Dave Denison

Recent Articles

Living with Oswald

Mrs. Paine's Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy By Thomas Mallon. Pantheon, 224 pages, $22.00 W hy did Mrs. Ruth Paine of Irving, Texas, make the notation "LHO purchase of rifle" on the March 1963 page of her Hallmark pocket calendar? Soon enough, everyone would find out that LHO was Lee Harvey Oswald. But how and why would an unassuming mother of two young children in a Dallas suburb know, eight months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, that Oswald had purchased a rifle? Could she have been in on the plot? Consider the incriminating evidence: In the spring and fall of 1963, she gave free room and board to Oswald's Russian-born wife, Marina. She made the crucial phone call that helped the almost unemployable Oswald get a job at the Texas School Book Depository warehouse. It was her garage that stored LHO's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle until the morning of November 22. And after the fateful shots rang out from the sixth floor of the warehouse that day, and after...

Statehouse Subversion

I n the mid-1990s, a group of liberal activists, with the support of a few wealthy donors, developed a new strategy to reduce the power of money in national politics. Let's not waste so much energy trying to get minor reforms through Congress, they reasoned. Let's take the battle to the states and push for something meaningful, something that could really change the way campaigns and elections are conducted. The idea was public financing: a system that would make government money available to qualified candidates, freeing them from groveling for contributions. The plan was to start in states with a tradition of reform--places like Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts--where people can still exert some influence on their legislatures. It was an idea that made sense, states being the laboratories of democracy, and all that. And it started out well, with Maine and Vermont--and, later, even Arizona--enacting "clean elections" laws. But there has turned out to be a large fly--more like a...

Fighting Al Gore

As Al Gore labors to be seen as a man of the people, the candidate's demeanor continues to strike some voters as annoyingly confident. "He's like the kid in school you wanted to beat up because he knows all the answers," Tom Coveney, a 42-year-old Massachusetts banker, told The New York Times after the first October debate. Buddy Hillow would be the man to ask about that. Hillow attended St. Albans prep school with Gore and, as recounted in a recent Gore bio, resented the fact that Gore seemed to excel at everything. Tension developed between Gore and Hillow that boiled over in a high school math class. As told in The Prince of Tennessee , by David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima, here's what happened: "Hillow sat in front of Gore and had a habit of rocking back in his chair until it reached the precarious balancing point. Once, as he was rocking, Gore extended a finger and lightly touched the chair, upsetting the balance. Hillow turned and hissed, 'If you do that again, I'm coming!'...

The Nader Perplex

A small minority of Americans--maybe two million people, maybe as many as five million--will vote for Ralph Nader for president this year. Most have gotten into arguments about the decision or have had someone try to talk them out of "throwing away" their vote. Many have been told they are doing something harmful or, at the minimum, irresponsible. Bush or Gore will be the next president. To pretend there is another choice is foolish. It would be easy to lampoon these arguments as the kind of talk that matters only in the dusty and cluttered meeting rooms of New York intellectuals and in the coffee houses filled by multiply pierced youth who aren't sure where their local polling place is. But democratic conversation happens in the damndest of places and can sometimes catch on in surprising ways. For my money, the disagreements about Nader's candidacy have been more interesting and worthwhile than most anything in the "real" campaign. To see truly frightening...

Political Meatballs

In the world of political campaign advertising, there is nothing sweeter than coming up with an ad that is so clever or outrageous it gets free publicity. Ralph Nader hit the jackpot in the fall campaign with his spot that parodied MasterCard's "priceless" commercial . Nader's campaign even ended up getting sued by the credit card company (a federal judge refused to order the ad off the air, it turned out). When wit isn't an option, though, the reliable approach is to see how low you can go. A tiny conservative group in Texas made national news in October with a remake of the famous 1964 anti-Goldwater "daisy ad," in which a girl pulls petals off a flower in a countdown to doomsday. In this case, the message was that Al Gore would blow up the earth by dealing in nuclear secrets with China. The competition for the cheesiest and sleaziest ads of the season was intense. Two nominations: First, "Meatball," by the Patrick Buchanan...

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