Jon Margolis

Jon Margolis, a former national political correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, is the author of The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964.

Recent Articles

The Dems Debate Hillary

Last night's debate felt less about picking a winner and more about unseating the woman who is leading the Democratic field. But are voters paying attention?

HANOVER, NH -- When the Democratic debate ended last night, there was some doubt about who won: Either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, or not. ("Where's the lede," was heard more than once in the press filing room.) And there was some doubt about who lost: Either the conventional wisdom, or not. This is the short-term conventional wisdom, limited to its expectations for Wednesday night's debate of the Democratic presidential candidates at Dartmouth College. Those expectations, expressed most bluntly by TV commentators, were that Clinton's lead in the polls had grown so wide and deep that one of the "pack" (and they are now all in the pack, way behind her) had to confront her. There were no oblique references to electability and consistency that had been used in the earlier debates, either. With as little as 13 weeks until the fabled first-in-the-nation primary here, one of the other candidates would have to mount a frontal assault. Sen. Barack Obama, or former Sen. John Edwards would...

Why Fred Thompson Won't Enliven the GOP Race

Thompson's failure to upstage the GOP debate with his formal presidential bid was to be expected in a race where the Republican candidates are all sticking to the same positions.

Thompson in his television ad broadcast during Wednesday night's Republican debate. (AP Photo)
The night he stopped playing Hamlet, Fred Thompson didn't quite get the part of Banquo's ghost haunting the banquet. Not that Thompson the actor ever did Shakespeare. He has essentially played himself -- the friendly, bald, rumpled uncle -- in several forgettable movies and on the TV show Law and Order . But he dithered long enough about whether and when he would actually run for president to inspire several Republican professionals to compare him with the famously indecisive Dane. And there is little doubt that on the night he finally announced his candidacy online and on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, he hoped to dominate the Republican debate that ended less than two hours earlier -- just as the ghost of Macbeth's recently murdered former ally dominated the banquet of the regicidal new king. Unable actually to transport his spirit from Leno’s California studio to the University of New Hampshire fieldhouse where the other eight candidates stood, Thompson did the next best thing. He bought...

The Dumb Show in New Hampshire

At yesterday's Republican presidential primary debate in Manchester, ignorance was bliss.

The debate's first question went to Mitt Romney: "Knowing everything you know right now, was it a mistake for us to invade Iraq?" "Well, the question is kind of a non sequitur … or a null set," he said, because if "Saddam Hussein had open(ed) up his country to (UN weapons) inspections and they'd come in … we wouldn't be in the conflict we're in." The question was also, he said, "hypothetical." Whatever may have been wrong with the question, it was not a non sequitur, for it did not follow anything, and therefore could not have followed it inappropriately. Considering that the United States actually did invade Iraq, it wasn't a hypothetical either. And a null set? Well, in measure theory that's a "set that is negligible for the purposes of the measure in question," which appears irrelevant to the decidedly non-mathematical matter under discussion. Oh, and Saddam Hussein did allow the weapons inspectors in. It was President Bush who kicked them out. Romney's answers set the tone for a...

Wolf Blitzer Aims Low

In the Democratic presidential primary debate in New Hampshire, CNN aimed for grade-school name-calling.

At 7 a.m. Sunday, twelve hours before the start of the Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN, the network anchorpersons, with no hint of irony, were calling the programs that would precede the debate "pre-game shows." It was the appropriate description, and not just because of the pep rally-style greetings with which supporters welcomed the eight contenders to the campus of St. Anselm College outside Manchester, New Hampshire, the de facto capital city of the first presidential primary. The debate itself was sport. Its goals were speed and conflict, the more personal the better (perhaps as an appropriate lead into the post-debate show, called "raw politics"). The purpose of the questions was not to elicit information; it was to get the candidates to call each other names. Just a few minutes into the event, one of the questioners, local television reporter Scott Spradling, asked Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the only candidate who voted for the last month's war funding...

All American Suck-Ups

Don't believe the "hardy independence" nonsense. Americans eagerly pander to state and throne -- and have throughout the country's history.

The year was 1965. John D. MacArthur wanted his own turnpike exit. OK, it wasn't personal. It was for access to Palm Beach Gardens, his new 4,000-acre development north of West Palm Beach. Still, it was a reporter's job to ask him whether there wasn't something audacious about the request. So I did, though MacArthur -- a multi-millionaire insurance executive and a political reactionary, not to mention Helen Hayes's brother-in-law -- could be brusque and intimidating, especially to a 24-year old. But I was emboldened because MacArthur liked me. I was the reporter for the five-person Palm Beach County bureau; he had asked for me when he called the office a few weeks earlier -- the night he ransomed the DeLong Ruby, stolen a year before from the American Museum of Natural History by Jack (Murph the Surf) Murphy. MacArthur had even dropped the ruby into the palm of my hand for a few tantalizing seconds. At any rate, back to the turnpike question. Of course, he had an answer at the ready...

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