Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 12, 2008

Tony

The first time I met Tony Snow, it was 1987 and we were on a boat in the Potomac — high-ranking Navy people in the Pentagon loved to take journalists out on skiffs in those days to ensure our fidelity to their effort to build a  a 600-ship fleet — and he was due the next day to be interviewed for the editorial-page editorship of the Washington Times, where I was working. He was then writing editorials for the Detroit News.

The first thing I noted was that he was one of the best-looking men I’d ever met. The second was that he had a mystical self-confidence I was soon to learn was bottomless. He was certain he would be offered the job at the Times and was therefore certain he could make all kinds of demands — demands he heedlessly shared with me, someone he didn’t know from Adam. His brashness might have been off-putting were it not for his goofy laugh and playful sense that the pursuits of ambition were all part of a game, that they were not an end in themselves, that there was something larger and more important beyond them.

I don’t mean that he was a spiritual man. He wasn’t at all, at least not then; but in his final years, he embraced the public profession of faith in an open and ingenuous way. Rather, he was exceptionally deft at climbing what Disraeli called “the greasy pole” because in some fundamental way, he didn’t take the fame-and-power game seriously. That’s why he was so good at it, and why his ascent from peak to peak earned him no enemies. I never saw Tony in any but a cheerful mood, even when he suffered a career reversal; he simply assumed he would rise and do better than he had before his troubles, and so he did. Only the tragic onset of a disease limited his capacity for triumph, and even then he had one profound triumph, when he beat his colon cancer in its first iteration.

He wrote, he edited, he wrote speeches, he hosted television shows and radio shows and gave endless speeches. In all these pursuits he was agile and deft and successful. But I think it’s safe to say that it turned out Tony’s greatest achievement was his time as White House press secretary. At this crucial job, a central one in American political life, he proved to be the best — the best ever, without qualification. He could speak with fluency, honesty, wit, and clarity on every subject under the sun; he remained poised, unruffled, and as sure of himself at the podium in the press room as he was on that boat in the Potomac nearly two decades earlier.

Tony was a fascinating type. He was, literally, the opposite of a paranoid. He was a “pro-noid.”  He assumed people liked him. It is a rare quality for any person. It is almost unheard-of in Washington. Tony lived a wonderful life in large measure because he believed the universe was on his side, and it was. Until it wasn’t.

The injustice of his passing at 53 is especially hard to bear because of it.

The first time I met Tony Snow, it was 1987 and we were on a boat in the Potomac — high-ranking Navy people in the Pentagon loved to take journalists out on skiffs in those days to ensure our fidelity to their effort to build a  a 600-ship fleet — and he was due the next day to be interviewed for the editorial-page editorship of the Washington Times, where I was working. He was then writing editorials for the Detroit News.

The first thing I noted was that he was one of the best-looking men I’d ever met. The second was that he had a mystical self-confidence I was soon to learn was bottomless. He was certain he would be offered the job at the Times and was therefore certain he could make all kinds of demands — demands he heedlessly shared with me, someone he didn’t know from Adam. His brashness might have been off-putting were it not for his goofy laugh and playful sense that the pursuits of ambition were all part of a game, that they were not an end in themselves, that there was something larger and more important beyond them.

I don’t mean that he was a spiritual man. He wasn’t at all, at least not then; but in his final years, he embraced the public profession of faith in an open and ingenuous way. Rather, he was exceptionally deft at climbing what Disraeli called “the greasy pole” because in some fundamental way, he didn’t take the fame-and-power game seriously. That’s why he was so good at it, and why his ascent from peak to peak earned him no enemies. I never saw Tony in any but a cheerful mood, even when he suffered a career reversal; he simply assumed he would rise and do better than he had before his troubles, and so he did. Only the tragic onset of a disease limited his capacity for triumph, and even then he had one profound triumph, when he beat his colon cancer in its first iteration.

He wrote, he edited, he wrote speeches, he hosted television shows and radio shows and gave endless speeches. In all these pursuits he was agile and deft and successful. But I think it’s safe to say that it turned out Tony’s greatest achievement was his time as White House press secretary. At this crucial job, a central one in American political life, he proved to be the best — the best ever, without qualification. He could speak with fluency, honesty, wit, and clarity on every subject under the sun; he remained poised, unruffled, and as sure of himself at the podium in the press room as he was on that boat in the Potomac nearly two decades earlier.

Tony was a fascinating type. He was, literally, the opposite of a paranoid. He was a “pro-noid.”  He assumed people liked him. It is a rare quality for any person. It is almost unheard-of in Washington. Tony lived a wonderful life in large measure because he believed the universe was on his side, and it was. Until it wasn’t.

The injustice of his passing at 53 is especially hard to bear because of it.

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Tony Snow, R.I.P.

Tony Snow, conservative journalist and former White House spokesman, has passed away from complications stemming from colon cancer. It comes as a something of a shock: his spirit was unfailingly upbeat and demeanor positive throughout his ordeal. He never projected fear, so you in turn felt encouraged that he would somehow defy the odds.

