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Beaten and Bushed.

The black comedy of a White House on the verge of a nervous breakdown

"It's the worst job in the world," said Sam Skinner. "Howard Baker said that when he was Reagan's chief of staff. The worst."

One month after Bush's defeat on November 3, 1992, and Skinner was in his Elba, eating three kinds of popcorn out of a tin cylinder eight inches wide and two feet tall. The tin was that year's omnipresent holiday offering; every Republican office in Washington was inundated with popcorn supplied by friendly lobbyists, every word processing keyboard stained with the icky orange residue of the cheese flavoring and the sticky brown goo of the caramel. Skinner's place of exile was a handsome office suite on the fourth floor of the Republican National Committee building on Capitol Hill. It had been his perch since August, when James Baker replaced him as White House chief of staff.

Skinner had arrived at the White House just a year earlier, in December 1991. He was a chief of staff for eight months, and in all that time he never had a good day. The first major event of Skinner's tenure was the president's trip to Japan in January 1992. That was followed in turn by the unsuccessful State of the Union address, and then Bush's first campaign trip to New Hampshire, in which he attempted to demonstrate to people that he cares about them by speaking the immortal words "Message: I care." And on and on it went, through an unbroken series of disasters and missed opportunities: the Rio summit, the Los Angeles riots, the great media flap over Dan Quayle's speech insulting "Murphy Brown."

Throughout the first half of 1992, stretching into summer, staffers watched as their administration, once thought invincible, absorbed blow after blow and could not come up with a single thing that might improve Bush's standing in the eyes of the voters. They would gather and regather at the feet of the Old Executive Office Building staircases, huddling together in impromptu meetings by the men's-room door or on their way out at night.

Their conclusion was always the same: It was all Skinner's fault, Skinner and the guys running the campaign. The one person who was not held responsible in these discussions was the president himself. The only acceptable way to criticize the president was to say that he was too trusting, too generous, especially about giving Skinner's a chance.

They repeated the stories they had heard about how sure Bush was he was going to win, about how he had no doubts and did not want his people to worry. But the fact was, things weren't working well, and Only One Man Could Save Them. He was the Republican magus, James A. Baker III, Bush's close friend of thirty five years, the man who had run every Republican campaign since 1976 and had won three of four.

Staffers would have been surprised to discover that Skinner agreed with them. By the summer Skinner had come to be very much in favor of a Baker takeover; for months he had been saying Baker was the key to the reelection. But he had believed Baker either would be put in charge of the campaign or would come into the White House as a Super Counselor. Either way, Skinner figured he could keep his title and some of his duties. So he had been shocked when, on an August Wednesday right before lunch, the president informed him that come ten the next morning, Skinner was to be banished from the White House.

Skinner's evisceration came as a kind of spiritual deliverance to the White House staff, not because they disliked him but because their sense of justice had at last been satisfied. Things had gone horribly wrong, and somebody was finally taking the fall for it. The president's decision to bring Baker on had confirmed their conviction that the problem lay in Skinner's faulty management. Skinner, and only Skinner, had been the cause of all the administration's troubles in 1992. Skinner's failure was not only a danger to the country's future, but an even more immediate threat to the livelihoods of the White House staff.

The Baker team played this opinion for all it was worth. In the myriad articles, written about Baker's takeover of the White House, Baker's people spoke of little else (on background, of course) but the parlous state of the place in Skinner's wake. The clear implication was that if Bush did win in November, the credit would be entirely Baker's, but if he lost, Skinner would be the one responsible.

But on that December day after the election, Skinner was actually one of the few Republicans in town cheerful and upbeat. He had just landed a $500,000 job as chairman of Commonwealth Edison. So while hundreds of his former employees woke with night sweats trying to figure out how, as loyal employees of a disgraced administration, they were going to meet their mortgage payments, Skinner was returning to his hometown, Chicago, perhaps a bit bloodied but basically unbowed. (Upon hearing of Skinner's hiring, one staffer immediately began calling around and with mock urgency advising his friends who might own stock in Common wealth Edison to "sell short, for God's sake, sell short!")

