Jewish World Review April 25, 2001 / 3 Iyar, 5761
White House strategy never sounded like this
THE story of the Strategery Group may be the most instructive tale since the inauguration of President George W. Bush.
Every week, Bush's most senior White House advisers get together for a planning meeting, to consider topics most important to the president, to the administration, and to the nation.
They hold this weekly session in a room on the second floor of the Executive Office Building. It is formally known as the Cordell Hull Room, in honor of the secretary of state who served under Franklin D. Roosevelt at the beginning of World War II. Bush's top advisers have come up with a name for their group -- for the staffers who discuss the vital issues at the weekly meetings.
They call themselves the Strategery Group.
Karl Rove, President Bush's closest and most trusted adviser, told this to Dana Milbank, who covers the White House for the Washington Post. Rove, in describing the group of advisers, said, "We tried to come up with a nice-sounding name. We meet in the Cordell Hull Room, but nobody's buying off on the 'Hull Group.' I think we're going to be stuck with Strategery."
Strategery was a word that was invented during the Bush-Gore campaign by the writers of "Saturday Night Live." The comedian who impersonated candidate Bush regularly portrayed Bush as a less-than-bright fellow. On one "Saturday Night Live" episode, the Bush character was asked for a word that would describe his presidency. The Bush character said:
He said it with the air of a man who has just given a fine, cogent answer. What he meant, of course, was "strategy."
You could make the case that the TV show was trying to make the candidate look stupid, or at least trying to make him seem language-challenged.
So it's amazing -- and pretty hilarious -- that the real President Bush's top-level strategy task force would call themselves the Strategery Group.
It says one of two things:
These people have a wonderful sense of humor -- and are confident enough of their own skills, and their own intellect, that they can refer to themselves as the Strategery Group. The phrase says: Hey, we know what some of you think of us. Doesn't matter. We're good enough that we can laugh at it.
The other thing it might say is that they are merely Machiavellian -- they know that telling the world that they are the Strategery Group will make them appear to have fine senses of humor, will make them seem to be willing to laugh at themselves. They know that the Strategery Group makes them sound likeable -- so perhaps they are using this as one more political tool.
But the most fascinating thing of all about the Strategery Group has little to do with politics, and everything to do with generations.
When "Saturday Night Live" first went on the air in 1975, with Dan Aykroyd imitating Richard Nixon and John Belushi imitating Henry Kissinger and Chevy Chase imitating Gerald Ford, there was no way White House advisers would name a policy group after a skit. These were young punks, in the eyes of the political establishment.
There were two young men who were in their 20s in the early days of "Saturday Night Live" -- George W. Bush and Al Gore, both, at the time, nowhere near as famous as the show. As Bush and Gore grew older, so did the television show. By the time Bush and Gore were running for president, the show, in their minds, was as much of an American institution as…well, not as much of an institution as the White House, but an institution nevertheless.
During the campaign, I thought that this was the reason Bush and Gore were willing to go on the show -- not just because they hoped it would win them votes (although of course they did), but because to them, "Saturday Night Live" was a big deal, as big a deal as they were, and it had been for a very long time. It had been a part of American life for almost all of the two men's adulthoods -- it needed no introduction. It was old school.
So the Strategery Group is just the ultimate extension of this. Bush's advisers may feel as enhanced by the "Saturday Night Live" reference as the TV show's producers and actors may feel by the existence of the policy group. There's no strategery behind it -- it's just the way of the
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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