Andy plays the 'e' card

The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, was talking about his boss at a Monitor luncheon the other day, and this is what he had to say:

"He's smarter than you think he is.... He does more homework than you give him credit for doing.... He's always challenging the staff and those around him to counsel him....

"I've never seen him uptight. He has a great ability to put things in perspective. He has a good vision of where he wants to take us.... He also has a great sense of humor. He tells stories. And he likes to joke....

"He loves sports. He reads the sports page before he reads the front page.... He seldom loses his temper. I've seen him frustrated, but not angry....

"He's an early-to-bed, early-to-rise individual, unlike his predecessor, who was late to bed and late to rise. The White House structure would be different under George W. because of this....

"He's respectful of people's schedules. He is punctual. He wants things to be on time....

"He is very decisive. When he makes a decision he makes it.... He takes papers home and is ready to argue about them in the morning. He is very efficient in the use of his time at meetings."

Andy Card obviously likes his boss. But he makes a point of asserting that he isn't - and doesn't want to be - the president's friend. He says he worked closely with George W. during the last GOP national convention, but that it was on a professional, not a personal basis. It was there, he said, that he got valuable insights into how Mr. Bush governed in Texas and, therefore, how he would want his White House set up.

"I work very hard," says Mr. Card, "to have the president's confidence, but not to be his friend - because he has to have the courage to fire me when I'm not doing the job well. And I've watched too many chiefs of staff linger too long in their jobs because they became the president's friend."

Card has had front-row views of previous White House staffs, first as staff member under President Reagan and his Jim Baker-Ed Meese-Mike Deaver troika, and then as the first President Bush's deputy to Chief of Staff John Sununu.

A reporter broke in with this comment when Card mentioned his work with Sununu: "He was a tough chief of staff, wasn't he?"

"Let's put it this way," Card said. "He was quite a challenge."

This response drew laughter from an audience of some 50 journalists, who seemed to be enjoying this inside look at how the White House works under this new president.

"I love John Sununu," Card went on to say. "He is the smartest politician ever - and he will tell you that." (More laughter.) "It was a very interesting White House where structure meant less than it had in any of my experiences in the White House."

Asked what chief of staff he had modeled himself after, Card said, "None." But then he added, "Jim Baker served President Reagan extremely well. And Howard Baker served President Reagan very, very well, during an extremely challenging period...."

Card said he had "become a student of White House structures since Eisenhower," but that he had organized this White House to reflect the personality and style of George W. Bush.

"How do you see your own job?" someone asked Card.

"I am a staffer," he said. "The job of a chief of staff is to complement - spelled with an 'e,' and not compliment with an 'i' - the president. There have been too many chiefs of staff over the years who have complimented their presidents with an 'i': 'It's a wonderful tie, Mr. President.' 'That was a great speech, Mr. President.' I try to complement with an 'e.' In fact, I think that every chief of staff should complement the leadership style of the president."

Whether a chief of staff is successful or not, Card said, "is determined a lot by the times. I hope I am the right chief of staff, for the right president, at the right time. But the times will change, and I might not be the right chief of staff in a different time."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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