Time's 25 Most Influential Americans
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Time's 25 Most Influential Americans
(TIME, April 21) -- It's a big year for influence. Half the news out of Washington is about who has been trying to buy it, how much they paid, and whether they got their money's worth. There are many lessons to be drawn from that situation. One of the less obvious is that influence is not so easy to come by. Even in Washington, it's not always something you can go out and buy. Just ask the Chinese.
Which brings us to TIME's 25 most influential people, 1997 edition. These are people who have accomplished something subtle and difficult. They have got other people to follow their lead. They don't necessarily have the maximum in raw power; instead, they are people whose styles are imitated, whose ideas are adopted and whose examples are followed. Powerful people twist your arm. Influentials just sway your thinking.
Among this year's 25 are good influences and dubious ones, public personalities and players so private you may not have known they were pulled up to the game board, much less that one of the pieces was you.
Give Kim Polese credit: at age 9, she knew she wanted to start her own company. "I just didn't know whether it was going to be ice cream or software," she says, laughing.
The dairy counter's loss is the information age's gain, since Polese oversees a year-old Silicon Valley start-up called Marimba Inc. If influence means setting important agendas, then Polese, Marimba's resident proselytizer and CEO, is the most influential Web entrepreneur of this online generation--that is, the past six months. For Marimba's turf is push media: online material sent to individual computers automatically, without users' having to pull it down from Websites themselves. The push idea has been around since early 1996, when Pointcast popularized the notion of streaming media--offering stock quotes, sports scores, news headlines and the like. But it was Marimba that made push the defining Web vision last fall with Castanet, a system that offers streaming software, the actual applications--from spreadsheets to video games--whose efficient transmission will turn the Web into the all-encompassing information appliance its adherents have been promising.
It's heady stuff, but at 35, Polese already has a proven knack for sinking her teeth into the Next Big Thing. The Berkeley biophysics major cut those teeth doing tech support in the futuristic arena of artificial intelligence at Intellicorp and Sun Microsystems. It was at Sun in the early '90s that she hooked up with a project code-named Oak, which grew into Java, the programming language that brought interactivity to the Web and Polese to public attention as the engaging human face of what to most was an incomprehensible software product. With a core team of Java programmers, Polese lit out from Sun to found Marimba and change the world.
She hopes to make barrels of money in the process. That won't be easy; in just six post-Castanet months, a host of combatants, including Netscape and Microsoft, have entered the fray. But by stamping the future with Marimba's push-software brand and, not at all incidentally, doing so as one of the high-tech world's rare women executives, Polese has earned an honored place as the Web's 1997 It Girl.
Madeleine Albright was already trying to influence people's views of foreign policy when she was in the ninth grade, a recent refugee with a funny accent and the wrong clothes who decided to start an international-relations club and make herself its president. Now, 46 years later, she is poised to become one of the most influential foreign policy powers in the arena, in large part because her voice carries further than anyone else's--right into the White House.
When Clinton was mulling his choices for a Secretary of State to replace the untinted Warren Christopher, he soon acknowledged that no one was more skillful, or colorful, at explaining U.S. foreign policy interests than his outspoken U.N. ambassador. While her critics caricatured her as a loose cannon, without the heft and discretion to be a careful diplomat, the charge never stuck: for one thing, those who worked with her in private knew that those lively broadsides that made such great bites on the evening news had been carefully scripted and well rehearsed.
It has also helped that Albright, 59, has spent the better part of her adult life building a personal and professional network in Washington, on Capitol Hill where she got her start as an aide to Senator Edmund Muskie; in academia, where she taught hugely popular courses at Georgetown; and on the social circuit, where her parties were a natural salon for Democratic Pooh-Bahs in exile. When it came time for her nomination, her allies were in position to pick up the phone and make her case. She wooed Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Jesse Helms, who had scotched more than one potential nominee, and won over conservatives with the diligent door-to-door politicking of a small-town mayor.
The test for Albright is whether she will be able to make her case for U.S. foreign policy initiatives as effectively with foreign governments as she has with Clinton. And female foreign-service officers, noticing that she hasn't appointed any women to prominent slots so far, are grumbling that the glass ceiling may now be reinforced as the floor beneath her feet.
When Senators see John McCain on C-SPAN, they know to grit their teeth and say a prayer. Chances are the Republican is calling them panderers and pork barrelers. In a town where politicians are in a daily tug-of-war with their scruples, McCain is the most conscientious of objectors to business as usual. Their consciences pricked, Senators would rather he just shut up. But McCain, 60, doesn't care; faced with congressional ill will, he points to the order of his priorities: "First their respect, then their affection."