But there was plenty of blame to go around for the defeat. Skinner certainly thought so: He constantly cited the role of his predecessor, John Sununu, and campaign chief Bob Teeter while belittling the significance of his own eight months in the chief of staff's office. Those months had proved to be merely an interregnum between Sununu and Baker. "I was just an asterisk in history," he said, only he pronounced the word "asterik." It was, evidently, an important word to him; later, he dismissed a midlevel staffer's role in a key policy decision that year by calling her an "asterik," too.

What had made the job especially frustrating, he said flatly, was that he had inherited "the weakest staff in White House history" from Sununu. "You won't find anyone to disagree with that," Skinner said. "It was just hopeless."

Out of the mouths of babes: Skinner had stumbled onto the truth. The management problems of the White House preceded his time there and did not go away when he left. The management problem of the White House was George Bush, and the singularly inept way he structured his own operation.

By dissing the White House staff, Skinner had merely put into words something that had been evident to people in the administration and elsewhere in Washington from January 20, 1989, onward. The White House staff, almost every member of which had been hired by Sununu himself, was astoundingly mediocre - politically shortsighted, ideologically deprived, inclined to inflate the importance of the trivial and discount the significant.

When the Bush administration began, Bush filled a few of the top jobs himself and left the rest to Sununu, his first chief of staff. The president's insouciance about the structure and order of his own political operation turned out to be a key indication of how he was going to pursue his presidency. Having spent eight years doing nothing but retail politics in his effort to get elected, he now wished to cleanse himself, to rise about it. He would leave all that to his famously brash and tough chief of staff and focus his attention on his consuming interest, foreign affairs.

While Bush was hunkering down with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State Baker, Sununu was busy assembling a White House manned by senior staffers whose chief assets were that a) they would owe extraordinary allegiance to the chief of staff for elevating them above their natural stations in life, and b) they would pose absolutely no threat to his complete dominion over all aspects of White House policymaking.

The weakness of Sununu's staff was made manifest in the White House communications operation, which he drastically downgraded from its previous high standing in the Reagan White House. A Reagan-era director of communications was either a celebrated or glamorous figure in his own right or soon became one - David Gergen was the first, Pat Buchanan the second. The director of communications supervised the dissemination of the White House's message through speeches, media appearances and, of course, strategic leaking.

Sununu's choice for the post was David Demarest, who had had the title during the campaign. But what he had done as director of communications for Bush/Quayle '88 was almost exclusively technical - setting up satellite feeds for candidate interviews, keeping track of which local media organs the candidate needed to hit on his relentless journey around the country. During the campaign, Demarest was not a speechwriter and did not participate in the making of policy, nor did he design a strategy to publicize and promote the candidate's ideas.

Sununu took advantage of Demarest's inexperience to gut the speechwriting operation, the most significant arm of the communications office. Now, the idea that a president didn't need especially good speechwriters might seem insane, especially when that president was George Bush, but Sununu and Bush had decided to pursue a communications strategy designed by press secretary Marlin Fitzwater. (The press office under Reagan and Bush was independent of the communications operation.) Fitzwater's recommendation was that Bush make policy announcements and speak to the American people not through speeches but in press and conferences and informal interview sessions instead. Sununu kicked the speechwriting department out of its nice digs, and gave them instead to the deeply significant Thousand Points of Light office. Following this, he decreed that speechwriters would no longer be allowed to eat in the White House Mess. What was more, no speechwriter would be paid more than $40,000.

But of all Sununu's choices for the White House staff, easily the most consequential was Roger Porter. Porter was named assistant to the president for domestic policy. This is the title that had been given to Edwin Meese in the Reagan White House. Meese, perhaps Reagan's closest personal adviser for twenty years, wanted to be to domestic affairs what the national security adviser was to foreign affairs - chief White House analyst and check on the ambitions of power-hungry bureaucrats in the cabinet departments and agencies.

