Beinart say they won't let their criticism of Mr. Bush negate the issues they care about. With Mr. Clinton gone, the New Republic will be able to discuss important issues such as what being a Democrat means in the post-Clinton era, Mr. Beinart says, pointing to liberals who disagree on issues like globalization and free trade.
"A president defines the party by and large, and when you don't have a president in power, there are more competing powers and perhaps more chances to question what liberalism is," he says. "There's more of an opportunity for important wider-ranging kind of debate about what liberalism means."
Conservative magazines also will become more focused on substantive issues than when Mr. Clinton was in office, predicts Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center.
"Conservative journalists have been focused on scandal in the last eight years," he says. "Now they will be focused on policies. It makes you feel like you are living in a healthier political culture instead of debating what the meaning of 'is' is."
Mr. Krauthammer says he also looks forward to writing about more substantive issues.
"I think it's more of a challenge to deal with an administration with which you are ideologically in tune," he says. "You have an opportunity to talk about issues like foreign policy; there is no obvious post-Cold War conservative foreign policy."
Magazines like the Weekly Standard, a Washington-based conservative opinion weekly, have to walk a fine line between promoting conservative causes and crossing over into the Bush public relations camp.
"We're in the business of journalism," says executive editor Fred Barnes. "We are a conservative weekly magazine, but that doesn't mean we're a PR organ for anybody."
The Weekly Standard will agree with the Bush administration only as long as it promotes the magazine's conservative views.
"If they do good, we'll appreciate them," Mr. Barnes says. "But if they don't, we'll zing them."
The same thing can be said of National Review, which advocates the need for limited government. Mr. Lowry says his magazine will stand by the president as long as he stands by that conservative principle.
"Our primary goal is not promoting Republicans or being supportive of Republicans," he says.
"We're going to be Bush's foul-weather friends. When he is in dire straits like in Florida or when he is trying to sell a policy that the mainstream media opposes, we'll be defending him," he says. "But when he's bending toward what The Washington Post and the New York Times might like, we're going to be critical."
Mr. Lowry admits that National Review will have greater access to the internal dynamics of the Bush administration than it did during the Clinton years.
"The advantage is that we no longer have to press our noses against the glass looking from the outside," he says.
But Mr. Lowry adds that in the post-Clinton era, the conservative press may lose an important journalistic advantage: the intense opposition the Clintons generated among many on the right. Between 1992 and 1994, during the first two years of Mr. Clinton's presidency, National Review's circulation skyrocketed from 168,000 to 265,000. The magazine probably will not receive the same increase in circulation during the first few years of Mr. Bush's tenure in office.
"Journalism is always more interesting when it is negative and in opposition," Mr. Lowry says. "There just won't be the burst of anger and fear that there was when Clinton was elected."
Mr. Barnes also admits that conservative magazines may become less exciting now that Mr. Clinton is gone. However, he agrees with Mr. Lowry that conservatives will find someone to pick on among the Democrats.
"With Clinton and company leaving, there is less room for zinging," Mr. Barnes says. "But you certainly have the whole left-wing establishment to make fun of. Teddy Kennedy is looking like an old bull, and then there's Hillary Clinton. Targets will appear, and we'll shoot at them."

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