"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." So says
John J. DiIulio Jr., a domestic affairs expert and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who was appointed by President Bush to head the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the second week of the new administration. An upcoming article in ESQUIRE MAGAZINE promises the whole stury with DiIulio insisting that all decisions in the Bush Administration are totally politicized by Bush's top adviser Karl Rove, and that the policy staff is afraid to confront him.
DiIulio Knocks His Own Criticisms of White House
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
Fox News - WASHINGTON — The president's former faith-based adviser, who resigned in August 2001 to return to private life, said Monday that criticisms of the White House attributed to him in a January Esquire magazine article were "groundless and baseless."
John J. DiIulio Jr., a Democrat who served as the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, apologized several times on Monday, first to the White House for comments attributed to him that he denied having made, and then later in the day apparently to the magazine, which stood by the interview and said DiIulio never denied his underlying critique of the White House's pervasive politicking.
In Esquire's latest edition, released Sunday, DiIulio was quoted criticizing the White House for being too politically charged. In the article, he was attributed as saying that "there is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: complete lack of a policy apparatus."
He also was credited with saying that White House political strategist and domestic policy adviser Karl Rove is "maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political-adviser post near the Oval Office.
"What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis," he was quoted as saying.
On Monday, DiIulio chastised himself over the exchange with author Ron Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote a piece last summer about the power of departed adviser Karen Hughes.
"John DiIulio agrees that his criticisms were groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples. He sincerely apologizes and is deeply remorseful," he said in a written statement.
His third-person reference to himself followed an earlier statement in which he claimed that Suskind's piece contained factual errors, mentioned a conversation that never took place and mischaracterized his viewpoints.
"My work schedule being too packed to permit sit-down interviews ... I gathered up [Suskind's] questions and responded in a single long memo in late October 2002. However, several quotes and anecdotes concerning or attributed to me in the article are not from that response," DiIulio said in a written statement.
"Obviously, I cannot speak to the veracity or accuracy of comments in the article by numerous named and unnamed others, but, in my opinion, the article is unjustly hard on Mr. Rove and over-the-top complimentary to me, thereby creating a too-pat contrast that is, I feel, most unfair to Mr. Rove," he wrote.
"I regret any and all misimpressions. In this season of fellowship and forgiveness, I pray the same."
A spokeswoman at the University of Pennsylvania where DiIulio now works said: "Both statements stand as they are. The second is an addendum to the first."
For his part, Suskind points out that he interviewed DiIulio on the record in a telephone conversation prior to the written exchange and confirmed his comments with him before going to print.
"First, it is important to note that John DiIulio stands by the substantive and newsworthy critique of policymaking at the White House I reported in my story," Suskind said in a written statement. "In the end, Mr. DiIulio is the first senior White House staff member to break this administration's code of silence. His is an act of civic education, for which he should not be attacked."
On Monday, the White House appeared to write off the comments attributed to DiIulio, but was clearly not pleased with the magazine article.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was the first to call the quotes "baseless and groundless" and said DiIulio's apology speaks for itself.
DiIulio has written two articles, including one over the weekend, which criticized the administration for domestic and social welfare policies and its homeland security strategy. He said that he would "not be offering any further comment" on his experience at the White House "or any matters or persons related" to it.
BUSH AIDE'S LETTER TO ESQUIRE REPORTER REVEALED
Mon Dec 02 2002 17:11:34 ET
To: Ron Suskind [ESQUIRE Magazine]
From: John DiIulio
Subject: Your next essay on the Bush administration
Date: October 24, 2002
For/On the Record
My perspective on the president and the administration reflects both my experiences at the White House and my views as a political scientist and policy scholar. Regarding the former, I spent a couple one-on-one hours with then-Governor Bush during a visit he made to Philadelphia a few months before the Republican Convention there. I helped with certain campaign speeches and with certain speeches once he became president. I spent time with the president in briefings, in meetings with groups, and on certain trips. I was there in the White House during the first 180 days. I was an Assistant to the President, and attended many, though by no means all, senior staff meetings. I was not at all a close “insider” but I was very much on the inside. I observed and heard a great deal that concerned policy issues and political matters well outside my own issue sets. Regarding the latter, I have studied American government and public policy and administration for over twenty years. I have worked and run research programs at both liberal and conservative think tanks, developed community programs through national non-profit groups, and so forth.
