Politics & Policy

Bright Side, Bright Woman, Part II

Bush and Perino in the White House press room, August 2007. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Jay Nordlinger started a series of notes on Dana Perino’s new book And the Good News Is …: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side. Part I is here. The series continues and concludes today.

You’ll love this, or at least I did: “I always worried that someone was going to be angry,” writes Dana, “and to this day, I brace myself for someone’s bad mood until I see that I’m not in trouble …”

President Bush knew this about her. So “if he asked his aide to call me over to the Oval Office, he’d say, ‘And tell her it’s nothing bad.’”

‐Many years ago, I said something like this (and more than once): I think a boy and a girl should meet at the registrar’s office on the first day of college. They should then go get a hamburger, fries, and a milkshake. They should date all through college, and get married on Graduation Day, or the Saturday after.

Dana writes,

My dad met my mom at Casper College in the orientation line. He studied business and eventually transferred to the University of Wyoming at Laramie. … My parents eloped in 1969, my dad skipping his graduation ceremony that day.

I’ll be damned.

‐Once, or maybe more than once, Air Force One touched down in a foreign country, and Bush, putting on his jacket and straightening his tie, said to his personal aide and his advance man, “Look alive, boys! America has arrived.”

‐Introducing Dana to the Israeli prime minister, Bush said, “This is Sweet Dana, Dana Perino, my press secretary.”

I once knew a young lawyer named Bill. (Sounds like the start of a limerick, I realize.) His secretary was an older woman, who called him “Sweet William.” One week, his parents were coming to town. He said to Regina, “They think I’m a big-time Washington lawyer. So, when they’re around, would you mind not calling me ‘Sweet William’?”

‐In her book, Dana tells a couple of stories about Bush and his visits to Walter Reed, where the wounded — often badly, catastrophically wounded — are treated. These stories are unbearable.

‐Putin was convinced that Bush fired Dan Rather. Bush tried to tell him otherwise: CBS News is a corporate entity, not a governmental entity, etc. To no avail. Putin insisted on saying in public that Bush fired Rather.

I think of David Pryce-Jones, and what he has said about the Arabs: They cannot believe that you haven’t done what they themselves would do. Or that you would not do what they themselves would do.

This is a problem. Interesting, but a significant problem.

Someone once told me a story about Cambodian refugees in California. They were pulled over for speeding (or a broken tail light or something). They got out of the car and knelt with their hands behind their heads, waiting, evidently, to be executed.

It’s what they knew back home.

‐Dana writes about one of her predecessors as Bush press secretary: Scott McClellan. He wrote a book about Bush and his White House, harshly critical. The team was stunned and hurt, says Dana.

“We’d all worked with Scott and liked him personally,” she writes. “‘Such a sweet guy,’ you’d hear from everyone, including reporters.”

I myself can chime in here. In September 2000, I took a leave of absence from National Review to assist the Bush campaign in Austin. I was there for six weeks. I flew back to New York the day after Election Day (though the election was not settled until mid-December).

Just about the nicest person I met on that whole campaign was Scott McClellan. An absolute peach. I can still remember his friendly smile.

‐I remember being in Saint Paul for the Republican convention in 2008. This was the convention that nominated McCain-Palin. They had President Bush speak by video hook-up. He was not present in the hall. The excuse was weather: too bad to allow a presidential flight. Plus, the president had to attend to hurricane preparedness (post-Katrina) or whatever. I thought this stank. I thought the treatment of Bush was shabby, no matter how low his standings in the polls were.

Dana tells us that he quietly asked her, “Do you think they know they’re insulting me?” She answered, “Yes, sir. I believe they do.”

‐A good portion of her book is dedicated to advice — particularly to the young. I love what she says about “reverse mentors.” A young person can make himself very useful to an older person by teaching that older person about technology — the latest technology.

I need such a mentor myself! (And have had a few over the years.)

‐“There are hundreds of ways to keep in touch with family and friends,” Dana notes. She adds, “(in some ways there are too many).”

I thought that was funny.

‐North Dakota is our boom state, and Dana suggests that young people go there, to get their start. A couple of years ago, I counseled a young friend of mine to do exactly that. He could not swallow the idea. But it all ended well: because he at last got a job in Manhattan (not Kansas).

‐People are always worried about what other people think — of them. In truth, they are thinking about themselves.

I’m so glad I learned this, years ago. Dana learned it too, and shares the wisdom.

What will people think about how you look at the party? Relax: They don’t give a damn how you look (thank heaven). They care about how they look.

‐In January 2001, Clintonistas in the White House thought it would be cool to take the W’s off the keyboards. In January 2009, the George W. Bushies left the O’s intact.

‐When he became president, W. decided to hang a portrait of Lincoln in the Oval. He told his dad, “I hung Lincoln on the wall, but you in my heart.”

‐About America’s political culture, Dana writes, “Without some basic manners, we’re doomed.” Uh-oh …

‐Dana says she takes more heat from the Right than from the Left — right-wingers are always slamming her as not right-wing or aggressive enough.

