A Spokesman Above Politics?
THE naming of David R. Gergen as Mr. Clinton's spokesman is a 5-percent decision, whereas a critical mass of decisions nearer 60 percent is needed for real change.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Gergen is familiar as the tall, cerebral, Republican, Northern European-looking half of the public television duo "Gergen and Shields," who spends much of his air time chuckling at Boston Irish Democrat Mark Shields's observations.
Gergen is temperate, a bridge-builder. He is an experienced White House hand, a presidential-campaign veteran. He has more than dabbled in journalism: He was managing editor of Public Opinion magazine, when it was published by the American Enterprise Institute; more recently he has been editor at large of US News & World Report.
From one perspective, Gergen has been parked in journalism. His business is politics. He is a Yale college alum and a Harvard Law School graduate. He did not take up a lawyer's life. He floated into journalism as a time out from political operations.
We see a lot of this in-and-outing today. Perhaps one stint of service to government on the inside might be all right for journalists. But I find the ethics of revolving door journalism as troubling as I do the in-and-outing of government officials as lobbyists.
I do not think journalists should indicate or declare their political orientation. Privately they may be independents, Republicans, or Democrats, in the American context. But professionally they should have no politics.
I can safely say that no one knows how I have voted in any election - because I have never indicated how I have voted - not even to my own family or friends. I do vote. But how I vote is my own business, just as in other fundamental matters - religion, health care, friendships - my decisions are protected as private, as I see it, by the United States Constitution. Professionally the journalists's private views should be of no one's interest because they should be irrelevant to his representing clearly, f airly, the information citizens need for decisions.
Journalists must not be propagandists. Thus, Mr. Gergen starts out with half a compromise as Clinton's spokesman.
The other half of the compromise is Gergen's GOP orientation. He has worked for Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Gergen's having GOP roots helps Clinton make the argument that he intends to build a bipartisan approach. Let's back him there.
Gergen was in the Bush entourage in 1980. I saw him briefly a little before midnight at the Detroit convention center, when all the world thought that Gerald Ford was about to join Reagan in a historic compromise between the moderate and conservative GOP wings. "I can't talk now," he said, passing me. He was ashen. His man, he thought, had lost out on the vice presidency.
Early the next morning my editor in Boston wanted me to lead my story with what George Bush knew when he finally got the word that the Ford deal was off and Reagan had no alternative but to accept the man he least wanted, Bush. It was real early. In his pajamas, Gergen met me in the hall of the Renaissance hotel to help me with a piece of the story.
Gergen came into the Reagan administration along with James Baker III and other pragmatic Bush aides. It was part of Reagan's genius, demanding self-assurance, to absorb the ablest among his opponent's troops. Gergen likely never abandoned Bush's conviction about the voodoo in Reaganomics.
Gergen is, foremost, an analyst of the American political process. He is fascinated too with the media side, the public personae of the movers, shakers, and talkers.
If Gergen needs to draw on some part of his past more than others, it could be the lawyer's training.
He cannot represent both press and president.
He must be the president's advocate, serve at his pleasure, and keep totally mum about any of his own views and ambitions.
Gergen is only a 5-percent solution. The other 50 percent needed to get some wind into the sails of this administration could come with some other high-level staffing changes, but even more in a program that of itself gains bipartisan support.