It never quite worked out that way. Foreign affairs are relatively easy to supervise from the White House because they are the responsibilities of only three outside departments (State, Defense and Central Intelligence). Almost everything else is domestic policy, and the sheer size of the federal government has dwarfed all efforts by domestic-policy assistants to achieve the degree of supervisory authority enjoyed by the national security adviser. (Meese had also gutted the position, when he left the White House in 1985 to become attorney general, by arranging to remain chairman of its two cabinet forums, the Domestic Policy Council and the Economic Policy Council.)

Even so, the position of domestic policy adviser was one of almost limitless possibility. Unfortunately, Porter proved a man of almost infinite limits. At a time when the Republican party was a wild ferment of new ideas and policies in fields from education to welfare, Porter proved singularly uninterested in the ideas and instead obsessed over detail - not what to do, but how to do it. One of Porter's chief aides said he "was narcissistic about the paper on his desk"; he held up the release of documents from his office because he insisted on reading every word himself, sometimes complaining about the spacing of the tabs.

A visitor to Porter's office noted that pride of place was given to a photograph of Porter himself in the company of none other than the first president he had served, Gerald Ford. Porter made frequent references to the Ford presidency, during which he had served as a paper pusher, as if that were the model that the present administration should emulate.

From the first day of the administration, Porter served as a kind of kid brother to the two actual domestic policy advisers Sununu and Richard Darman. His status as an underling was confirmed when he accepted the job of taking the official notes at domestic policy meetings with the president. Porter's weaknesses led to the marginalization of the often creative staff of wonks who made up the Office of Policy Development under his tutelage - another set of thinkers and potential policy competitors disposed of.

Sununu and Darman did their best to marginalize most of the cabinet as well. They were following the lead of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who joined in a conspiracy to turn Secretary of State William Rogers into a powerless figurehead. But that was only one Cabinet secretary and one department; Sununu and Darman tried the same thing on no fewer than ten. Sununu would, whenever he felt the need, simply dictate policy from his office; Darman would, on the other hand, assert White House dominance and limit cabinet prerogatives by fiddling around with department budgets.

They were successful enough at this to wrest control of the economy away from Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady - which might have seemed a major feat, since Brady was not only treasury secretary but Bush's best friend in Washington.

They found it easy to dominate Brady because it is never difficult to outwit a dimwit. When a rumor circulated around Washington that Brady was dyslexic, his people hotly defended him by saying, No, it wasn't true he was dyslexic, he just had to read things really slowly because otherwise he couldn't understand them. The dyslexia rumor gave rise to one of the meanest cracks of the Bush era: The president took so long to acknowledge the recession because Brady was the person who drew the charts.

The few choices that Bush did make among the three-hundred-plus staffers in the White House were as telling in their way as Sununu's, for with one exception, they were people of no fixed opinions on the key issues, affecting the country. They did not believe in anything very much except George Bush the man, and that was what mattered to the loyalty-crazed president.

He cited one of his first decisions in one of his final televised appearances before the nation, the second presidential debate. Asked what women he had as his closet advisers, he blanked for a minute and then spoke the words: "There's Rose Zamaria. Tough as a boot, saving the taxpayer's money." The comment provoked groans all over Republicanland, and on the plane back from Richmond, Virginia, White House aides told each other that the "Zamaria debate" would go down in history as Bush's worst political moment. (A questionable proposition, given the wealth of choices.)