My advice to her is: Screw the nutty and nasty Right. And be the well-grounded Reagan conservative you are. (She doesn’t need advice from me, I realize …) (And she can leave the right-wing aggression and outrage to me …)

‐In the nasty-stakes, however, no one can beat the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid. He is the undisputed champeen. Dana thinks so, and I think so.

Just a bundle of malice and poison.

‐Dana admires Bush for turning the other cheek, for not responding in kind — and I do too. No one should sink to the Reid level. But: I believe that Bush should have been less inhibited against his detractors, and in defense of himself. It’s not personal: You need to look out for the morale and success of your side.

But I’ve written about this a lot, and won’t rehash at the moment …

‐Dana talks about living in New York and telling people where she works (Fox News). Oh, I could write a chapter on that myself. People can be such horse’s asses.

If someone said to me, “Hi, I’m John and I work at the New York Times,” I would not subject him to my accumulated grievances against the New York Times. I’d say, “Nice to meet you. Where do you live? Do you like the Yankees or the Mets or some other team? Did you catch On the Town before it closed?”

Why can’t the Left behave like this? In any event, they can’t. Trust me. Lonnnnng experience.

‐Sometimes, when people meet me, they pour out all their grievances against the Right on me. Because they never, ever meet anyone right of center. And it’s their one chance to get things off their chest. I am simply the stand-in for everything they hate.

Such pleasant people. If you run into them, run into them hard, please …

‐When Dana became White House press secretary, she laid down the law: She told her mother, “You can’t put my name in a search engine ever. You must never go looking for comments about me — ever.”

That is very good advice to a mother. And more than advice: the law.

‐Dana gets compliments — “compliments” — of this variety: “I hated everything about the Bush administration, but I like you.” “I hate your politics, but your dog is awesome!” “I can’t stand Fox, but I never miss The Five” (Dana’s show).

I have received a fair number of these myself, over the years. And the thing to say, or the thing you want to say, is: Shove it.

A few years ago, I did an hour-long interview of Jeb Bush, on video. I asked him something like this: Does anyone ever say, “Oh, Jeb, it should’ve been you, not your brother”? And the answer was: All the time. And it was — is, I’m sure — incredibly annoying.

Why do people think they’re paying a compliment?

Sticking with the Bush family, I noticed something in the first weeks and months of 41’s administration. Lots of liberal reporters and pundits praised Barbara Bush, the new First Lady. But they did it like this: “She’s okay, unlike that bitch Nancy Reagan.”

Could they have praised Barbara without bashing Nancy? No. That was impossible.

A music critic once said to me — I swear this is true — “I can’t stand George W. Bush, but …” He proceeded to knock a new opera production, a species of “Euro-trash.” The production had nothing to do with Bush or American politics. But the critic felt he needed to reassure me — me! He had no idea of my politics — that he was cool, not a conservative.

I swear this happened. An amazing, and illuminating, episode.

‐Before Dana gave a speech — it was a commencement address — Bush had some advice for her: “Keep it short.”

I’m reminded of Paul Johnson (whom Bush esteems, as I do). He says, “Always speak for five minutes less than people expect. They won’t notice, but they’ll appreciate it all the same.”

‐Dana writes, “As a press secretary and on The Five, I’ve learned that I have a choice in how I answer a question. There’s combative or productive — I get to take my pick.”

I have something related — not the same, but related. I’ve been known to say, “I can have the issue or the healing. One or the other. But not both.” Sometimes I’m not ready to give up the issue — so the healing is delayed …

‐Dana writes, “Sarcasm is like cheap wine — it leaves a terrible aftertaste.” Nicely observed.

‐Oh, cripe, Dana likes Joe Biden — says what a nice guy he is. Everyone who has met him says this. The most right-wing people I know, who have met him, say this! I think he’s one of the most appalling people in the country. Heaven forbid I should ever meet him …

‐Dana also likes Donna Brazile, the Democratic politico. So does another friend of mine, Bill Kristol.

I thought she did one of the lowest things in recent political history. During the Florida recount in 2000, she said that black voters had been kept away from the polls by — and I quote — “guns” and “dogs.” This was not only a lie, but the kind of lie that does lasting damage to our society. Racial wounds are never allowed to heal. They are always rubbed raw.

But flash forward: When Condoleezza Rice became secretary of state, Brazile said something like this: Look, fellow Democrats, if a Democratic president had done this, we’d be turning cartwheels. We would be falling all over ourselves in praise of that president. A black woman is secretary of state. Come on: This is big, this is historic. And George Bush did it.

She is also a defender of Bush on Hurricane Katrina. In any case, she is a human being. And we could use more of those.

‐Dana devotes one of her final chapters to “Why am I a conservative?” It is a wonderful statement, a wonderful chapter.

For years now, the phrase “compassionate conservatism” has been in bad odor on the right. (When George W. Bush first surfaced it, Phil Gramm said, “Freedom is compassionate.”) Be that as it may: Dana says that the phrase, and concept, “spoke to” her, and “opened the door” to her greater participation in public life.

Yes, it is a wonderful chapter …

‐… in a wonderful book. A book full of the love of life. And full of gratitude. This book is blessedly free of cynicism, irony, posing. It’s straight. It’s good. And obviously a total reflection of its author.

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