Friday, May 15, 2009

Some Washington Inside Information

I just returned to my room at the Weston Riverwalk Hotel in San Antonio from a dinner at an APA meeting devoted to planning the future of psychology practice. I will write about the professional issues discussed here elsewhere for APA Division 33 (IDD), whose delegate I am for this meeting, and I'll copy that here as well. But tonight the dinner speaker was so impressive and interesting that I feel motivated to write about that briefly here first. The speaker was Ann McDaniel, Senior Vice President of the Washington Post Company and former Managing Director and Washington Bureau Chief of Newsweek Magazine. She spoke about those inside the White House during the four presidencies from 41 (George H. W. Bush) through 44 (Barak Obama). What a perspective! She'd had a chance to know all of them.

I was, of course, most interested in 44's White House. The only really interesting thing she noted about Bush 43 was that while he has so far declined to have any major talks with the national press, there is one person with whom he has had two long talks, a 19 year old boy from his new neighborhood in Texas. The young fellow was so excited to cash in on 43's new arrival in town, that he rushed to make and sell t-shirts in the neighborhood that had writing welcoming the Bushes to town. The former president was so excited about this that he called the
enterprising young man, twice, on his cell phone, to thank him. These weren't short snips of expressed gratitude. No, the Great Man talked as long as he could, so long in fact that one time the youngster had to say he was sorry "but, Mr. President, I have to get back to class." The probable state of altered consciousness that the former President might have been in was not mentioned in the story, but can you imagine?

The speaker then spoke about the current White House in ways that I found very reassuring. She said Obama appears to be very comfortable inside his own skin. She said he is surrounded by very smart Cabinet Officers and staff. She let on that he may get to appoint as many as three Supreme Court Justices, and that maybe Eric Holder could have a shot at one slot a few years from now, but not soon. She said Holder was a person who seems eager to please, and that Obama likes and trusts him. She revealed that Biden was mentioned by Obama, before the short list was generated for consideration by staff for the office of Vice President, as "his man." Possibly Holder and Caroline Kennedy, who vetted the short list for him, were ultimately giving him the person he seemed to want all along, although there is no question that Biden brought many strengths to the job--and that as a journalist he was great as the guy who "keeps on giving." She said that Obama is not chatty when he talks to journalists for an interview, that he is serious and focused very sharply. She said that the White House staff regarded the second bail-out they ended up with as "shit," but that it was all they could get at the time. She said that Defense Secretary Gates, an historian by training, was serious, very respected, not political, direct, and considered by another unnamed cabinet member to be the "best secretary" he or she had ever seen. She said Obama had four goals, although I forget the exact order, including the economy, comprehensive health care reform, the environment and education. Finally, she also said that Obama is happy with his job, because now for the first time in his career he can do something about the things that he cares about most. As she spoke, I thought that probably we are fortunate to finally have one of the smartest Cabinets and White House occupants ever. And boy do we need them.

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