A Vietnam POW hero turned Congressman, he saw his star dim in 1989, when he was one of five Senators accused of helping S&L sultan Charles Keating in return for campaign contributions. McCain got only a slight reprimand, but was mortified. He redoubled efforts at reform legislation, hiring a staff member--nicknamed the Ferret--to search bills for unnecessary expenditures, forcing lawmakers to relinquish pork projects or be publicly rebuked. "He's had some Kansas projects in there too," says a rueful Bob Dole, a powerful man to cross.
Now McCain is taking on campaign-finance reform with a bill that currently has only one other G.O.P. sponsor, fainthearted support from the President, and a legion of opponents. Still, to his colleagues' chagrin, he presses on. As the historian Polybius wrote, "There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man."
If conservative thinkers like Bill Bennett and Paul Weyrich are the brainpower behind the resurgent American right, the horsepower comes from Richard Mellon Scaife. For close to four decades, the 64-year-old Pennsylvanian has used his millions to back anti-liberal ideas and their proponents. He is believed by the left to be the bogeyman behind virtually every seemingly nefarious action by the right. Most recently, he has been linked to Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel who announced he was accepting a double deanship at Pepperdine University's law and public policy schools. Scaife, it turned out, had given a $1.1 million grant to the new public policy school. As Clintonites weave dark scenarios, a Scaife spokesman says the millionaire has never had a conversation with Starr. Still, the school's small board of academic advisers that helped pick Starr is laced with people employed by think tanks run with the help of Scaife money.
The reclusive heir to a chunk of the Mellon fortune--Forbes says he is worth about $870 million--Scaife has decidedly mixed feelings about his ancestry and has ceased using his middle name. He controls the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Carthage Foundation, which help subsidize rabidly anti-Clinton magazines as well as conservative social-policy projects. "We work in the world of ideas," says Richard Larry, president of the Sarah Scaife Foundation. "A success for us is when the ideas of one of the groups or individuals we're working with become part of the public policy debate." And if Scaife can take a nick out of Clinton's reputation along the way, so be it.
How do you weigh the economic benefit of the thoughts in Bill Gates' head? The sand on a beach can be measured, but how do you calibrate the value of the idea that turned those silica grains into silicon microchips? Though they sound like questions from a Mensa parlor game, they're actually from the work of economist Paul Romer, and his answers may just revolutionize the study of economics.
A sage for the silicon age, Romer is upgrading the dismal science to keep pace with the digital revolution. Economists have long known that when growth goes up, so do salaries, employment and standards of living. What has changed, argues Romer, is the long-term causes that make all those good things happen. The economic model of the smokestack age says labor and capital (inputs) are the only two ingredients that can increase production (outputs). Thus a company can either hire more people to crank out the widgets, or spend money to increase the efficiency of a plant to move product out the door at a lower cost. Romer, 41, argues that technology--which can simply mean a new "idea" for doing something--is not a mysterious outside force, as economists thought in the past, but an internal one that can be cultivated to increase growth. "The emerging economy is based on ideas more than objects," instructs Romer. Develop a new way to design a microchip, and you can process twice the information in half the time.
For his work in this field of "new-growth theory," the Stanford economist has been called "the most influential theorist of the 1980s" by the equally prominent M.I.T. economist Paul Krugman. Listen to a venture capitalist talk about investing in "knowledge industries" and promoting "idea-driven growth," and you hear Romer's work speaking. Luminaries like management guru Peter Drucker speculate about Romer's chances of winning the Nobel Prize for Economics the way sportscasters handicap a fleet-footed freshman's chances of grabbing the Heisman Trophy.
Having challenged the way economists view the world, Romer is eager to work on the public, to trade in his gangly equations for accessible metaphors. What role does government play in promoting the efficient allocation of ideas? he asks. (Perhaps he should ask his father, Colorado Governor Roy Romer.) What role do companies play? Skeptics say that only by finding workable answers that generate the robust growth his theory promises will Romer live up to his advance Nobel billing.
Conservatives wave his work to argue for nixing the capital-gains tax, and liberals say he is really calling for more "investment" by government. Speaking for himself, Romer dumps on the liberal spending gambits and, to conservative grumbles of "Stalinism," allows that gains may accrue from collective activity. Says Romer: "I'm quite happy to offend everyone."
One victim at a time. One police officer at a time. One community at a time. Stumping in the manner of an itinerant preacher, Bonnie Campbell is the force behind a grass-roots shift in the way Americans view the victims--and perhaps more important, the perpetrators--of crimes against women. Director of the Violence Against Women office at the Justice Department, she is the first person ever to occupy her bully pulpit, handpicked by the President in 1994 to focus on one of his pet concerns. It is Campbell who applies gentle pressure on Clinton to keep telling the world how his stepfather hit his mother, and Campbell who, by traveling around the country and speaking to small-town sheriffs and big-city D.A.s, is making sure the words domestic violence remain part of the national conversation.
