Requiem for a Team
Who is Ari Fleischer? He is George W. Bush's chief spokesman, and therefore the link between the president and the public, but America doesn't know him. His resum seems pretty impressive, but that doesn't change the fact that we haven't listened to him, learned from him or made fun of him for the last eight years as we have Clinton's team. Yet every day Fleischer tells us what the president is doing and answers questions on his behalf. Given that he has held this job for the last two and a half weeks, this does not seem surprising. Something, however, still just doesn't feel quite right about it.
Whether or not they liked the members of Clinton's team, Americans have grown accustomed to them in the last eight years. Regardless whether they liked Clinton's administration, Americans feel nostalgia for it as the Bush team takes over.
We have simply loved to fixate on the Clintons and their staff. We discussed personalities, scandals and even fashion. George Stephanopoulos' hair, Hillary's hair, and even Clinton's mother's hair all entered the public arena of gossip.
Clinton's team was a funny bunch of people with their own funny little problems--and we got to know them all. We watched testifying staffers, the Energy Secretary who presided over the loss of our nuclear secrets behind a copy machine, the desperate members of the Clinton spin machine, George Stephanopoulos trying to look old, Lloyd Bentsen trying to look young and a first family that was to "Married with Children" what the Kennedy's were to "Camelot." We haven't had so much fun since before Henry Kissinger left public life. Clinton's team was fun to watch because they became larger than life as the administration wore on. We got to know their quirks, flaws and personalities--and we were amused.
At first sight, the Bush team does not make us feel the same way. Don Imus once likened Clinton's cabinet to the bar crowd in Star Wars (think Janet Reno, Robert Reich and Donna Shalala). While not intending to be complimentary (seeing as how several members of said bar crowd are not technically human), the description fits. We can envision one of Clinton appointees and immediately laugh, cry or just plain gawk.
In contrast, when I look at Bush's senior staff (and I do mean senior), all I can think is "shuffleboard at 3, prune juice cocktails at 4 and dinner at 5." Most look like retirement-age males, including the women. The one exception to this rule is Larry Lindsey, who, bearing a strange resemblance to Jabba the Hut, really belongs in Clinton's cabinet. For the most part we do not yet know Bush's people yet, and so we are not yet entirely comfortable with them. And until we get to know Bush's team better, we will miss Clinton's.
Colin Powell may be a hero, but he doesn't bake cookies for foreign leaders like Madeline Albright. He's also not pen pals with Kim Il Jung. Paul O'Neill is no Lloyd Bentsen, or Bob Rubin either. John Ashcroft may hold the perfect beliefs of an Attorney General from 125 years ago, but he will never welcome us to Janet Reno's Dance Party and tell us to "Stop moshing!" In fact, Ashcroft is so conservative that he refused to dance at his own gubernatorial inaugural ball in Missouri. Labor Secretary Chao can see over a podium. Clinton's former Labor Secretary Robert Reich was so short that he had to sit on a table.
Because they were so recognizable and visible for the last eight years, Clinton's people became household names, and they became part of our culture. We always knew that Bruce and Gene were upstairs cranking out new domestic and economic policies, Joe and Sidney were out there spinning, Hillary was probably yelling at George--who was probably in his office screwing something up--and Socks was probably licking himself.
Bush's team is just not the same. Perhaps it is because we still do not know them yet. They will remain alien to us even if they still bear the aura of substitute teachers rather than, say, assistants to the most powerful guy ever. Though they lack the instant celebrity of Clinton's 1992 team, Bush's team will, in truth, probably grow more recognizable. And soon we will be accustomed to them too, even if we still miss the Clinton circus.
Until then, so long as the Bush team starts getting indicted or lying compulsively, we will still feel right at home.
Joshua I. Weiner '03 is a government concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.