He was, by all accounts, a lovely, generous, and warm person. As a popular conservative, he did what not enough conservatives do: project a sunny, good humor. The word has gotten a bad name, but Snow was “nice” — actually, truly nice. And conservatives should remember that nice, kind, upbeat spokesmen are essential to reaching audiences. Snow was rarely, if ever, angry. Because he was confident in his views and generous toward friends and foes alike, he virtually never attacked his or the President’s political adversaries. He did laugh at their expense, but was never nasty or mean. In addition to his wife and three children, millions of former listeners and viewers and lovers of politics will miss him.

One hopes that he and Tim Russert are putting together one heck of a Sunday show.

Tony Snow, conservative journalist and former White House spokesman, has passed away from complications stemming from colon cancer. It comes as a something of a shock: his spirit was unfailingly upbeat and demeanor positive throughout his ordeal. He never projected fear, so you in turn felt encouraged that he would somehow defy the odds.

He was, by all accounts, a lovely, generous, and warm person. As a popular conservative, he did what not enough conservatives do: project a sunny, good humor. The word has gotten a bad name, but Snow was “nice” — actually, truly nice. And conservatives should remember that nice, kind, upbeat spokesmen are essential to reaching audiences. Snow was rarely, if ever, angry. Because he was confident in his views and generous toward friends and foes alike, he virtually never attacked his or the President’s political adversaries. He did laugh at their expense, but was never nasty or mean. In addition to his wife and three children, millions of former listeners and viewers and lovers of politics will miss him.

One hopes that he and Tim Russert are putting together one heck of a Sunday show.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another Barack Obama earmark turns up in the news. For a candidate who has made earmark reform an obsession, John McCain hasn’t done much to point out some of Obama’s more embarassing and egregious earmarks. They do seem to be a powerful example of Old Politics.

The failure to get sanctions passed for Zimbabwe is instructive. And will we have any more luck imposing them on Iran? (After the bribe-athon finally ends, that is.)

More evidence of China’s disdain for human rights (and support for Gordon’s argument).

An articulate minority woman who can explain why capitalism works and is passionate about freedom. But alas, she was not born in the U.S. and therefore can’t make the VP list.

Michelle Obama buying $600 earings? (Sounds like something Nancy Reagan would have gotten bashed for.) Surprised she didn’t put it toward ritzy summer camps. Hey, the lady’s  rich, and she should spend her money any way she wants. (But spare us the whining.)

I don’t understand the purpose of Obama publicly insulting Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Maybe it’s part of his effort to demonstrate he won’t be a shoot-from-the hip cowboy who damages our international relationships.

Only the New York Times would point out that Obama speaks no foreign language but ridicule Mitt Romney for speaking French. Funny how they thought it was trés distingué that John Kerry spoke French.

Another Barack Obama earmark turns up in the news. For a candidate who has made earmark reform an obsession, John McCain hasn’t done much to point out some of Obama’s more embarassing and egregious earmarks. They do seem to be a powerful example of Old Politics.

The failure to get sanctions passed for Zimbabwe is instructive. And will we have any more luck imposing them on Iran? (After the bribe-athon finally ends, that is.)

More evidence of China’s disdain for human rights (and support for Gordon’s argument).

An articulate minority woman who can explain why capitalism works and is passionate about freedom. But alas, she was not born in the U.S. and therefore can’t make the VP list.

Michelle Obama buying $600 earings? (Sounds like something Nancy Reagan would have gotten bashed for.) Surprised she didn’t put it toward ritzy summer camps. Hey, the lady’s  rich, and she should spend her money any way she wants. (But spare us the whining.)

I don’t understand the purpose of Obama publicly insulting Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Maybe it’s part of his effort to demonstrate he won’t be a shoot-from-the hip cowboy who damages our international relationships.

Only the New York Times would point out that Obama speaks no foreign language but ridicule Mitt Romney for speaking French. Funny how they thought it was trés distingué that John Kerry spoke French.

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Why Isn’t Everything Swell?

Mickey Kaus pleads confusion as to why Barack Obama is down in a couple of polls. He’s kidding, right?

Obama had a few weeks from political hell — the major switcheroo on campaign financing, the Wesley Clark blunder, the media ripping Obama for flip-flopping, the gap between the reality in Iraq and Obama’s policy, and McCain’s relatively successful gambit on energy policy. Obama simply hasn’t controlled the campaign narrative for a while. And he’s been deprived of the medium in which he does best: mass rallies where he operates with a script of soaring rhetoric.

Obama’s message in the post-nomination period has been obliterated. He has yet to come up with much of anything new thematically or programmatically. The gap has been filled by the increasingly critical media and a better focused McCain team. Just ask Bob Beckel’s son.

