The Week/the Spin

Getting Al the Credit 

President Clinton declared that “the state of our union has never been stronger.” Harkening back to his ‘93 activist phase, Clinton took a whopping 89 minutes to dump a grab bag of goodies on the Congress: college-tuition tax credits, a minimum-wage increase, Head Start spending, gun licensing and training, and a 10-year, $250 billion tax cut. Pundit’s spin: He’s triangulating with the tax cut. GOP spin: Gun control will never pass. President’s spin: Then we’ll use it to clobber you in November. Vice president’s spin: That’s me, in the corner of your screen, looking presidential.

The party of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak faces a fund-raising scandal. The Israeli comptroller fined the party and launched a criminal investigation into the apparent funneling of millions in illegal campaign donations through nonprofits. Barak’s spin: I don’t pay attention to fund-raising details. Likud’s spin: Hogwash–you pay attention to every other detail. The international spin: This doesn’t bode well for the peace process.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Al Gore and George W. Bush in a dead heat. Gore’s Iowa bounce has given him his most competitive national position in two years. He also has nearly doubled his national lead over Bill Bradley since December. President Clinton garnered a 65 percent approval rating. Pat Buchanan polled 5 percent.

Bill Bradley and Al Gore locked horns in New Hampshire. The debate—the last before Tuesday’s primary—featured a more aggressive Bradley, trying to rebound from his Iowa drubbing. Bradley accused Gore of making “a thousand promises and a thousand attacks.” Gore accused Bradley of voting for Reagan’s budget and then ” campaign[ing] like Robert Kennedy.” Bradley’s spin: You’ve been smearing me. Gore’s spin: That’s a smear.

The Republican presidential candidates debated in New Hampshire. The five remaining candidates (Orrin Hatch dropped out Wednesday and endorsed Bush) squabbled over abortion, China, and taxes. George W. Bush said John McCain’s tax plan could have been “written by Al Gore,” and Alan Keyes accused McCain of flip-flopping on abortion. But pundits mostly talked about Keyes’ defense of entering a mosh pit at a rock concert last weekend. Alan Keyes’ spin: Moshing was fun! Besides, my daughter made me do it. Gary Bauer’s spin: Moshing undermines the family and helps the Columbine killers. (To read Ballot Box’s account of the debate, click here. For Frame Game’s take, click here.)

Authorities may have linked Osama Bin Laden to the foiled New Year’s bomb plot by Algerians. An associate of the conspirators—who tried to sneak explosives over the U.S.-Canadian border in December—is believed to be the brother-in-law of one of Bin Laden’s henchmen. Law enforcement’s spin: This confirms all our suspicions. The skeptics’ spin: This doesn’t bring Bin Laden any closer to justice.

G eorge W. Bush and Al Gore won the Iowa caucuses. Bush received 41 percent of the Republican vote, followed by Steve Forbes at 30 percent, Alan Keyes at 14, Gary Bauer at 9, and John McCain at 5. Orrin Hatch won barely 1 percent and dropped out, endorsing Bush. Gore topped Bill Bradley in the Democratic race, 63 percent to 35 percent. Pundits said the caucuses don’t reflect the national electorate, but went on to assess their significance. The consensus spin: Bush and Gore are now bona fide front-runners. The McCain-Bradley spin: Just wait until New Hampshire. The Forbes-Keyes-Bauer spin: Together, we out-polled Bush, which shows the power of conservative ideas. (Slate’s Jacob Weisberg describes a night at the Iowa caucus, Walter Shapiro recounts his experiences covering the melee, and William Saletan explains why McCain comes out looking better than Bradley despite getting fewer votes.)

An unexpected storm blasted the East Coast. Snow closed schools and airports and caused blackouts from North Carolina to New England. Meteorologists said they knew it was coming—just not this soon—and blamed advanced computer models for the oversight. A recent study showed that the current La Niña—a one-to-two-year pattern of severe winters in the northern states and aridity in the Southwest—may be part of a decades-long oscillation in the world’s climate. If so, winters may be colder in the northern United States for many years. The rosy spin: A decadeslong La Niña cycle will cool the Earth and alleviate global warming. (Click here for an “Assessment” of El Niño, and here to see a satellite map of La Niña-like water temperatures.) 

{{Rams#73691}}The St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans will meet in the Super Bowl on Sunday. The Rams beat Tampa Bay 11-6 for the NFC title, and the Titans won the AFC championship 33-14 over Jacksonville. Both teams have 1) “powerhouse” offenses; 2) heroic quarterbacks; and 3) perpetual underdog status. Optimists said the unexpected match-up injected excitement into the league, since it showed that any team can make the Super Bowl. Skeptics doubted that much excitement would be generated by “TV markets No. XXXII and XXXIII meet[ing] in good ol’ Super Bowl XXXIV.”