Zamaria, who had been Bush's secretary when he was a congressman in the mid-1960s, was not exactly the sort of high-ranking policy aide you might expect a president to name when asked about his closest advisers. But she was certainly close to him; he saw Zamaria every day, which gave her standing many other more important staffers lacked. She was the person Bush put in charge of White House administration, supervising the secretaries and in possession of the (theoretical) key to the supply closet. She appealed to one of the less attractive aspects of his Yankee upbringing - the parsimony for parsimony's sake that is a snobbish corruption of the Puritan emphasis on the godliness of thrift and the sin of waste. To that end, Zamaria roamed the halls of the West Wing, accusing people of taking paper clips home with them from the office, making sure that her "girls" were not lolly-gagging, ordering people out of the Roosevelt Room if they arrived ten minutes early for a meeting by informing them that it wasn't a staff lounge, y'know. She would approach senior female staffers in the Mess and upbraid them for not wearing stockings like a lady should. In short order, Zamaria became the single most detested person in the White House (including Richard Darman) and probably the entire administration.

For Zamaria had another, more important duty as well: She was in charge of White House perks. There weren't many of these, but they were choice: Getting entree into the president's box in the opera house of the Kennedy Center and obtaining cuff links and tie clips with the presidential seal and signature on them were primary among these. In the Reagan years, it had been a matter of course for staffers to get into the box; it was first-come, first-served, informal.

Unlike Reagan, Bush saw the perks as a political tool. Zamaria was administering the official White House favors because Bush wanted someone stingy to keep track of what he had done for his people. Gracious Bush certainly was, but never selfless. Every kindness on his part, or in his name, was considered payback for services rendered or an advance on services owed.

The hiring settled, Sununu's White House staff worked according to the wishes of its designer. He had control of policy. He negotiated with Congress.

Sununu's fall from power in 1991 came about not because Bush was unhappy with the quality of the White House staff, but because the press scandal over Sununu's travel had become a political liability at a time when Bush's sinking ratings in the polls called for some kind of major change. Since the president was not willing to introduce a major economic growth package, or even to apologize for having raised taxes in the 1990 budget deal, he had to make a personnel move. Sununu went. Skinner came.

Bush, however, refused to allow his new chief of staff to fix what was broken. Just before his arrival at the White House, Skinner gave an interview to The New York Times in which he suggested he might want to make serious staff changes - an understandable wish for a new manager who had been brought in because the previous management had fallen into disrepair. But Bush, always unhappy to see such things in print, scolded Skinner for speaking so publicly. Perhaps as punishment for the indiscretion, he told Skinner in no uncertain terms that the White House staff was his, Bush's, staff. He was not unhappy with their work. One or two major changes were as many as he or they could handle. Bush didn't want much to change.

The main change during Skinner's tenure was not his new appointments but all the meetings. All there were were meetings. Endless meetings morning, noon and night. Scheduling meetings and communications meetings. Campaign meetings and Policy Coordinating Group meetings. Like a character in a movie by Bunuel, a staffer would enter the Roosevelt Room for a meeting and find that he and his companions were prevented by some mysterious force from rising and leaving the room.

Skinner got so bored and annoyed by the ditherings at the morning staff meeting that he resolved to restructure it by reducing the number of those in attendance from twenty-five to ten, and then created a weekly session called the chief of staff's meeting to give senior staffers something to hang on to.

One by one, the senior staffers who had been disinvited came to Skinner. Media adviser Dorrance Smith said he really had to be at the morning meeting because otherwise how could he best advise the president on his media appearances? And Skinner, perhaps mindful of the fact that Smith played tennis with the president twice a week, relented.

Thousand Points of Light chief Gregg Petersmeyer said he really had to be at the morning meeting to coordinate the efforts of his national service office, which did "interface" regularly with the public out there. And Skinner relented. Over the course of a month, almost everyone who had been disinvited from the senior staff meeting somehow made his or her way back into the room, until only two or three were left out - excluded, stewing, offended. The senior staff meeting had proved more powerful than the chief of staff.

Later, when not only was Skinner in Elba but Bush was soon to be in an exile of his own, Skinner complained again and again that Bush's loyalty to his staff made it impossible for Skinner to fix what was wrong at the White House.

