His Fantastic Four

Meet George W. Bush’s Brain Trust—the advisors (and future cabinet members?) who are preparing him on a host of presidential issues—inculidng the difference between Kosovars and Kosovarians.

August 1999By Comments

One year ago this month, while Condoleeza Rice was visiting George Bush at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, she acquired an inquisitive jogging partner. In the sprawling seaside compound’s gym, Rice—who had served as a foreign policy adviser in the Bush administration—found herself in a detailed dialogue with her former boss’ son George W. Bush as they ran side by side on treadmills. “We talked a lot about America’s role in the world,” she says. “He was doing due diligence on whether or not to run for president.”

Within a few months that chat-and-sweat session led to regular briefings on global affairs. As Bush began the grueling marathon that is an all-out bid for the White House, he chose his new workout buddy to prepare him for the kinds of questions that would confront him on the campaign trail—and, possibly, as commander in chief. And not just her. Despite a huge lead in the polls, Bush realized early on that he could stumble without a team of advisers to assist him in getting up to speed on the major issues. While he’s comfortable talking about education, welfare, and the like after nearly five years as the governor of Texas, he’s less so on other national and international matters. Indeed, he has already made rookie mistakes that have been magnified by the scrutiny he now receives as the front-runner for the GOP nomination. When he talked about “Kosovarians” (they’re Kosovars) and “Grecians” (Greeks to the rest of us) and confused Slovenia and Slovakia, the national press reacted as though he’d spelled potato with an e on the end.

Last December, to save him from precisely those kinds of embarrassing gaffes and help him give shape and substance to his nascent campaign, Bush loyalists began signing up a team of the nation’s foremost conservative intellectuals. Among those leading the charge was an old Harvard Business School classmate, Indianapolis businessman Al Hubbard, who had served as deputy chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle. Along with Bush’s political guru, Karl Rove, Hubbard summoned to the Governor’s Mansion writers and thinkers whose career experiences and public positions mirrored Bush’s “compassionate conservative” bent. In the months since, the members of this brain trust have prepared briefing papers and convened for half-day discussions with the governor. “George has a clear vision of where he thinks America should go,” Hubbard says. “What these folks have provided are the details of how to get there.”

Every team has its stars, of course, and Bush’s is no different. Four people have emerged as his chief policy advisers, and if history is any indication, who they are and what they think will have a powerful impact on the tenor and the direction of a Bush presidency. Campaign advisers, after all, often end up as Cabinet members. Bill Clinton had Warren Christopher and Robert Reich, who went on to become Secretary of State and Secretary of Labor, respectively. George Bush the elder had James A. Baker III, who became his Secretary of State. 

Whom does George W. have?

Condoleezza Rice, 44

Education B.A. in political science from the University of Denver, where she became enamored with Russian in a class taught by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s father, Joseph Korbel. M.A. in government and economics from the University of Notre Dame. Ph.D. from the School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Career highlights Began teaching political science at Stanford University in 1981; appointed provost in 1993. Special assistant to the president on Soviet affairs from 1989 to 1991. Accompanied President Bush to summit meetings in Washington, D. C., Helsinki, and Malta.

Philosophy The end of the cold war has changed the world order; the U.S. must work hard on its relationships with its friends and allies to make sure it maintains its role as a dominant world leader. “You can’t have the Soviet Union collapse and not have the world change,” she says.

Why Bush? After gabbing in the gym, Rice says, they “clicked” during a conversation last fall at the home of former Secretary of State George Shultz. “We discussed it and agreed that if he decided to do this, he had to lead from his own instincts, not from someone else’s. It’s important for anybody who is going to be president to have a foreign policy that is organic to one’s self.” And, indeed, Bush’s “core principles” haven’t been dictated by his advisers, Rice says. “He is very much his own person.”

Role in the campaign “I think of myself as an option quarterback,” says Rice, who—like Bush—is an avid enough sports fan that she uses sports metaphors. Like other advisers, she lays out various scenarios, but he gets the final say. “He isn’t shy about asking questions,” she says. “It’s never just one person holding forth. It’s always his briefing.”

Lawrence B. Lindsey

Education B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College. M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.

Career highlights Special assistant to the president for policy development in the Bush administration from 1989 to 1991. Member of the Federal Reserve Board from 1991 to 1997; studied “community re-investment”—government-backed spending in poor neighborhoods—at the behest of Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. Now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

Philosophy The government’s efforts to build a Great Society—like most well-meaning policies aimed at helping the poor—have failed. “I think it has to do with human nature,” he says. “If you pay people not to work, they’re not going to work. You give people an incentive to get up in the morning when the damn alarm goes off. If you live off the state, you’ve had a wasted life.” Still, he acknowledges that government has a role. “I don’t want to see people cheating other people. Government is the enforcer. There is a regulatory piece. People shouldn’t take advantage of the environment, for instance. But you don’t micromanage.” Does this make him a compassionate conservative? “Sure, why not?” he says with a laugh. “It’s compassionate to get people to do the right thing. I think most Americans are basically compassionate. They want people who haven’t had breaks to have the means to have decent lives.”

