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OBITUARIES / Richard Darman, 1943 - 2008

Bush aide, budget chief drafted plan to cut deficit

January 26, 2008|From the Associated Press

Richard Darman, a former White House budget director who helped persuade former President George H.W. Bush to renege on his pledge against new taxes, died Friday in Washington after battling leukemia for several months, according to a statement issued by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a longtime friend. He was 64.

Darman was the chief architect of a compromise designed to reduce the federal budget deficit. Although it drew praise from many economic analysts, the plan included tax increases that broke Bush's 1988 election promise: "Read my lips, no new taxes."

Although the change of policy is partly blamed for Bush's loss to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, it contributed to balancing the federal budgets in the late 1990s.

A talented and tough negotiator, Darman sometimes drew criticism for being abrasive, intellectually arrogant and overly concerned with his standing in the White House pecking order. He had a reputation for being so crafty that "Darmanesque" became a word to describe maneuvering that was clever and Machiavellian.

He had a more playful side and was known for pranks. He once donned a gorilla suit to amuse his boss, the president.

Darman's hardball tactics on Capitol Hill in budget negotiations alienated many senior Republicans in Congress and many White House colleagues. He railed against budget gimmicks and called for serious steps to get the budget under control.

The government's huge budget deficits were "a mathematical representation of our wish to buy now, pay later -- or more accurately, buy now and let others pay later," he said. He criticized the nation's obsession with its current finances and "our reluctance to adequately address the future."

But those words were from the same man who had previously served as a top political strategist for President Reagan and helped draft an economic policy that stressed tax cuts even as federal budget deficits were reaching record levels.

"Dick Darman was a brilliant, dedicated and distinguished public servant, educator and businessman who could direct traffic through the intersection of policy and politics as well as anybody I have ever known," said Baker, who worked with Darman under Bush and Reagan.

Darman began his government career in 1971 as a deputy assistant secretary in the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He later held high-level posts in the Defense, Justice and Commerce departments. He served as a top aide to Atty. Gen. Elliot Richardson, who lost his job in the "Saturday Night Massacre" during the Watergate scandal.

Darman was deputy chief of staff to Reagan while Baker was running the staff. Baker became his mentor, which helped Darman survive in the Bush White House. When Baker switched jobs to become Treasury secretary, Darman went with him, becoming deputy Treasury secretary.

"He was absolutely brilliant at boiling down complex issues to their simplest forms," Baker said. "He always provided me with an unvarnished perspective that I needed to know, even if sometimes I didn't want to hear it."

Along with his jobs in many federal agencies, Darman taught at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School.

At the time of his death, Darman was a partner in the Carlyle Group, a global private equity firm. He also was serving as board chairman at AES Corp., a power and alternative energy firm. In addition, Darman was board chairman of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

The son of an industrialist, Darman was born in Charlotte, N.C., on May 10, 1943, and raised in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He received an undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1964 and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Darman is survived by his wife, Kathleen Emmet and three sons.

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