Actually, Skinner hadn't the least idea how to fix things. his only idea was to enlist the services of New York management consultant Eugene Croisant, who also happened to be his best friend of thirty years. When he first took over as secretary of Transportation in 1989, Skinner had called on Croisant and found him invaluable in helping to turn his disparate staff into a team. This goal had been achieved by means of management retreats for the department's senior aides, where they played games together so that they could learn to trust each other.

You might think that these touchy-feely, New Agey, post-1960s techniques would be anathema to Republicans, but you would be dead wrong. Management programs like Croisant's have become part and parcel of big business culture, which believes that conflicts and even failures can be solved and resolved by a weekend at a really nice resort where people get to respect one another's space and emerge with a whole new collegial spirit they can take back to their corporate headquarters and proceed to use in running yet another major American industry into the ground.

Croisant wandered through the White House for three weeks, asking staffers what they did and why. In the end, he made two recommendations to Skinner that any mildly intelligent member of the White House staff could have told him in thirty seconds. First, he recommended that Skinner hire a new director of communications to replace David Demarest. Skinner then spent two pointless months trying to hire Jim Lake, who had been communications honcho in the '80, '84 and '88 campaigns, but after a month's jockeying Lake decided he could not afford to leave his lobbying business. Whereupon Skinner halted his search, explaining later that it was a very hard job to fill and he simply could find no other candidates among the 250 million residents of the United States of America who could do it besides Lake.

But he wanted to fire Demarest, anyway. Bush, who was very fond of Demarest, would not allow it. So instead Skinner gave Communications to Marlin Fitzwater, who already had more than enough to do running the White House press office. He made Demarest, who was no speechwriter, chief speechwriter. He then defenestrated the previous chief speechwriter, Tony Snow. But he didn't get rid of Snow either. Snow was moved across the hall from his office and was named director of media affairs, which basically allowed him to collect a salary, keep up his mortgage payments, and keep his health benefits while his wife had their first child. So as a result of this first piece of management advice, there were speechwriters sitting around who weren't allowed to write speeches, a communications director who was too busy with his real job to supervise three different White House offices, and a bunch of employees who were either overworked, unqualified or disgruntled - just the sort of thing you hire a management consultant for.

Croisant's second and more significant recommendation was that Skinner create a counterbalance to Darman's total control of domestic policy by appointing a new domestic policy adviser. His choice for domestic policy czar was Clayton Yeutter, chairman of the Republican National Committee, a nice man who was famous in Washington for emptying his in-box every day and having the most impressive collection of Rolodexes in a city that worshiped the Rolodex as an aborigine worships his totem. But nobody ever accused Yeutter of having an idea in his head, which is what a domestic policy czar is supposed to have. And rather than counterbalancing Darman, Skinner merely pissed him off and then backed down from this intention of marginalizing the OMB director.

To begin with, on the very day of Skinner's arrival at the White House in 1991, he was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "Dick Darman is a smart guy and he will be one of - and I stress one of - the president's close advisers." Sununu and Darman had been so close that their offices had special phones that rang directly between them; Skinner had Darman's "drop line," as it was called, removed. Darman lay low until three weeks, later, when Skinner was quoted in a National Journal article calling Darman "a nice young man."

For reasons only a psychiatrist could understand, this remark drove Darman (who was only three years younger than Skinner) into a frenzy. He raged like Lear to his two closest aides, Tom Scully and Bob Grady. He was going to get Skinner. He was going to cut his balls off. That pip-squeak didn't know who he was dealing with. He was going to call Junior - "Junior" being the misappellation for Bush's son George W., who served as a back channel to the president for select staffers.

Darman got hold of himself and called Skinner's office. The chief of staff was traveling that day, so Darman passed his message on to Skinner's assistant, Cam Findlay. If Sam wants to fire me, that's okay, he told Findlay - knowing full well that because he was a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate, the chief of staff did not have that power, only the president did - but this sort of public humiliation is unacceptable. And Darman proceeded to read through all the statements Skinners had made about him to the press, citing each one by newspaper or magazine, page number, and paragraph number. "I am not going to allow my reputation to be destroyed," Darman told Findlay.

