They say that if you want to succeed in Washington, you should show up to work first and leave last. I think there’s a few reasons for this: First, hard work does pay off. Second, there might actually be some truth to the saying that 90 percent of success in life is just showing up. But the third reason is that Washington is a city where power matters more than in any other. I’ve only been to the nation’s capital twice, but I have a feeling that when you’re not at the office there, your co-workers and underlings are more likely to commit Machiavellian acts to gain leverage and power.

J. Brady McCollough

All this probably applies to workplaces across the country to a certain extent, but I think things are more serious in Washington than the rest of the country, seeing as it is full of ambitious, powerful people who love politics. All of this is even more applicable to the White House. In any administration, it’s a tough building to work in, and you always have to be on your toes. But things have got to be nuts in the Bush White House. Neoconservatives, traditional conservatives, realists – people extremely obsessed with power – populate this White House. There are no touchy-feely liberals at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now. Everyone has sharp teeth, and no matter who you are, you should always be keeping track of how things stand.

The president is starting a month-long working vacation at his ranch in Texas. This bothers some people because they feel that the president doesn’t deserve such a long break. President Clinton worked like a graduate student 365 days a year. While Bush’s relatively easy schedule that permits time for daily exercise stands in sharp contrast to his predecessor’s, his aides are correct in saying that because of modern communication technology, the president can conduct presidential business from the Crawford ranch. The problem is that while the ranch probably has great phone service, when the president is there, he’s not in the office. And a month is a long time to be out of the office, especially if your office is in the White House. Some of Bush’s officials are really creepy and need to be watched at all times. Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell can’t even keep control of Rove, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and especially Cheney when Bush is in town. That’s why he’s so much weaker than President Clinton was.

Despite an unfriendly Congress, Clinton was able to avoid imposing the damaging steel tariffs or signing anything as ridiculous as that farm bill. I had the sense that he actually ran the country. Even though Bush should be a giant now because he’s a wartime president, he’s never been able to exercise his veto – even when he’s wanted to.

Then there’s the vice president. Let’s not forget how he became the vice president. He was supposed to find Bush a running mate, and he chose himself. Before Sept. 11, he did things like crafting the nation’s energy policy in secret. Only a few days after the attacks, The New York Times reported that on Sept. 11, the vice president “told Bush to stay away from Washington, ordered the Congressional leadership evacuated, dispersed cabinet members to emergency shelters, and urged Mr. Bush to direct fighter jets to shoot down any rogue airliner that threatened the Capitol or the White House.”

What I found most significant about the Niger-Iraq nuclear flap is that Cheney knew the 16 words weren’t true because he told the CIA to go check it out. He was the one visiting the agency and intimidating its agents into finding (or manufacturing) evidence to support the administration’s case for war. I can’t for the life of me imagine a situation where Bill Clinton would allow Al Gore to have such influence over a decision to go to war. Some people say that Clinton was a micromanager; I think he just wanted to know what was going on.

In his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” the oft-quoted journalist extraordinaire turned columnist extraordinaire Thomas Friedman writes that he learned that in the Middle East, the people he was able to talk to often weren’t worth talking to. He says, “It’s the people who won’t talk to me whom I really want to meet.” During his recent press conferences, Bush has babbled a lot of nonsense, such as blaming the bad economy on the cable networks because they talked so much about the war in Iraq – a war that many cynics felt was partly waged to distract people from the bad economy. This silliness is not important, but what is important is who doesn’t speak to the press – the vice president. He doesn’t take month-long vacations either.


Pesick can be reached at jzpesick@umich.edu.

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