Ramesh Ponnuru


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Low Rankings
George Magazine's Amiable Cluelessness

By Ramesh Ponnuru



Half the fun of list articles—the best movies of the year, the worst-dressed celebrities in America, and the like—is that readers can dispute the rankings. (The other half is that writers can do them without too great an investment of time or effort.) The danger is that while it’s not possible for such lists to be objectively right, it is possible for them to be objectively wrong. The “farewell issue” of George magazine neatly illustrates the point with its list of “the fifty most powerful people in politics today.”

“Forget conventional wisdom,” George announces — President Bush is only the fourth most powerful person in Washington, behind Alan Greenspan, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. Actually, Greenspan is the safest pick imaginable for the top spot. It would have been far bolder for George to have announced that, come to think of it, the president is the most powerful man in Washington. It may also be true. Between Bush and Greenspan, for example, who changed whose mind on taxes? And it’s Bush, not Powell, who set U.S. policy on the funding of population-control groups overseas. It’s not even clear that Powell has more power than defense secretary Don Rumsfeld, whose budget is ten times higher than Powell’s but who does not appear on George’s list. Perhaps it’s because Powell is a celebrity and Rumsfeld isn’t.

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The foolishness continues down the list. John McCain (#6) is not more powerful than Tom DeLay (#7). Antonin Scalia (#12) is not, alas, the most powerful Supreme Court justice—a position held, alas again, by Sandra Day O’Connor. Lobbyist Vin Weber is #18. Now I know Weber and admire him, but this seems highly dubious. (If he were that influential, the GOP would probably have done better over the last few years.) The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank and Mike Allen (a joint #19) are not more powerful than Tim Russert (#25). Maria Cino (#46) is not more powerful than Karl Rove, who is, inexplicably, not on the list.

Other omissions are less glaring but also hard to defend. Where’s Karen Hughes? Where’s Ted Kennedy, arguably the most powerful Democrat in Washington? (The folks at George have heard of the Kennedy family, haven’t they?) Where’s Barney Frank? Where’s Kathryn Lehman, one of the House Republicans’ top aides? Where am I?

Well, never mind that last one. Give George credit for consistency: Its amiable cluelessness about politics lasted right through the end.

Mr. Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review.

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