It is not so much what she says, though, as how she listens that makes Campbell so effective. With gracious self-assurance, she forms unlikely alliances between state troopers and rape victims, prosecutors and hot-line operators. Then she returns to Washington to work with the feds to help put teeth into new laws in the Violence Against Women Act, like the one prohibiting people who violate restraining orders from carrying firearms. As part of the 1994 Crime Act, she has some $1.6 billion to divvy up among the states over six years--money that puts beds in shelters and specially trained community police officers on the streets. And amazingly, Campbell then stops by, all the clout of the Attorney General's office behind her, to help recipients find ways to spend the money effectively. She preaches, then makes sure the conversion goes smoothly.
Campbell, 49, brings to her job the rock-solid credibility of having been both a prosecutor and, during her successful 1990 campaign for Iowa attorney general, the victim of a stalker--which led her to write one of the nation's first stalking laws. She has a darker personal motivation as well: in 1975 her half brother Steven Pierce was sent to prison for life for the brutal rape and murder of a teenage girl in upstate New York. Campbell is haunted by this crime. "I have some sense that I should try to make amends in some small way," she says. She is doing more than that, one step at a time.
Polls say he's the favorite of Republicans for the White House in 2000 and would beat Al Gore, the Democrats' toughest contender, 49% to 35%. In Washington that kind of potential power always means outsize influence, and Colin Powell has it in abundance. It seems only to enhance his stature that the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff leads a fairly private life and maintains a skillful neutrality about someday seeking the highest office to which mere politicians are hormonally drawn.
He has been wrestling in retirement with how to turn his supercelebrity into something substantial, and has rejected offers to run big companies and foundations. Instead he has become general chairman of the Presidents' Summit for America's Future, a kind of Points of Light program on steroids. It aims to boost the voluntary help Americans, especially corporations, donate to combatting poverty and other social ills, particularly those affecting children. Later this month he kicks off its big opening ceremony in Philadelphia, in the company of all the living Presidents (save for Ronald Reagan, who will be represented by his wife Nancy).
The goal is concrete actions that will measurably help at least 2 million people by the end of the century, such as getting companies to supply money or people for community programs. Already, Honeywell has promised to recruit 4,000 volunteers to build low-income housing and an additional 8,000 employees to mentor at-risk kids from ages 10 to 18; Pfizer will donate $5 million in medicine to poor children and provide access to health care. When a firm signs up, "we're going to call its program a 'promise,'" says Powell. "That's a word with emotional tug--not like 'commitment,' which is something bureaucratic."
When even Bill Clinton is saying the era of Big Government is over and is pushing a complex partnership among different levels of government and private enterprise to fix the schools and find jobs for welfare recipients, it's a perfect moment for Powell, 60, to lend his self-made reputation to making volunteerism cool. He doesn't have to develop elaborate social policy either, at which he showed no great skill in his near run for the presidency, just inveigle CEOs and community groups to cough up more programs, cheer good results and keep count. He says simply, "I have arrived at the point in my life where I am trying to use what I have been given by my nation to help the nation." Powell is not humble, but he is unaffected, wholly comfortable in his own skin. "I try to be the same person I was yesterday," he says. That may be the most enduring source of his popular appeal--and one reason why average Americans won't cynically view the summit as just a launching pad for a presidential run three years hence.
When Robert Rubin talks, everyone, especially the President, listens. Thanks partly to the departure of strong personalities like Leon Panetta and Dick Morris, Rubin has grown even more influential this year, dispensing advice on topics ranging from trade to urban renewal. "Rubin has earned his influence with a very reflective decision-making style that has produced success after success in very tough situations," says Gene Sperling, head of the National Economic Council.
Rubin's comportment undoubtedly helps. He exudes the calm, deliberate air of the polished investment banker he once was (he co-managed Goldman, Sachs & Co. for six years). As chairman of the National Economic Council during Clinton's first term, he persuaded the President that if deficit reduction was made a top priority, inflation and interest rates would drop, setting the stage for an economic boom. The strategy worked, and Rubin won the Treasury job when Lloyd Bentsen stepped down in 1994. Rubin also masterminded the politically risky $13.5 billion emergency bailout of Mexico in 1995. The gamble paid off: Mexican officials announced earlier this year that they would repay the loan package in full, three years ahead of schedule.
A centimillionaire, Rubin, 58, lives in Washington's tony Jefferson Hotel during the week, commuting by plane on weekends to see his wife Judy, who lives in New York City. A bonefishing enthusiast, he sometimes jets off to the Bahamas for a day's angling. Determined to promote further deficit reduction, Rubin pledges to push hard in the White House as well as in Congress to achieve a balanced budget by 2002. To do so, Clinton will have to compromise with the G.O.P. while still delivering on campaign promises the Republicans oppose, such as incentives for education and safeguards for the environment. The task is a tricky one, but Rubin remains bullish. Confidently and typically prosaic, he says, "I expect it will be done."
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