Washington Diarist

President Kennedy, we're reminded by his biographers, understood the need for politicians to maintain their public dignity at all costs. When Hugh Sidey of Time playfully reported that Kennedy had posed with his family for the cover of Gentleman's Quarterly, "modelling a trimly tailored dark gray suit," Kennedy became apoplectic at the thought that he might be considered frivolous or effeminate for appearing in a flashy men's fashion magazine. " Anybody who read this would think I was crazy," he raged at Sidey, according to Richard Reeves. "Any president who would pose for Gentleman's Quarterly would be out of his mind."

With the publication of George, which aspires to be a cross between GQ and CQ, Kennedy's only son has squandered the most valuable remainder of his father's legacy. Now the Kennedys breathily abase themselves before movie stars and models, rather than the other way around. What's unsettling about George is not so much the articles and photographs, which manage, for example, to glamorize Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform as Washington's most desirable saloniste. What's unsettling is the revelation that the heir of JFK is, in fact, the heir of Jackie O., combining his mother's disdain for politics with her passion for fashion. "Political figures are increasingly written about as the personalities and pop icons they have become," Kennedy gushes. "Recognizing that interest in inside Washington' is thin beyond the Beltway, we will define politics extravagantly, from elected officials to media moguls to movie stars to ordinary citizens." As the Supreme Court and the Congress propose to dismantle the New Deal in front of his aquiline nose, Kennedy has concluded that what America needs most is a "lifestyle magazine," which he defines as "post-partisan."

Kennedy's editorial vision is eerily similar to that of Mariel Hemingway, who plays the editor of Communique, the glossy new magazine at the center of CBS's glossy new soap opera, "Central Park West." "I want this to be a magazine that both men and women will read to understand their world a little better," Hemingway's character declares in the first episode. In a mischievous twist, the writers of "CPW" have invented a JFK Jr. character, the rich and dashing "Peter Fairchild," son of the martyred "Senator Fairchild." Peter now works as an Assistant District Attorney in New York; his stepfather, a Rupert Murdoch caricature, owns Communique. Ironically, the modest and hardworking "Peter Fairchild" comes across not as an epigone of JFK Jr. but as a more three-dimensional character than the real "John Kennedy, " who turned up this week in a guest appearance on "Murphy Brown," playing himself playing a magazine editor.

There's little hint of post-partisanship in The Weekly Standard, the new conservative weekly, which also published its maiden issue last week. The Standard is everything George and Communique aren't: homely, focused on the gritty details of legislation and ideological to the point of seeming hermetically sealed. For all these reasons, I like it a lot, and wish it every success. But the Standard will have to resist the temptation to descend into John-Johnism by becoming a fanzine for Newt Gingrich. The cover of the first issue bears a heroic cartoon of the Speaker as Rambo, painted in the Socialist Realist style, adorned by the triumphalist headline, "permanent offense." In a revealing aside, Gingrich tells Fred Barnes that his models for the "permanent offense" are William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican strategist Mark Hanna, who vanquished the reactionary Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Never mind Gingrich's improbable invocation of the puppetmaster Hanna, a cross between William Simon and Lyn Nofziger who extorted huge contributions from the Rockefellers and the Morgans in the service of a big-government economic nationalism that represents everything the states-rights obsessed Gingrich purports to reject. The better analogy is to the ascendancy of congressional government in the late 1880s and 1890s, largely presided over by the autocratic Republican speaker, "Czar" Thomas B. Reed of Maine, who dominated several forgettable presidents. He ruthlessly enforced party discipline with the "Reed Rules," a precursor of the Contract with America. And with the help of a conservative Supreme Court, he dismantled the egalitarian legacy of the Reconstruction Republicans while pandering to the industrial monopolies. Meanwhile, a weak but honest Democratic president, Grover Cleveland, saved his two administrations from irrelevance by wielding his veto with a vengeance. He stayed up until two in the morning, laboriously vetoing hundreds of special-interest pension bills by hand, and he lost the 1888 campaign because of his honorable opposition to the McKinley tariffs. At last, a way for Bill Clinton to win back the support of Democrats whose hearts he has broken. All he has to do is embrace Cleveland as his model, vetoing the excesses of the contract, clause by clause. And if Clinton, like Cleveland, is brought down by his principles and his sexual indiscretions in 1996 ("Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?"), he can follow in the worthy footsteps of "the Veto President" by trying again in 2000.

As Hillary Clinton's sharp and effective speech about human rights at the Women's Conference in Beijing shows, not all Democrats suffer from the post- partisan disease. Still, Mrs. Clinton might take a perfumed page from George and reveal a little of the personality behind her earnest mugwumpery. Her syndicated newspaper column was supposed to humanize her in the way that "My Day" humanized Eleanor Roosevelt, but the initial efforts seem to be having the opposite effect. The headlines are relentlessly stentorian: "every woman everywhere deserves basic respect and dignity"; "remember those who helped win women's suffrage"; and best of all, "helping hand is given to Mother Teresa." As for the columns themselves, they read more like ghost-written stump speeches than acts of personal revelation. "If we take bold steps to better the lives of women, we will be taking bold steps to better the lives of children and families, too," intones the most recent dispatch. Contrast this with Eleanor Roosevelt's candidly human public diaries, scribbled at all hours of the day and night. As Doris Kearns Goodwin recalls in No Ordinary Time, Eleanor once became furious when FDR failed to tell her in advance that Churchill was dropping in for an overnight visit. "It had not occurred to him, " she wrote angrily in her column, "that this might require certain moving of furniture to adapt rooms to the purposes for which the Prime Minister wished to use them." Then again, perhaps Mrs. Clinton doesn't have the luxury of diaristic candor. Imagine the column she might have written after the president bowed to Janet Reno's decision to appoint a special Whitewater prosecutor: "It had not occurred to him that this might require certain moving of furniture...."