In my view, President Bush is a highly admirable person of enormous personal decency. He is a godly man and a moral leader. He is much, much smarter than some people-including some of his own supporters and advisers-seem to suppose. He inspires personal trust, loyalty, and confidence in those around him. In many ways, he is all heart. Clinton talked “I feel your pain.” But as Bush showed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he truly does feel deeply for others and loves this country with a passion.
The little things speak legions. Notice how he decided to let the detainees come home from China and did not jump all over them for media purposes. I could cite a dozen such examples of his dignity and personal goodness. Or I recall how, in Philly, following a 3-hour block party on July 4, 2001, following hours among the children, youth, and families of prisoners, we were running late for the next event. He stopped, however, to take a picture with a couple of men who were cooking ribs all day. “C’mon,” he said, “those guys have been doing hard work all day there.” It’s my favorite-and in some ways, my most telling-picture of who he is as a man and a leader who pays attention to the little things that convey respect and decency toward others.
But the contrast with Clinton is two-sided. As Joe Klein has so strongly captured him, Clinton was “the natural,” a leader with a genuine interest in the policy process who encouraged information-rich decision-making. Clinton was the policy-wonk-in-chief. The Clinton administration drowned in policy intellectuals and teemed with knowledgeable people interested in making government work. Every domestic issue drew multiple policy analyses that certainly weighted politics, media messages, legislative strategy, et cetera, but also strongly weighted policy-relevant information, stimulated substantive policy debate, and put a premium on policy knowledge. That is simply not Bush’s style. It fits not at all with his personal cum presidential character. The Bush West Wing is very nearly at the other end of this Clinton policy-making continuum.
Besides the tax cut, which was cut-and-dried during the campaign, and the education bill, which was really a Ted Kennedy bill, the administration has not done much, either in absolute terms or in comparison to previous administrations at this stage, on domestic policy. There is a virtual absence as yet of any policy accomplishments that might, to a fair-minded non-partisan, count as the flesh on the bones of so-called compassionate conservatism. There is still two years, maybe six, for them to do more and better on domestic policy, and, specifically, on the compassion agenda. And, needless to say, 9/11, and now the global war on terror and the new homeland and national security plans, must be weighed in the balance.
But, as I think Andy Card himself told you in so many words, even allowing for those huge contextual realities, they could stand to find ways of inserting more serious policy fiber into the West Wing diet, and engage much less in on-the-fly policy-making by speech-making. They are almost to an individual nice people, and there are among them several extremely gifted persons who do indeed know-and care-a great deal about actual policy-making, administrative reform, and so forth. But they have been, for whatever reasons, organized in ways that make it hard for policy-minded staff, including colleagues (even secretaries) of cabinet agencies, to get much West Wing traction, or even get a non-trivial hearing.
In this regard, at the six-month senior staff retreat on July 9, 2001, an explicit discussion ensued concerning how to emulate more strongly the Clinton White House’s press, communications, and rapid-response media relations-how better to wage, if you will, the permanent campaign that so defines the modern presidency regardless of who or which party occupies the Oval Office. I listened and was amazed. It wasn’t more press, communications, media, legislative strategizing, and such that they needed. Maybe the Clinton people did that better, though, surely, they were less disciplined about it and leaked more to the media and so on. No, what they needed, I thought then and still do now, was more policy-relevant information, discussion, and deliberation. In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical, non-stop, 20-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but, on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking-discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.
Likewise, every administration at some point comes to think of the White House as its own private tree house, to define itself as “us” versus “them” on Capitol Hill, or in the media, or what have you, and, before 100 days are out, to vest ever more organizational and operational authority with the White House’s political, press, and communications people, both senior and junior. I think, however, that the Bush administration-maybe because they were coming off Florida and the election controversy, maybe because they were so unusually tight-knit and “Texas,” maybe because the chief of staff, Andy Card, was more a pure staff process than a staff leader or policy person, or maybe for other reasons I can’t recognize-was far more inclined in that direction, and became progressively more so as the months pre-9/11 wore on.
This gave rise to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis-staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible. These folks have their predecessors in previous administrations (left and right, Democrat and Republican), but, in the Bush administration, they were particularly unfettered.
