THE recent affair of the two travel agents who were fired from the White House and then had to be rehired provides the useful key to the misfortunes of the early weeks of the Clinton presidency. It shows that Mr. Clinton and his associates came to Washington not realizing that there were two Washingtons and that for a new president to be successful, he must come to amicable terms with the second as well as the first.
The first Washington is the community of elected and appointed officials. This is the official Washington where a president has statutory authority.
The second Washington is made up of people who influence policy without any official or statutory position but who must be won by a new president at least to a neutral, preferably a supportive, role if his presidency is to be relatively smooth and successful.
Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy understood this. Jimmy Carter did not, and the Clintons have yet to show that they have learned how to manage it.
The second Washington is made up of many different types of people who have one thing in common: They all have some ability to influence policy decisions. They include the representatives of the great trade unions, of the associations of business and industry, of the important churches, of individuals like Eleanor Roosevelt who are, or were, widely respected in their own right; and most important of all, the Washington press corps and newspaper columnists and broadcasting commentators whose words are rea d or heard all over the country.
The White House travel agents are known personally to the White House press corps. The agents arrange travel for reporters traveling with the president. If a president fires a travel agent unfairly (which is admitted in this case) the reporters resent it.
It is a small thing in itself, but it is the kind of thing that builds up an unfavorable feeling about the president among the reporters who cover him daily. It gets passed along to the columnists and commentators. It is the sort of thing a wise president who understands the Washington system would never do.
Travel agents are not part of the public, official Washington. They are like White House ushers and White House switchboard operators, people who have served succeeding presidents of both parties. They belong to a large body of nonpolitical people who serve impersonally. The apparent motive in this case was to clear the way for political friends. That is not done to those who serve impersonally in the second Washington.
President Carter in his fourth year finally hired a prominent lawyer who belonged to the second Washington. It was too late. Too much damage had been done. Clinton has hired David Gergen. His public relations have improved.
That second Washington, which he must cultivate and at least in part neutralize, is a marvelous world. I will give you an example from my own earlier days as a White House reporter.
Cardinal Spellman was at that time the chief Roman Catholic spokesman in Washington. Eleanor Roosevelt was a popular figure in the Democratic Party and a person widely respected. The cardinal commented unfavorably one day on her qualifications as a mother. Mrs. Roosevelt replied that she would leave the judgment in that matter to the Deity.
That night, the cardinal telephoned Arthur Dean Sr., partner of Sullivan and Cromwell, a top New York law firm, to come and see him. Mr. Dean drove at once to the cardinal's summer residence on Long Island. A few days later the cardinal "happened" to be driving through Hyde Park. He stopped off at Mrs. Roosevelt's little cottage. They had tea together. The episode was closed and the rift between the two important members of the second Washington had been bandaged.
The second or unofficial Washington is filled with today's equivalents of Cardinal Spellman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the senior partners of Sullivan and Cromwell - all of whom are in constant association with others of their kind.
They can be used for private curative missions, like Arthur Dean's late night summons by the cardinal to get him out of trouble. They can be called in for decisions, such as the withdrawal from Vietnam, as Arthur Dean was. Often their words influence policy from outside. Clinton needs the goodwill of such.