When Paul Glastris took over the Washington Monthly last year, he inherited a dingy, roach-infested office suite, a depleted bank account and a magazine in danger of extinction.

"For the first time in my life I wasn't able to sleep until three in the morning," he says.

From that inauspicious start, the former Bill Clinton speechwriter has breathed new life into a small publication that is setting off the Beltway buzzmeter for the first time in many years. The likes of Maureen Dowd, Al Hunt, David Broder, Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, Chris Matthews, Slate, Newsday, CNN and the Times of London are quoting pieces from a ragtag outfit that basically consists of Glastris and two young colleagues.

In the process, what founder Charlie Peters created as a "neoliberal" magazine has become more unapologetically liberal, sharply criticizing President Bush while also taking some healthy whacks at the Democrats.

"I'm a pretty partisan, pro-Clinton guy," admits Glastris, 44. "To be distinctive, we have to be saying what nobody else is saying. If the press were ripping Bush's skin off every day, that's not what we would be doing. But nobody is."

One of the editors, 30-year-old Joshua Green, hastens to add: "We have to reel him in sometimes."

Peters, who still writes a curmudgeonly column for the magazine, allows that Glastris "has pushed it more in a straight Democratic direction than I had over the years, but at this particular time I approve of that. He has more of the party loyalist in him than I do."

The magazine reflects the Clinton White House in more than an ideological sense: There are endless bull sessions over articles that often stretch into late-night crashing on deadline.

"It's investment banker hours at graduate school pay," says the other editor, Nicholas Confessore, 26, alluding to the $14,000 salaries. "But I love working here."

Glastris, a newsmagazine veteran who did a stint as a Monthly staffer in the 1980s, insists he is carrying on the Peters tradition of skewering the bureaucracy and showing tough love toward liberals. "All of Charlie's thoughts are embedded in my mind," he says. "Once you drink the Kool-Aid . . . " He switches metaphors. "You get the chip implanted."

His most recent boss has noticed. Clinton sent a short note of praise after Glastris wrote a cover story called "Why Can't the Democrats Get Tough?"

Tough on Everybody At 3 a.m. one Sunday last April, Glastris and Green were in the downtown office, working over the 12th draft of Green's piece on why John McCain should run for president -- as a Democrat. They had been going at it for two straight days.

"He does this thing -- it's like a Vulcan mind-meld," Green says. "He gets in these passionate, intense, two-hour conversations to figure out what's the significance of your story. You emerge from these sessions wearied and exhausted. A lot of outside writers are kind of dazed when it happens. It can drive you pretty much off the ledge."

The first time Confessore turned in an article, on immigration reform, he says, Glastris "completely tossed it out the window.

"He hates snide, snotty writing. He hates egghead journalism, where you're casting about theories. If you don't have evidence, he will not print what you want to argue. . . . He talks all the time. Sometimes Josh and I have to yank him off the phone when we're on deadline."

In this hothouse environment, story ideas easily take root. Last spring, Glastris and his editors were wondering who Bush's pollster was. A series of phone calls led Green to start digging into Republican National Committee disbursement reports, where he discovered that nearly $1 million had been spent on polling firms last year -- this for a president with a well-publicized disdain for polls. No one else had bothered to pursue the story.

The president has been a constant target. Glastris's piece urging the Democrats to play hardball carried the subhead: "Bush's White House is partisan, imperial and ruthless, but not invulnerable."

In June, Glastris published an analysis by Joshua Micah Marshall urging Bush to use the threat of force to get U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq. At the time, the administration was filled with talk of unilateral action against Saddam Hussein.

Weeks before the election, Confessore wrote a cover story headlined: "Republicans could win control of the entire federal government in November. Why won't the Democrats talk about it?" The mainstream press had portrayed the Democrats as unlikely to lose the Senate.

But the magazine can be rough on the Democrats as well. A cover story called "Daschle's Hillary Problem," raising questions about the lobbying work of Sen. Tom Daschle's wife, was touted by Rush Limbaugh, Fox's Bill O'Reilly and the Washington Times editorial page.