I could cite a half-dozen examples, but, on the so-called faith bill, they basically rejected any idea that the president’s best political interests-not to mention the best policy for the country-could be served by letting centrist Senate Democrats in on the issue, starting with a bipartisan effort to review the implementation of the kindred law (called “charitable choice”) signed in 1996 by Clinton. For a fact, had they done that, six months later they would have had a strongly bipartisan copycat bill to extend that law. But, over-generalizing the lesson from the politics of the tax cut bill, they winked at the most far-right House Republicans who, in turn, drafted a so-called faith bill (H.R. 7, the Community Solutions Act) that (or so they thought) satisfied certain fundamentalist leaders and beltway libertarians but bore few marks of “compassionate conservatism” and was, as anybody could tell, an absolute political non-starter. It could pass the House only on a virtual party-line vote, and it could never pass the Senate, even before Jeffords switched.
Not only that, but it reflected neither the president’s own previous rhetoric on the idea, nor any of the actual empirical evidence that recommended policies promoting greater public/private partnerships involving community-serving religious organizations. I said so, wrote memos, and so on for the first six weeks. But, hey, what’s that fat, out-of-the-loop professor guy know; besides, he says he’ll be gone in six months. As one senior staff member chided me at a meeting at which many junior staff were present and all ears, “John, get a faith bill, any faith bill.” Like college students who fall for the colorful, opinionated, but intellectually third-rate professor, you could see these 20- and 30-something junior White House staff falling for the Mayberry Machiavellis. It was all very disheartening to this old, Madison-minded American government professor.
Madison aside, even Machiavelli might have a beef. The West Wing staff actually believed that they could pass the flawed bill, get it through conference, and get it to the president’s desk to sign by the summer. Instead, the president got a political black eye when they could easily have handed him a big bipartisan political victory. The best media events were always the bipartisan ones anyway, like the president’s visit to the U.S. Mayors Conference in Detroit in June 2001. But my request to have him go there was denied three times on the grounds that it would “play badly” or “give the Democrat mayors a chance to bash him on other issues.” Nothing of the sort happened; it was a great success, as was having Philly’s black Democratic mayor, John Street, in the gallery next to Mrs. Bush in February 2001 at the president’s first Budget Address. But they could not see it, and instead went back to courting conservative religious leaders and groups.
The “faith bill” saga also illustrates the relative lack of substantive concern for policy and administration. I had to beg to get a provision written into the executive orders that would require us to conduct an actual information-gathering effort related to the president’s interest in the policy. With the exception of some folks at OMB, nobody cared a fig about the five-agency performance audit, and we got less staff help on it than went into any two PR events or such. Now, of course, the document the effort produced (Unlevel Playing Field) is cited all the time, and frames the administrative reform agenda that-or so the Mayberry Machiavellis had insisted-had no value.
Even more revealing than what happened during the first 180 days is what did not, especially on the compassion agenda beyond the faith bill and focusing on children. Remember “No child left behind”? That was a Bush campaign slogan. I believe it was his heart, too. But translating good impulses into good policy proposals requires more than whatever somebody thinks up in the eleventh hour before a speech is to be delivered, or whatever symbolic politics plan-“communities of character” and such-gets generated by the communications, political strategy, and other political shops.
During the campaign, for instance, the president had mentioned Medicaid explicitly as one program on which Washington might well do more. I co-edited a whole (boring!) Brookings volume on Medicaid; some people inside thought that universal health care for children might be worth exploring, especially since, truth be told, the existing laws take us right up to that policy border. They could easily have gotten in behind some proposals to implement existing Medicaid provisions that benefit low-income children. They could have fashioned policies for the working poor. The list is long. Long, and fairly complicated, especially when-as they stipulated from the start-you want to spend little or no new public money on social welfare, and you have no real process for doing meaningful domestic policy analysis and deliberation. It’s easier in that case to forget Medicaid refinements and react to calls for a “PBOR,” patients’ bill of rights, or whatever else pops up.
Some are inclined to blame the high political-to-policy ratios of this administration on Karl Rove. Some in the press view Karl as some sort of prince of darkness; actually, he is basically a nice and good-humored man. And some staff members, senior and junior, are awed and cowed by Karl’s real or perceived powers. They self-censor lots for fear of upsetting him, and, in turn, few of the president’s top people routinely tell the president what they really think if they think that Karl will be brought up short in the bargain. Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political advisor post near the Oval Office. The Republican base constituencies, including beltway libertarian policy elites and religious right leaders, trust him to keep Bush “43” from behaving like Bush “41” and moving too far to the center or inching at all center-left. Their shared fiction, supported by zero empirical electoral studies, is that “41” lost in ’92 because he lost these right-wing fans. There are not ten House districts in America where either the libertarian litany or the right-wing religious policy creed would draw majority popular approval, and, most studies suggest, Bush “43” could have done better versus Gore had he stayed more centrist, but, anyway, the fiction is enshrined as fact. Little happens on any issue without Karl’s okay, and, often, he supplies such policy substance as the administration puts out. Fortunately, he is not just a largely self-taught, hyper-political guy, but also a very well informed guy when it comes to certain domestic issues. (Whether, as some now assert, he even has such sway in national security, homeland security, and foreign affairs, I cannot say.)
