Dana Perino has written an unusual, interesting, and endearing book. It has a title that is all three of those things: “And the Good News Is …: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side.”
Dana, as you know, is a former press secretary for President George W. Bush and a current Fox News host and analyst. I call her “Dana” because she is my friend (and I still find it odd to call women by their last name, only, unless they are, for example, “Thatcher”). Dana’s book is part autobiography; part White House memoir; and part “lessons learned, and shared.”
I’m not going to review it, properly, but I made some notes on it, as I was going through, and I’d like to share them with you, in more or less chronological order — that is, the order in which I made them. Hope you enjoy.
Dana dedicates her book “To my Bush Administration colleagues.” This is a sign of two of her foremost qualities: appreciation and generosity.
She describes our mutual friend Marc Thiessen as “a Presidential speechwriter and hockey player.” The hockey part, I never knew! Somehow doesn’t surprise me: He plays politics tough (and well).
Writes Dana, “I’d met Karzai before at the White House, and while I knew to be wary of him,” the Afghan president “was quite charming in person.” He is charming, yes. And more. You’ll often hear that Karzai was a nutcase undeserving of American support. He had his shortcomings, no doubt. But he was also very brave, and very effective, when his country sorely needed those things. Karzai is not a cartoon, and more people should be aware of this.
More Dana: “I’m an optimistic person, and I want people to realize that in America, nothing is ever as bad as it seems because we have the opportunity and capabilities to fix problems (though we don’t always have the will).” Yes, that is the problem, a big one: will, or, to put it a little differently, willingness. Are we willing to do the necessary to solve our problems? To get a handle on runaway entitlements, for example? Big, big question mark.
This is Dana on Bush (43): “Over the years that I worked for him he became much more to me than my boss or even the President of the United States. He became like a second father, a friend, and a confidant.” I’ve often thought, You have to work pretty hard to hate George W. Bush. Yet, somehow, people manage. Me, I think he’s pretty much the most likable guy in America. I love him, always have. Still, I can see what people object to.
I grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., as many readers know. I know the Left pretty well. They recoil at Texas. At Christianity. At conservatism. At patriotism, and self-confidence, and moral absolutes (except their own). Also, GWB is not overly impressed with the world from which he sprang: Andover, Yale, and Harvard (in that order). A lot of people resent that — i.e., his rejection of his “class.”
I’m not naive about GWB, trust me. I know he’s not walking on water. I know he’s not sweety-sweet. I know he can be a petulant, prickly SOB. Consider this: He gives you a nickname; you don’t give him one. But I admire and, again, love him. Show me a person who doesn’t get at least a partial kick out of George W. Bush, and I’ll show you someone to be cautious about.
(I could go on, but I wrote, what? Eight billion words about GWB from 2001 to 2009?)
Early in her book, Dana writes that she will “include my reflections on the importance of civility that I learned from my childhood and then from the Bushes, and how it’s being lost in politics and pop culture. I worry about how aggressive and vicious our discourse has become.”
You know what a lot of Republicans worry about concerning Jeb Bush? They worry that, if he is the nominee, he won’t be aggressive enough against the Democratic nominee — especially if it’s Hillary, who is (a) a woman and (b) a friend of the Bush family (though maybe not as close a friend as her husband has apparently become).
I happen to share this concern, actually. Although I think Jeb’s competitive instincts would kick in.
Let me give you a memory from 2012: During that summer, I asked a smart conservative, “Whom would you like to see Mitt Romney pick as his running mate?” He answered, “Christie.” This surprised me. I said, “Why?” My friend answered, “Because he’s a bruiser, and you’ll need one against Team Obama.”
Dana said to one of our fighting men, “What was it that made you want to become a Navy SEAL? Chance for adventure? Family tradition? Physical challenge? Desire to see the world?” “No, ma’am,” he said. “Chicks dig it.” She said to another one, “When you get ready to go — wherever it is you may be going — do you have to take a lot of language courses?” “Oh, no, ma’am,” this one said. “We’re really not there to talk.” She later told Bush about these exchanges. He threw his head back and laughed. Then he looked out the window, bit the side of his cheek, and jutted out his jaw a little to the side — an expression I saw him make when he was letting a feeling or a thought settle in. “God, I love those guys,” he said. Yes, he did, and does. And that’s one reason a lot of us love him.
Dana grew up “modestly” in “rural America,” with “clear blue skies and lots of sunshine,” she writes. I was raised to believe that America was a force for good in the world and that it should take its leadership role seriously. I understood early on that the freedom of America is what made our way of life possible, and that we should help other people live in freedom, too. Many people on the left despise that view. Many on the right despise it too. It is a good one.
