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

Park Wars

I t's a high-energy scene in the interior department's John Muir Room on the second Wednesday in June. Rangers from the National Park Service dispense information while their bosses dispense Bluebonnet ice cream. Guests from the Forest Service exchange gossip with their Interior counterparts, while other visitors pause to examine the displays set up around the room. Most energetic of all is the event's host Derrick Crandall, the 50-year-old president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC). The coalition is perhaps Washington's least-known powerhouse. But with cabinet officers and members of Congress paying court, ARC's clout has been apparent the week of the ice-cream event, which is also the coalition's seventh annual "Great Outdoors Week." At the moment, Crandall's energy may be augmented by worry. He is the driving force behind the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, the subject of the "information" (or perhaps propaganda) the park rangers are handing out. "Fee demo," as it...

Disappearing Candidates

"I am the Democrat who can beat Rick Santorum," says Bob Rovner in his introduction to hotel-lobby chatter at a Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee meeting. The hotel is not even in Harrisburg, the Democrats having forsaken downtown. It's off a bypass of the interstate east of Harrisburg. "I'm the best Democrat. I'm a fresh face, and I can raise big money," Rovner continues. The lawyer from suburban Philadelphia explains that he was the youngest state senator in the history of the commonwealth and that he already has $1.1 million to spend on his campaign. Only in response to some probing does Rovner acknowledge that his state senate tenure lasted but four years, that it was in the early 1970s, that he was then a Republican, and that he himself contributed everything in his campaign treasury preceding the decimal point. Rovner is not likely to be the Democratic Senate nominee this year. But neither is his candidacy a joke, at least not in its context. The...

Primary New Hampshire

NASHUA, NEW HAMPSHIRE--Political lore says that George Bush ( père ) lost the 1980 primary when he sat grinning dumbly as Ronald Reagan proclaimed that he had "paid for this microphone" during a debate here. Of course, that this is not true (the debate merely helped turn a loss into a rout) matters less than its being part of the political culture in the state where Ed Muskie cried (or perhaps didn't) in the snow, George Romney said he was brainwashed, Eugene McCarthy's antiwar students stunned Lyndon Johnson, and a minor candidate named Ned Coll held up a rubber rat during a nationally televised debate. The bit of lore that most worries George Bush ( fils ), as well as Al Gore, is this: New Hampshire voters take a perverse joy in bringing down early front-runners. Once again, the lore is a tad off, though Barry Goldwater, Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale, and Bob Dole might not think so. The decline of early front-runners here says...

Chamber of Horrors

The upper chamber of Congress should be up for grabs. But in too many Senate races, Democrats have issues but not candidates. Or they have national issues but not local ones. Or they have candidates but not money. Can they win anyway? P olitically speaking, Rod Grams is mired in what a leader of his party once called deep doo-doo. He is a very conservative senator trying to be re-elected in not-very-conservative Minnesota. Part of his political base--farmers--is furious at his party for the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act. His campaign organization is in disarray, his job approval rating is awful, and he's rather a shy fellow who's not too good at working a room. Who could possibly lose to this guy? Only the Democrats. To defeat even the weakest candidate, a political party needs ... a candidate. At this writing, the Democrats have seven candidates. And in the perverse arithmetic of politics, seven...

Voters and Vouchers

P ick up the newspaper or tune in to a Sunday morning TV gabfest and you're likely to read or hear about the sizable majority of Americans who approve of voucher plans--school choice, as proponents put it. These assertions are sustained by the holy writ of the public opinion poll, rooted in random sample, buffered by margin of error, presented as mathematic (and, therefore, objective) truth. Who could say them nay? Well, the voters could. And regularly do. The defeats of voucher plans in Michigan and California in the 2000 election brought the school choice referendum tally to zero out of 10 (not even one of these was close). Sometimes the losing side in a referendum can claim it was so badly outspent that a torrent of unrefuted misinformation bamboozled the electorate. But in both Michigan and California, the pro-voucher forces spent slightly more than their foes did, and they still got smeared. So is something fishy about those polls? Are ideologues fiddling with the numbers or...

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