Karl was at his political and policy best, I think, in steering the president’s stem-cell research decision, as was the president himself, who really took this issue on board with an unusual depth of reading, reflection, and staff deliberation. Personally, I would have favored a position closer to the Catholic Church’s on the issue, but this was one instance where the administration really took pains with both politics and policy, invited real substantive knowledge into the process, and so forth. It was almost as if it took the most highly charged political issue of its kind to force them to take policy-relevant knowledge seriously, to have genuine deliberation.
Contrast that, however, with the remarkably slap-dash character of the Office of Homeland Security, with the nine months of arguing that no department was needed, with the sudden, politically-timed reversal in June, and with the fact that not even that issue, the most significant reorganization of the federal government since the creation of the Department of Defense, has received more than talking-points caliber deliberation. This was, in a sense, the administration problem in miniature: Ridge was the decent fellow at the top, but nobody spent the time to understand that an EOP entity without budgetary or statutory authority can’t “coordinate” over 100 separate federal units, no matter how personally close to the president its leader is, no matter how morally right they feel the mission is, and no matter how inconvenient the politics of telling certain House Republican leaders we need a big new federal bureaucracy might be.
The good news, however, is that the fundamentals are pretty good-the president’s character and heart, the decent, well-meaning people on staff, Karl’s wonkish alter-ego, and the fact that, a year after 9/11 and with a White House that can find time enough to raise $140 million for campaigns, it’s becoming fair to ask, on domestic policy and compassionate conservatism, “Where’s the beef?”
Whether because they will eventually be forced to defend the president’s now thin record on domestic policy and virtually empty record on compassionate conservatism, or for other reasons, I believe that the best may well be yet to come from the Bush administration. But, in my view, they will not get there without some significant reforms to the policy-lite inter-personal and organizational dynamics of the place.
ESQUIRE WRITER DEFENDS...
December 2, 2002
To whom it may concern,
First, it is important to note that John DiIulio stands by the substantive and newsworthy critique of policymaking at the White House I reported in my story in the January Esquire, including his statement that: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything - and I mean everything - being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.".
I am sympathetic to the pressure Mr. DiIulio is under because of his comments about the eight months he spent in this White House, and the four months he spent managing the Faith-based initiative from his office at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
It is important to clarify what Mr. DiIulio is attempting to say in today’s statement, and the facts attending his extraordinary and courageous testimony. Though Mr. DiIulio's desire to apologize to former colleagues is understandable, his desire to speak truthfully about his experiences at the center of power is to be hailed.
With all due respect, I'd like to respond to a few of John's points. The vast majority of the quotations attributed to Mr. DiIulio in the article are from a sweeping, sober letter he wrote me as I reported the piece. As well, our first, telephone interview was on the record. At the end of that lengthy interview, Mr. DiIulio respectfully asked whether the preceding conversation could be off-the-record. I declined.
As it happened, only a few comments from the original interview appear in the published story. They include the comment about Ms. LaMontagne and the brief exchange between Mr. DiIulio and Mr. Rove. That last exchange--about not cozying up to Mr. Falwell--was read to Mr. DiIulio prior to publication and he confirmed that it was correct.
In the end, Mr. DiIulio replaced most of his spoken comments with the landmark, 3,469-word letter he sent to me on October 24, in which he offered his critique of policymaking at the White House. That is, in large measure, why he wrote the letter. It is that thoughtful and comprehensive memo, excerpted without editorial change, that comprises the sum of Mr. DiIulio's assessment of this White House.
As to the few issues of fact Mr. DiIulio raises, they are all verifiable as correct with one exception. Mr. DiIulio clarifies that he his not formally trained as an historian.
In the end, Mr. DiIulio is the first senior White House staff member to break this administration's code of silence. His is an act of civic education, for which he should not be attacked.