Dana grew up in Wyoming and Colorado, the daughter of a ranching family. Let me give you a slice — another slice — of her memoir: My great-grandmother lived to be 100 years old, so I got to know her. She always sent us birthday cards that had $2 bills inside — we kept them for good luck. In her later years, my grandparents set her up with a house in town and she would visit with friends and family, watch soap operas, and braid throw rugs out of Wonder Bread plastic sacks.
All of this is very familiar to me, personally, down to the Wonder rugs.
Dana writes of her family’s “amusements”: “My grandfather bought us an Olympic-sized trampoline that he set up in the storage shed while the big combine was used in the summer.”
Trampolines as amusements, or entertainment: I remember that very well. (Would kids today look down their noses?)
I give you an idyll — or rather, Dana does: In the evenings, my grandpa would make us root beer or Pepsi floats, or we’d have some watermelon from his garden. We ate well, always a salad of cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes with olive oil and vinegar dressing and beef of some cut — usually cooked well without marinade. Sometimes there was a chocolate cake my grandma made or vanilla ice cream that was delivered by the Schwan Man, a grocery catalog delivery service. The noontime meal was called “dinner,” and it was the main meal of the day.
Again, I could sing several verses of this song, and am, within myself.
This is Dana on her grandfather: “Like most country people I’ve known, he had a real bond with the animals under his care. He knew his own life — his family’s livelihood — was tied to the animals’ safety and well-being. And he was a bit of a softy.”
Environmentalists — who are often city-dwellers — tend to think they know more, and care more, about animals than anyone else. This is such a crock. A conceit and a crock.
This, sports fans, is a marriage: I also grew up watching a true love story. My grandpa adored my grandmother. He called her Mother and she called him Dad. She didn’t mind that he snored like crazy at night. They didn’t snap or bicker. They were kind to each other and accepting of flaws. She’d run him a bath and set out his clothes for his meetings in town, and he’d rub her shoulders and tease her to make her laugh. They adored their grandchildren and on Sundays we’d sit between them in the pickup and take a drive all around the ranch.
We watched a lot of TV in my grandmother’s living room. She called the sofa a “davenport,” the cushions were like bricks, and the fabric pricked at our legs when we wore shorts. My sister and I chose to share one of the large La-Z-Boy recliners and she took the other. When the news was on, my grandmother often remarked on President Reagan’s good looks. “He sure has a good head of hair,” she sighed (my grandfather did not).
Again, very, very familiar (to me).
Dana’s grandmother, she writes, kept up with beauty trends through Better Homes and Gardens and Woman’s Day magazines. On her dressing table she kept Jergens Rose Milk Lotion, a glass jar of Oil of Olay, and White Shoulders perfume. My grandfather kept her supplied with that, and my mom has her last bottle, unopened.
Does this seem familiar to you, as it does to me? (How about Redbook?) Dana’s grandfather was “generous to his daughters. He used to slip $20 bills into my mom’s pockets that she’d find later.” How about that? Familiar? (It is to me, as I perhaps don’t need to say.)
Let’s talk TV viewing — and news consumption: On Saturdays we had a quick family meeting to plan our Sunday schedule. I drove my sister crazy because I always pushed for the 8:30 a.m. church service because then we’d get home in time to watch the Sunday shows. We topped off our weekend with 60 Minutes, the tick-tick-tick signaling it was time to come in from the backyard. My dad got me hooked on the news. That was a good thing. Something similar in your own experience? Sing a few bars of that one?
Dana’s aunt Patty Sue was twice mayor of Rawlins, Wyo. She and her husband, Rodney Schuler, continue to serve on the city council while they run Memory Lanes, their bowling alley. Memory Lanes is the first tobacco- and alcohol-free bowling alley in Wyoming — she was told it would never succeed but it’s the busiest place in town.
Honestly, that is maybe my favorite passage of the entire book. I think we should knock off for today. We’ll finish tomorrow, with Part II. The second part will be lighter on western idylls, heavier on politics. I look forward to it. I’ll see you.
You’ll love this, or at least I did: “I always worried that someone was going to be angry,” writes Dana, “and to this day, I brace myself for someone’s bad mood until I see that I’m not in trouble …”
President Bush knew this about her. So “if he asked his aide to call me over to the Oval Office, he’d say, ‘And tell her it’s nothing bad.’”
Many years ago, I said something like this (and more than once): I think a boy and a girl should meet at the registrar’s office on the first day of college. They should then go get a hamburger, fries, and a milkshake. They should date all through college, and get married on Graduation Day, or the Saturday after.
