I think the thing that people remember most about Tony Snow’s arrival at the White House in 2006 is what a breath of fresh air it was. Everyone knew that things had been going badly there, with the war in Iraq taking a downturn, the CIA leak affair, and spokesman Scott McClellan’s inability to engage reporters in real, substantive exchanges from the podium. Before Tony started the job, I asked him to give me his sense of why things needed to change. It was pretty much an invitation for him to complain or bad-mouth the situation there, or for him to offer some sort of rosy assessment of things that neither I nor anyone else would believe. Instead, he said, “That one, for obvious reasons, I’m just gonna dodge.”
How could you not like that? People knew things were a mess in the communications shop at the White House, and they knew Tony couldn’t come out and say it, but that was why he took the job. After we hung up, I wrote, “The thing Snow understands is this: You can tell a reporter you’re dodging his question and he might not like it, but he won’t be mad. On the other hand, if you dodge the question while insisting that you are really answering it, he will be mad. And if you do that a lot, you’ve got a recipe for bad relations with the press.” Tony just had an instinctive sense of how to handle the people side of the job.
But that was just work. Away from the office, what people will remember most about Tony is what a decent man he was. When I heard the news this morning, I thought about something he wrote back in 1998, when Brit Hume’s son Sandy died. Like everyone else, Tony was badly shaken; why had such an awful thing happened? A few days later, he wrote:
The day I heard of his death, I raced home and hugged my wife and kids with a ferocity that startled them. Since then, I have clung to them a little tighter, lingered with them a little longer, relished their company a bit more. Suddenly, jarringly, I came to understand: Loved ones are fragile, precious gifts from God. Tragedy, villainy or caprice someday may snatch them away.