Not bad exposure for a publication whose circulation is just 16,000, low even by the modest standards of political magazines.

Since Peters founded the Monthly 33 years ago, the place has been renowned as a sweatshop for future media stars, including Michael Kinsley, Jonathan Alter, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, Mickey Kaus, Timothy Noah, Gregg Easterbrook, Katherine Boo, Joseph Nocera, Fortune's executive editor, and Jon Meacham, Newsweek's managing editor. But in recent years it had become more respected than read.

Glastris's path to the magazine was a rather unconventional one. In 1984, the St. Louis area native was working for his father in the ad business -- writing 60-second radio spots for car dealers -- when he decided to move to Washington without a job. When he learned that Peters was staging a conference on neoliberalism, he got a family friend who published an alternative paper to write a letter saying he was covering it -- "so I didn't have to pay the 50 bucks to get in." Peters's secretary, taking pity on the visitor, slipped him some food, which he ate behind a curtain.

His chat with Peters led to an unpaid internship, which led to a staff job, which led to his hiring at U.S. News & World Report. During the 1992 campaign Glastris wrote that "the cumulative toll of the 'gotcha' stories on Clinton's image has been enormous," even though some were "largely or wholly false."

In 1998, after Fallows was fired as the newsmagazine's editor, Glastris, who had become a Fallows loyalist, called a friend at the White House and signed on as a speechwriter. "I knew it was a step a lot of other journalists would look down on," he says. "But I had absorbed Charlie's dictum that experience in government and politics is absolutely essential to knowing what's really going on."

Clinton, at the time, was in the process of getting himself impeached over the Lewinsky scandal. "I found the much greater sin, a thousand to one, what Washington did to Clinton than what he did to himself," Glastris says. "I was shocked by the madness here. I thought he was getting crucified."

Glastris was no mere White House wordsmith. He had a list of two dozen policy proposals he pushed with Clinton -- for example, getting food stamp rules changed so that recipients who owned inexpensive cars wouldn't lose their benefits. And as one of the few Greek Americans on the staff, Glastris had a special interest in the Balkans. He wrote a well-received 1999 speech that Clinton delivered in Athens during a time of turmoil over the war in Bosnia.

Glastris realized that his old magazine had a visibility problem during an Oval Office chat. Clinton said he had loved a New Republic article on how the press was hyping Al Gore's tendency to exaggerate; the piece was actually a Washington Monthly cover.

"The profile of the magazine wasn't what it had been when I was an editor here in the '80s," Glastris says.

When Peters started making noises about stepping down, other alumni, such as Lemann, now at the New Yorker, tried to raise money to continue the magazine. But it was Glastris who took on the challenge.

"I just had an instinct when I turned it over to him that he had the love of the magazine and the drive and the brains to make it go," Peters says. "You have to believe you're on a mission."

Glastris needed every bit of perseverance when he moved into the Monthly's decrepit Connecticut Avenue office, on which the lease was expiring. To keep up the mortgage on his home, Glastris had to take a second job -- which he still holds -- as a senior fellow at the Western Policy Center, where he specializes in Mediterranean security. Things got tougher when his wife, Kukula, was laid off from her job as business manager of a District elementary school.

The clock, meanwhile, was ticking. As a condition of taking the job, Glastris had until the end of 2001 to raise enough money to keep the ship afloat. When Peters decided to turn the magazine into a nonprofit operation, Glastris had to ask dozens of original investors, including Warren Buffett, to relinquish their share of a company that had never made money.

He found a deep-pockets backer in Markos Kounalakis, a foreign correspondent turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur who married into a family of major Democratic donors. Kounalakis, who was introduced to Glastris at a White House function, has kicked in $350,000 so far and is prepared to go as high as $1 million.

"There are a lot of people who open bars and restaurants because it's a great place to go every evening and do what you love," says Kounalakis, who as president and publisher makes lots of editorial suggestions. "There are plenty of other places I can go to earn money."

Exiles' Outpost Clinton, in a written comment for this article, calls Glastris "a gifted writer with a passion for ideas and policies that transcend party and ideology to focus on what works. . . . Paul has gone from putting words in my mouth to putting thoughts in my head."