Dana writes, My dad met my mom at Casper College in the orientation line. He studied business and eventually transferred to the University of Wyoming at Laramie. … My parents eloped in 1969, my dad skipping his graduation ceremony that day.
I’ll be damned. Once, or maybe more than once, Air Force One touched down in a foreign country, and Bush, putting on his jacket and straightening his tie, said to his personal aide and his advance man, “Look alive, boys! America has arrived.”
Introducing Dana to the Israeli prime minister, Bush said, “This is Sweet Dana, Dana Perino, my press secretary.”
I once knew a young lawyer named Bill. (Sounds like the start of a limerick, I realize.) His secretary was an older woman, who called him “Sweet William.”One week, his parents were coming to town. He said to Regina, “They think I’m a big-time Washington lawyer. So, when they’re around, would you mind not calling me ‘Sweet William’?”
In her book, Dana tells a couple of stories about Bush and his visits to Walter Reed, where the wounded — often badly, catastrophically wounded — are treated. These stories are unbearable.
Putin was convinced that Bush fired Dan Rather. Bush tried to tell him otherwise: CBS News is a corporate entity, not a governmental entity, etc. To no avail. Putin insisted on saying in public that Bush fired Rather.
I think of David Pryce-Jones, and what he has said about the Arabs: They cannot believe that you haven’t done what they themselves would do. Or that you would not do what they themselves would do.
This is a problem. Interesting, but a significant problem.
Someone once told me a story about Cambodian refugees in California. They were pulled over for speeding (or a broken tail light or something). They got out of the car and knelt with their hands behind their heads, waiting, evidently, to be executed. It’s what they knew back home.
Dana writes about one of her predecessors as Bush press secretary: Scott McClellan. He wrote a book about Bush and his White House, harshly critical. The team was stunned and hurt, says Dana. “We’d all worked with Scott and liked him personally,” she writes. “‘Such a sweet guy,’ you’d hear from everyone, including reporters.”
I myself can chime in here. In September 2000, I took a leave of absence from National Review to assist the Bush campaign in Austin. I was there for six weeks. I flew back to New York the day after Election Day (though the election was not settled until mid-December). Just about the nicest person I met on that whole campaign was Scott McClellan. An absolute peach. I can still remember his friendly smile.
I remember being in Saint Paul for the Republican convention in 2008. This was the convention that nominated McCain-Palin. They had President Bush speak by video hook-up. He was not present in the hall. The excuse was weather: too bad to allow a presidential flight. Plus, the president had to attend to hurricane preparedness (post-Katrina) or whatever. I thought this stank. I thought the treatment of Bush was shabby, no matter how low his standings in the polls were.
Dana tells us that he quietly asked her, “Do you think they know they’re insulting me?” She answered, “Yes, sir. I believe they do.”
A good portion of her book is dedicated to advice — particularly to the young. I love what she says about “reverse mentors.” A young person can make himself very useful to an older person by teaching that older person about technology — the latest technology.
I need such a mentor myself! (And have had a few over the years.)
“There are hundreds of ways to keep in touch with family and friends,” Dana notes. She adds, “(in some ways there are too many).” I thought that was funny.
North Dakota is our boom state, and Dana suggests that young people go there, to get their start. A couple of years ago, I counseled a young friend of mine to do exactly that. He could not swallow the idea. But it all ended well: because he at last got a job in Manhattan (not Kansas).
People are always worried about what other people think — of them. In truth, they are thinking about themselves.
I’m so glad I learned this, years ago. Dana learned it too, and shares the wisdom.
What will people think about how you look at the party? Relax: They don’t give a damn how you look (thank heaven). They care about how they look.
In January 2001, Clintonistas in the White House thought it would be cool to take the W’s off the keyboards. In January 2009, the George W. Bushies left the O’s intact.
When he became president, W. decided to hang a portrait of Lincoln in the Oval. He told his dad, “I hung Lincoln on the wall, but you in my heart.”
About America’s political culture, Dana writes, “Without some basic manners, we’re doomed.”
Uh-oh … Dana says she takes more heat from the Right than from the Left — right-wingers are always slamming her as not right-wing or aggressive enough.
My advice to her is: Screw the nutty and nasty Right. And be the well-grounded Reagan conservative you are. (She doesn’t need advice from me, I realize …) (And she can leave the right-wing aggression and outrage to me …)
In the nasty-stakes, however, no one can beat the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid. He is the undisputed champeen. Dana thinks so, and I think so. Just a bundle of malice and poison.