Why Bush? After Bush and Lindsey were introduced by Hubbard, they had long conversations in the Governor’s Mansion; Lindsey came away convinced that Bush has what it takes to be president. “He’s internally confident and secure with himself. He’ll say, ‘Lindsey, run that by me again—this time in English.’ He has a strong sense of character. And he’s a quick study.” Bush is also, by Lindsey’s standards, a nice guy. Recently, Lindsey called him to ask if they could move the date of a meeting so that he could remain in Washington for his son’s first-grade play. The governor quickly rearranged his schedule. “There aren’t a lot of guys who plan to be president who would do that for a seven-year-old,” he says.

Role in the campaign Lindsey describes himself as the technician whose job is to turn the candidate’s ideas into practical policy. “I’m on the eighteenth draft of a tax plan,” he says. “This is a man who knows what he likes and doesn’t like.”

Paul Wolfowitz, 55

Education B.A. in math and chemistry from Cornell University. M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.

Career highlights Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Reagan administration from 1982 to 1986. U.S. ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989. Undersecretary of Defense for policy in the Bush administration from 1989 to 1993. Since 1994, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Philosophy Like Rice, he sees the need to redefine America’s role in the world in the post—cold war era. He’s been a strong critic of the Clinton administration’s foreign policy stands. Last fall he urged the White House to undertake “a fundamental review of export policy to China…[which] is in the process of becoming the major strategic competitor and potential threat to the United States and its allies in the first half of the next century.”

Why Bush? Former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney introduced them after the governor asked, “Who thinks in big, global strategic terms?” Wolfowitz says he immediately felt “good chemistry” during their sessions. “He’s good at encouraging alternative views. He likes people challenging what he says. He doesn’t seem to mind being told he’s wrong.” Beyond that is the character issue. “Everyone gets confronted with problems where the experts fail you, and you’ve got to decide. [Bush’s] first question about everything is, ‘What’s good for America?’”

Indeed, he was so struck by Bush’s comfort level in making decisions that a comparison to Harry Truman came to mind. Truman, Wolfowitz believes, “did a fantastic job” on foreign policy—in large part because of brilliant advisers, but also because he knew when to trust his instincts. “The art of deciding a lot of this stuff goes beyond expertise,” he says, recalling a discussion about the history of North Korea in which Bush switched into the mode of here’s-what-I-would-have-done-as-president. “I thought it was significant that he had clearly in his mind that you are going to come down and apply knowledge to some decision.”

Role in the campaign Global guru. “If you went to the Republican intelligentsia and asked for the best foreign policy experts in the country,” says Josh Bolten, the director of policy for the Bush campaign, “his name would be among the first.”

Stephen Goldsmith, 52

Education B.A. in political science from Wabash College. J.D. from the University of Michigan.

Career highlights Prosecuting attorney of Marion County, Indiana, from 1979 to 1990. Mayor of Indianapolis since 1991.

Philosophy Believes in small government (claims to have saved $400 million by putting some eighty public services up for competitive bidding) and cutting taxes (he’s slashed the city’s tax rate four times), but also that the government should promote positive moral values. Like Bush, wants religious institutions to play the role traditionally inhabited by federal agencies; created the Front Porch Alliance, which matches faith-based groups with public needs. “‘Compassionate conservative’ is [Bush’s] phrase,” Goldsmith says, “but it does summarize what we’ve been trying to do in Indianapolis.

Why Bush? Goldsmith first met Bush in 1997 when he was in Austin following the publication of his book, The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America. The governor invited him to the mansion and quickly realized that “what the mayor was doing mirrored his own policies,” says Vance McMahan, the director of Bush’s state policy office. The similarities weren’t lost on Goldsmith, either. “The ability to talk to a Republican about what to do for those left behind economically is invigorating. It is not part of the everyday rhetoric of Republican party politics.” Moreover, like the other advisers, Goldsmith likes the way Bush runs his briefings. “He has a clearly defined set of principles. In not one of my sessions with him has a poll been discussed. He has a set of beliefs and wants the best way to implement them.”

Role in the campaign Domestic affairs czar—and Rolodex: In addition to his ideas on various issues after two terms as mayor, Goldsmith can offer Bush access to hundreds of experts across the country. “He has the most extraordinary network of contacts,” says Bolten.

Bush’s fantastic four are impressive—and no wonder, since great care was taken in choosing them. The campaign’s communications director, Karen Hughes, boasts that the team was assembled by “an aggressive effort to reach out to the best and brightest minds in America.”

Perhaps unconsciously, Hughes underscores the importance of such experts by alluding to the famous book about John F. Kennedy’s cadre of Ivy League—educated advisers. In The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam documented how Kennedy’s inner circle set in motion policies—such as our involvement in Vietnam—that left an indelible imprint on a generation. Of course, their brilliance was also their greatest flaw: No one dared challenge their advice when they boldly set out on a disastrous path.

In weighing the suggestions of his own brain trust, Bush should remember that even the most-qualified presidential advisers have led the most-gifted politicians astray. And he would do well to emulate Harry Truman in another way, by remembering what is perhaps the best piece of political advice of all: The buck stops here.

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