WASHINGTON — The choice of advisers is of no little import to a prince; and they are good or not, according to the wisdom of the prince. The first thing one does to evaluate the wisdom of a ruler is to examine the men that he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful one can always consider him wise, for he has known how to recognize their ability and to keep them loyal; but when they are otherwise one can always form a low impression of him; for the first error he makes is made in this choice of advisers.
--"The Prince," Niccolo Machiavelli, 1532
The Republican blame game is now in full swing. The Democrats are at the gates, a 12-year Republican run seems about to come crashing to an end, and if it does, the cry will go up: "Who lost the White House?"
For Republicans inside and outside the Administration, there will be so many suspects:
There's Nick Brady over at Treasury. While the economy went down the tubes, he kept talking about a recovery just around the corner, about "robins on the lawn," bald tires that needed replacing, and how victory for the U.S. Olympic basketball team would boost consumer confidence.
There was John Sununu. Bush needed to take action, not count on Gulf War euphoria to last for 18 months.
And there was Sam Skinner, Sununu's successor as chief of staff. While he focused on White House paper flow and personnel reorganization early this year, an economic freight train was barreling down the track right at the President.
"Changes should have been made in a lot of places," sighs one Administration official.
Ah, but the most delicious accusations, the coldest finger-pointing, the real vein-popping anger is reserved for one man--Richard G. Darman, the 49-year-old director of the Office of Management and Budget. The anger is so intense that many Republicans have developed a cartoonish image of Darman. One of the most interesting and complex men in government has been demonized by the right as nothing more than the ultimate villain in a Washington tragedy.
"Is it too late for me to get into your Darman story?" asks Larry Kudlow, an influential Wall Street conservative who is close to Jack Kemp, the Bush housing secretary and new hope of the Republican Party. "Oh, good, let me take a whack at him. He is duplicitous, deceitful, self-promoting and a dissembler, and he has done enormous damage to the President and to the Republican Party," says Kudlow, who worked with Darman in the Reagan Administration. "He is a negative for George Bush, and his credibility is gone.
"That's all on the record."
But what do Republicans really think about Dick Darman?
"Everything Kudlow said about him is precisely correct," says one White House official. "You could probably add to the list of adjectives, but that pretty much covers them."
Perhaps the richest quote about Dick Darman came in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month from Stephen Bell, a former Republican Senate Budget Committee staff director: "Remember how I told you that Darman is a no-good, lying SOB, and I said it was off the record? Well, it's on the record now."
In an interview last week, Bell added: "Darman is very, very smart, very hard-working, and probably has done more to hurt the Republican Party and this President than any other person."
Darman counters that he has always been misunderstood by his enemies. He is merely a "long-term idealist and a short-term realist," a man with a better feel for the sweep of history than his foes, a policy-oriented official who understands that it often takes decades to achieve political goals. Darman notes that issues like vouchers for child care, which he first worked on in the Nixon Administration, have come to fruition during the Bush years. In the meantime, compromises must be made.
The problem his critics have with Darman, however, is that the long term never seems to arrive.
Even the praise that can be rounded up about Darman is rather faint. "He is not quite as talented as he thinks he is--no one could be--but he's not the devil my Republican friends think he is," observes William Kristol, chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle.
What has Dick Darman done to deserve such abuse? He has never, ever, been caught up in any personal scandal, never been accused of any malfeasance in office.
A scion of a New England textile family-a reportedly wealthy-Darman has been squeaky clean. He has a very private family life with his wife and two young sons, a lovely home in suburban Virginia, a fine sense of humor and what even his critics agree is a brilliant, highly analytical mind.
He is a tireless worker who understands federal budget issues perhaps better than anyone else in America, and he has a more complete knowledge of the political machinery that makes Washington work than almost anyone else in the White House. He has made himself essential to George Bush.