But Newsweek’s explanation for why Obama suffered a 12-point swing in its poll is rather insightful:

Obama’s rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate. Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience–an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests and particularly for a candidate who’d slogged through a vigorous primary challenge in most every contest from January until June. Obama’s reversal on FISA legislation, his support of faith-based initiatives and his decision to opt out of the campaign public-financing system left him open to charges he was a flip-flopper. In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage. More seriously, some Obama supporters worry that the spectacle of their candidate eagerly embracing his old rival, Hillary Clinton, and traveling the country courting big donors at lavish fund-raisers, may have done lasting damage to his image as an arbiter of a new kind of politics. This is a major concern since Obama’s outsider credentials, have, in the past, played a large part in his appeal to moderate, swing voters. In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

Now, polls go up and polls go down. So none of this is to say that the shift in a couple of polls will show up in others, or that this is the start of a more permanent shift in the race. But there are plenty of explanations why, after weeks of so-so performance, the polls are catching up with Obama. The test for the McCain team will be whether it can build on this mini-momentum, couple it with a stronger positive economic message, and hold down unforced errors.

Mickey Kaus pleads confusion as to why Barack Obama is down in a couple of polls. He’s kidding, right?

Obama had a few weeks from political hell — the major switcheroo on campaign financing, the Wesley Clark blunder, the media ripping Obama for flip-flopping, the gap between the reality in Iraq and Obama’s policy, and McCain’s relatively successful gambit on energy policy. Obama simply hasn’t controlled the campaign narrative for a while. And he’s been deprived of the medium in which he does best: mass rallies where he operates with a script of soaring rhetoric.

Obama’s message in the post-nomination period has been obliterated. He has yet to come up with much of anything new thematically or programmatically. The gap has been filled by the increasingly critical media and a better focused McCain team. Just ask Bob Beckel’s son.

But Newsweek’s explanation for why Obama suffered a 12-point swing in its poll is rather insightful:

Obama’s rapid drop comes at a strategically challenging moment for the Democratic candidate. Having vanquished Hillary Clinton in early June, Obama quickly went about repositioning himself for a general-election audience–an unpleasant task for any nominee emerging from the pander-heavy primary contests and particularly for a candidate who’d slogged through a vigorous primary challenge in most every contest from January until June. Obama’s reversal on FISA legislation, his support of faith-based initiatives and his decision to opt out of the campaign public-financing system left him open to charges he was a flip-flopper. In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage. More seriously, some Obama supporters worry that the spectacle of their candidate eagerly embracing his old rival, Hillary Clinton, and traveling the country courting big donors at lavish fund-raisers, may have done lasting damage to his image as an arbiter of a new kind of politics. This is a major concern since Obama’s outsider credentials, have, in the past, played a large part in his appeal to moderate, swing voters. In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

Now, polls go up and polls go down. So none of this is to say that the shift in a couple of polls will show up in others, or that this is the start of a more permanent shift in the race. But there are plenty of explanations why, after weeks of so-so performance, the polls are catching up with Obama. The test for the McCain team will be whether it can build on this mini-momentum, couple it with a stronger positive economic message, and hold down unforced errors.

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Is Anyone Buying This?

Sometimes Barack Obama’s disingenuousness is a bit too much too bear.

Yeah, he doesn’t speak other languages, but those mean Republicans don’t want kids to improve themselves. No, what critics want–other than for him to stop being being holier-than-thou–is to emphasize English for immigrants. (Hint: every time Obama has to go back to a subject twice in twenty-four hours, whether on Iraq or something else, he’s made a mistake.)

Sure, Obama wants to kill Osama bin Laden, but first he’s going to give him habeas corpus rights and access to the federal courts. And wasn’t it less than a month ago that Obama said we shouldn’t make Osama bin Laden a “martyr“? Whatever. It’s all just words. (This, I think, is the first flip-flop where the opposing stances were both articulated after Obama sealed the nomination.)

Really, anyone paying close attention soon reaches the conclusion that Obama must be hoping not many people are paying close attention. Unfortunately for him, people are watching. And fewer and fewer of them like what they see.

Sometimes Barack Obama’s disingenuousness is a bit too much too bear.

Yeah, he doesn’t speak other languages, but those mean Republicans don’t want kids to improve themselves. No, what critics want–other than for him to stop being being holier-than-thou–is to emphasize English for immigrants. (Hint: every time Obama has to go back to a subject twice in twenty-four hours, whether on Iraq or something else, he’s made a mistake.)

Sure, Obama wants to kill Osama bin Laden, but first he’s going to give him habeas corpus rights and access to the federal courts. And wasn’t it less than a month ago that Obama said we shouldn’t make Osama bin Laden a “martyr“? Whatever. It’s all just words. (This, I think, is the first flip-flop where the opposing stances were both articulated after Obama sealed the nomination.)

Really, anyone paying close attention soon reaches the conclusion that Obama must be hoping not many people are paying close attention. Unfortunately for him, people are watching. And fewer and fewer of them like what they see.

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