Glastris has turned the Monthly into something of a haven for out-of-power Clintonites. He gets together occasionally with former presidential aides Sidney Blumenthal, Gene Sperling and Paul Begala. The November issue contains a cover story on Democrats and national security by Heather Hurlburt, a former speechwriter for Clinton and Madeleine Albright, and a piece on campaign finance reform by former White House policy staffer Paul Weinstein.

"Clinton would make a phenomenal editor," Glastris says. He recalls the former president picking apart State of the Union speeches during practice sessions. "Every second sentence, he'd say, 'We've got to rewrite that. Folks can't understand that. You've got to tell them a story.' "

Now the magazine is telling a consistently negative story about Clinton's successor, whom Glastris seems to dislike with a passion.

"By the end of the Clinton era," he says, "it was pretty clear to me that much of what Clinton had worked for had come to fruition. There really was a modern Democratic Party. My great fear of George Bush was that he would be that for the Republican Party, and in some of what he's done he is, education being the great example. . . .

"But in most ways he's been a disaster. He has governed almost exclusively based on the agenda of the Washington moneyed interests. I think the press has been too soft and too timid toward Bush."

Does the administration resent these kinds of attacks? Unfortunately for Glastris, who hopes to triple the magazine's circulation, he still has a way to go on the brand-awareness front. Several White House officials say they don't read Washington Monthly.

Matthew Dowd, a senior adviser to the Republican National Committee, dealt with reporter Green on the piece about Bush's alleged fondness for polls. "It was obvious to me the magazine had in mind exactly what the story line was, whether the facts fit it or not," Dowd says. "I tried to explain to him there's a whole bunch of polling the RNC does that is unrelated to the White House."

Several conservative journalists say they stopped reading the magazine years ago, but others admire the product.

"It's earnest, but it does what a monthly should -- aside from the Bush-bashing," says Wlady Pleszczynski, who runs the online American Prowler and is executive editor of the American Spectator. Impressed by a story about the trial-lawyer background of Sen. John Edwards, he says the Monthly "provides serious analyses you really can't get in a quick way from the daily press or on the Web."

Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, has noticed the leftward shift. "Once upon a time they had a distinctive form of liberalism," he says. "Now it's just perfectly sensible liberalism. But I read it every month and think they have some good stuff."

Opening Doors Paul Glastris is a man with a disability, but he doesn't like to talk about it. He refuses to regard it as a disability.

When he was a teenager, touching a 7,000-volt wire atop a telephone pole left him with a prosthetic arm and badly scarred fingers on his other hand. After an excruciating rehabilitation, he insisted on playing high school soccer.

But don't bother congratulating him. It was, he wrote in 1988, "insufferable when the inevitable accolades started to fly about my having 'overcome' my 'handicap'. . . . To me the process of learning new ways to cope with the world contained all the emotional and dramatic intensity of a handyman fixing a toaster. . . . We're talking pretty basic stuff here, stuff I was used to doing myself: opening doors, zipping trousers, eating, writing, picking up objects off the floor. As I conquered all these tasks, I never experienced a feeling of triumph, merely relief."

He even refuses to use a handicapped parking permit.

Friends say Glastris does just about everything -- types, drives, uses a cell phone -- and that they quickly forget about any physical differences.

"It's an inconvenience, for sure, one that I wouldn't wish on anyone," Glastris says. "I think of it as something I had to work through, a piece of bad luck, but kind of beside the point."

As for whether his misfortune produced a lifelong determination to overcome obstacles, all Glastris will say is that he had to abandon his dream of being a zoologist.

"What happened forced me to concentrate more on my mind. It probably made me more likely to take an intellectual path in life."

A former Clinton speechwriter, Paul Glastris worked at the Monthly in the mid-'80s under founder Charlie Peters. He returned last year to take control of the fading magazine.Since Paul Glastris, left, replaced Charlie Peters as editor in chief of Washington Monthly, he's "pushed it more in a straight Democratic direction than I had."