Skinner and Darman ended up that December 1991 afternoon in the deputy chief of staff's office and had a "full and drank discussion," as the State Department briefers in the 1980s used to describe heated negotiating sessions between the U.S. and the Soviets. Skinner acknowledged that he should not have dissed Darman in print but acknowledged that he wanted a domestic policy operation in the White House independent of the OMB director.

He didn't get one. Yeutter was not equipped for the task, and in any case had only twenty people working for him while Darman had two hundred career analysts working for him at OMB who could run numbers and come up with a report about a hundred times faster than the Office of Policy Development.

And so Skinner found himself again in the same situation he had been in over the directorship of communications: Although he had hired Yeutter, Bush would not allow him to fire the previous domestic policy adviser, Roger Porter. So there were two domestic policy advisers in the place, both of whom had call on the same underlings.

Finally, even Bush had to act. So Baker came to the White House and Skinner was out.

Five days after his firing, while he was still technically chief of staff, Skinner was in Houston at the Republican National Convention. It was Tuesday night, August 18, 6:30 p.m., in front of the J.W. Marriott Galleria Hotel, and it was time for Republicans to head out to the Astrodome. Cabinet secretary Ede Holiday and her aide Jay Lefkowitz emerged from a small cocktail party hosted by Dan Quayle looking for Holiday's car. Holiday's driver told her the authorities had insisted the car be parked in a lot around the corner and not in front of the hotel to keep the streets clear. As a result, nobody's car was where he expected it to be; White House counsel Boyden Gray was pacing in front of his hotel, looking confused and a little desperate. Holiday and Lefkowitz and driver headed down to the corner, where they bumped into Skinner and his wife, Honey.

Holiday and Honey blew air kisses at one another as an unsmiling and preoccupied Sam said, "You have any idea where the cars are?"

"We're going around the corner to see if our car is there," Holiday said. They continued along the cobblestoned sidewalk, Honey's high-heeled shoes losing the war with the cobblestones. As they turned the corner, there was only the one car, Holiday's, in sight.

"Well, I don't see ours," Skinner said.

And Ede Holiday, who only six days before would have ordered Lefkowitz to go find Skinner's car or made the ultimate sacrifice of insisting that he take her car - only fitting for a man who only six days before had played a gigantic role in her professional and emotional life - now merely said. "Okay, good luck, Sam. See you, later, Honey,"

As they crossed the street to the lot, Lefkowitz murmured sadly: "Jesus, the guy can't even get a ride."

Working in the White House

A senior staffer reflects, August 1992:

Being in the White House is hypnotically compelling. In her book in the White House, Peggy Noonan said everybody there is happy, but not everybody is good. Well, you don't know about happy or unhappy, but you do notice that you and the people who work with you can hardly bear to leave the premises once you arrive there at 7:00 a.m. Acquaintances and friends and journalists want to take you out to lunch - which means leaving the complex grounds - and the thoughts fills you with a vague anxiety, as though they'll cancel your access when you come back and strip you of the all-important blue pass with your photo on it. After all, you can always go grab lunch at the staff table in the Mess, where you can sit around and gossip and fell that delicious feeling you can never quite get over that you are Inside the Inner Circle, that you are part of the hottest clique in the world. And in the Mess, the Navy men who serve you call you, sir, like you outrank them, when in fact you probably wouldn't have made it through week four of basic training with them.

Your own job is your aphrodisiac. You are hypnotized by yourself, by your work, by your responsibilities, even if they seem petty and stupid to you most of the time. You have been permitted access to the sanctum sanctorum, even though outside the complex you are just another Republican dweeb, attacked by the media, demonized by the popular culture. Only your beeper, indicating a call from the White House operator, stays at your side to remind you that You Are Somebody. You miss it when you are away, and are thrilled, even when the pressure is intense, to arrive at the gate in your car (since you have one of the coveted spaces inside the complex), have your trunk searched for a bomb and then get waved through with a poker-faced expression by the Secret Service guys. You feel that calm that comes with the sense that you have attained one of life's ambitions.