Dana admires Bush for turning the other cheek, for not responding in kind — and I do too. No one should sink to the Reid level. But: I believe that Bush should have been less inhibited against his detractors, and in defense of himself. It’s not personal: You need to look out for the morale and success of your side. But I’ve written about this a lot, and won’t rehash at the moment …
Dana talks about living in New York and telling people where she works (Fox News). Oh, I could write a chapter on that myself. People can be such horse’s asses. If someone said to me, “Hi, I’m John and I work at the New York Times,” I would not subject him to my accumulated grievances against the New York Times. I’d say, “Nice to meet you. Where do you live? Do you like the Yankees or the Mets or some other team? Did you catch On the Town before it closed?”
Why can’t the Left behave like this? In any event, they can’t. Trust me. Lonnnnng experience.
Sometimes, when people meet me, they pour out all their grievances against the Right on me. Because they never, ever meet anyone right of center. And it’s their one chance to get things off their chest. I am simply the stand-in for everything they hate. Such pleasant people. If you run into them, run into them hard, please …
When Dana became White House press secretary, she laid down the law: She told her mother, “You can’t put my name in a search engine ever.
You must never go looking for comments about me — ever.” That is very good advice to a mother. And more than advice: the law. Dana gets compliments — “compliments” — of this variety: “I hated everything about the Bush administration, but I like you.” “I hate your politics, but your dog is awesome!” “I can’t stand Fox, but I never miss The Five” (Dana’s show).
I have received a fair number of these myself, over the years. And the thing to say, or the thing you want to say, is: Shove it.
A few years ago, I did an hour-long interview of Jeb Bush, on video. I asked him something like this: Does anyone ever say, “Oh, Jeb, it should’ve been you, not your brother”? And the answer was: All the time. And it was — is, I’m sure — incredibly annoying.
Why do people think they’re paying a compliment?
Sticking with the Bush family, I noticed something in the first weeks and months of 41’s administration. Lots of liberal reporters and pundits praised Barbara Bush, the new First Lady. But they did it like this: “She’s okay, unlike that bitch Nancy Reagan.”
Could they have praised Barbara without bashing Nancy? No. That was impossible.
A music critic once said to me — I swear this is true — “I can’t stand George W. Bush, but …” He proceeded to knock a new opera production, a species of “Euro-trash.” The production had nothing to do with Bush or American politics. But the critic felt he needed to reassure me — me! He had no idea of my politics — that he was cool, not a conservative.
I swear this happened. An amazing, and illuminating, episode.
Before Dana gave a speech — it was a commencement address — Bush had some advice for her: “Keep it short.” I’m reminded of Paul Johnson (whom Bush esteems, as I do). He says, “Always speak for five minutes less than people expect. They won’t notice, but they’ll appreciate it all the same.”
Dana writes, “As a press secretary and on The Five, I’ve learned that I have a choice in how I answer a question. There’s combative or productive — I get to take my pick.”
I have something related — not the same, but related. I’ve been known to say, “I can have the issue or the healing. One or the other. But not both.” Sometimes I’m not ready to give up the issue — so the healing is delayed …
Dana writes, “Sarcasm is like cheap wine — it leaves a terrible aftertaste.” Nicely observed.
Oh, cripe, Dana likes Joe Biden — says what a nice guy he is. Everyone who has met him says this. The most right-wing people I know, who have met him, say this! I think he’s one of the most appalling people in the country. Heaven forbid I should ever meet him …
Dana also likes Donna Brazile, the Democratic politico. So does another friend of mine, Bill Kristol.
I thought she did one of the lowest things in recent political history. During the Florida recount in 2000, she said that black voters had been kept away from the polls by — and I quote — “guns” and “dogs.” This was not only a lie, but the kind of lie that does lasting damage to our society. Racial wounds are never allowed to heal. They are always rubbed raw.
But flash forward: When Condoleezza Rice became secretary of state, Brazile said something like this: Look, fellow Democrats, if a Democratic president had done this, we’d be turning cartwheels. We would be falling all over ourselves in praise of that president. A black woman is secretary of state. Come on: This is big, this is historic. And George Bush did it.
She is also a defender of Bush on Hurricane Katrina. In any case, she is a human being. And we could use more of those.
Dana devotes one of her final chapters to “Why am I a conservative?” It is a wonderful statement, a wonderful chapter.
For years now, the phrase “compassionate conservatism” has been in bad odor on the right. (When George W. Bush first surfaced it, Phil Gramm said, “Freedom is compassionate.”) Be that as it may: Dana says that the phrase, and concept, “spoke to” her, and “opened the door” to her greater participation in public life.
Yes, it is a wonderful chapter … … in a wonderful book. A book full of the love of life. And full of gratitude. This book is blessedly free of cynicism, irony, posing. It’s straight. It’s good. And obviously a total reflection of its author.
BY: JAY NORDLINGER