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Newsweek's Senators to Watch

After perusing the year-end (Dec. 27/Jan. 3) issue of Newsweek, I defy any editor there to deny this magazine is a mouthpiece for the political left. Their cover boy was Senator-Elect Barack Obama of Illinois, the "rising star," as the Democrats and so many admirers in the press have dubbed him.

But Obama wasn't the only senator profiled in the magazine's "Who's Next Issue." After the loving cover story on staunchly liberal Obama, a "news" report authored by Jonathan Alter (usually their predictably leftist in-house columnist), Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman profiled staunchly conservative Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. The contrast between the two stories, both in tone and in content, could not be more obvious.

Start with the headlines. Obama's profile was headlined "The Audacity of Hope." Santorum's was "Mister Right." One represented hope, while the other typified firm ideology. While Obama would "help his party relocate its moral core," Santorum was "hard at work spreading the GOP gospel," and his "crusades" might make him a White House contender. The divergent themes were already obvious: Obama would bring moderation and yet "spirituality" to the Democrats, while Santorum threatened the GOP and the country with religiously fervent right-wing dogma.

The photos framing the stories told a similar tale. Obama was shown on a Chicago rooftop with the caption "Skywalker." Santorum was shown in his office next to his picture of "Roman Catholic martyr Thomas More." On his office TV was a Fox News Channel graphic on schools excluding Christ from Christmas. The caption was "Bully Pulpit."

In other pictures, Obama was seen interacting with staff, back-slapping with John Kerry, practicing a speech next to his wife, and kissing his three-year-old daughter (to a caption titled "Family Man."). In the only other picture accompanying his profile, Santorum is pictured in the darkened frame of his office door, with the caption underlining his admission he smoked pot in the 1970s, but is now "in the front ranks of the new faith-based GOP." (In his 1993 memoir, Obama noted his youthful use of marijuana, and even cocaine, but Newsweek had no room for that item in their early valentine.) Santorum's wife and six children were mentioned but not pictured or quoted. Santorum is a champion of family values, but not a "family man."

Obama's article was full of praise from family and friends. His wife declared he was not a politician, but was instead a "community activist exploring the options to make change." Black leaders in Illinois applauded his talent, including Emil Jones acknowledging that he cried during Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic convention. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid hailed him as "a gentleman and a scholar," and an "honest, God-fearing man." Rep. Rahm Emanuel claimed he was a "bridge from the left to the center." Alter the "reporter" also added his own praise, with lines like "his expert grasp of foreign policy helped him bolt from the pack." In Santorum's article, there were no wives or friends or favorable colleagues. Only one fellow GOP senator was quoted, anonymously chiding Santorum that he'll need to say no to the conservative base to make legislation.

Obama was lauded as the "incredibly pragmatic" soul of civility who is "uniquely qualified to nudge the country toward the color purple" (merging the red states and blue states). He was all about "embracing our hybrid origins and transcending our often narrow-minded past." But Santorum was consistently described with violent undertones. His career has been a "bruising crusade" supported by anti-abortion "shock troops." He is a "cultural militant," and a "heat-seeking missile" with a "combatively devout approach." His ascent to power was helped when his "knee-capping style" (as in, a thug viciously shooting the knees of someone in need of punishment) caught the eye of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Santorum's faith, when it's not presented as overtly frightening, is painted as a political tactic: "professions of belief have been his ticket to the top." Obama's Christian faith is presented without cynicism, and his thanking his minister in his victory speech is underlined as a hopeful sign for his career and party. While Santorum can be clearly defined as a religious conservative, is Obama really a "bridge to the center" or "purple" on social issues? Obama fought to allow partial-birth abortion in Illiniois, and even fought the idea that a baby accidently born alive in an abortion has a right to life. He was endorsed for election by the biggest gay-marriage lobby, the Human Rights Campaign. This, to Newsweek, is moderation.

Barack Obama is just another ultraliberal legislator from a blue state, another Teddy, another Hillary - another politician only the liberal media wants to usher into power. And "News"-week is leading the charge.