When you attend a party on the weekends, probably a barbecue or something where you can bring the kids and ditch them with other kids so that, once again, you do not have to spend all that much time with them, you do not dress like a bum but you are still very casual - Dockers and polo shirts, which get tighter as the months go by because you don't really get a chance to get to the gym and those cookies in the Mess are really first-rate.

The party, this studied concession to the idea that you are a real person with a real life, proves to be mostly work nonetheless. For you find that you must uphold the good and the true and the beautiful about George Bush even in these few hours of mindless socializing.

These parties have usually been a pleasure because, let's face it, you are a big shot in the eyes of people who do not work in the White House. Even though you know that you don't have any real power, that you are just a paper pusher, that the real power in this administration is closely held by about five or six people at the top, in Washington even the proximity to power is an aphrodisiac.

What goes around comes around. There's a guy at this party who was a senior official in the Reagan Defense Department and is now a consultant. When you were working at one of the less significant Reagan departments and encountered him at a party, he did that looking-over-your-shoulder-to-find-somebody-more-important-to-talk-to thing. Now he's standing in the semicircle that has formed around you, a supplicant for information and gossip. For its's not only who you know in Washington, it's what you know, and when. If a civilian gets hold of some White House dirt that hits the papers four days later, his stock will rise meteorically. Evans and Novak say Boskin yelled at Skinner - Oh, yeah, I heard that, the civilian can say. And he says it with worldly ennui, as though it is tough to be so knowledgeable, so incapable of surprise.

Parties and barbecues are therefore pleasurable stroking sessions for you. But this one early on takes on a vaguely disquieting turn. As usual, those in attendance at the party want to grill you about your work, your life. But you are now working for a man who is daily the focus of stories about impending political doom, and if you feed the crowd your own dissatisfaction of fears you may be feeding a fire you really want doused....

A mid-level staffer frets, October 1992:

The happiness that first greeted James Baker's takeover of the White House and the campaign in August was quickly tempered by your fears that he might fire you and everybody else. And though you had prayed devoutly for Baker's arrival in June and July, you soon leaned there is no such thing as a deus ex machina. Baker has no magic powers. Once again, an inflated Washington reputation is punctured by its proximity to the reality of the Bush White House. Baker's influence is felt nowhere. This is still Bush's White House, still indecisive, still ideologically confused, still "reactive" instead of "proactive," to borrow the inelegant terminology of the New Paradigmers.

The only good laugh in those days came when somebody handed you a piece of paper and said, "Have you seen this?"

It had a White House letterhead, and was addressed to "Mr. John Hinckley, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Washington, D.C. 06969."

"Oh, my God," you said. "The correspondence unit sent a letter to Hinckley?"

"Read it," your friend said, so you did:

Dear John:

Barbara and I hope you are making good progress in your recovery from the mental problems that made you try to assassinate my predecessor, Ronald Reagan.

The staff at St. Elizabeth's tells me that you are doing just fine and may be released soon.

"This is a disaster!" you said. "What if Lois Romano at The Washington Post gets ahold of this?"

"Go on," your friend said.

As you probably know, I have decided to seek a second term of office and I hope I can count on your support and the support of your fine Republican parents in my re-election campaign.

I hold no grduge against you, John, and I hope that if there is anything you need at the hospital, you will let Barbara and me know.

By the way, did you know that Bill Clinton is fucking Jodie Foster?

Sincerely yours,

George Bush
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Sam Skinner's ineffective management of White House during George Bush years
Author:Podhoretz, John
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:Beyond paper cuts.
Next Article:A Democracy at War: America's Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II.

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