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Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2001 / 27 Teves, 5761

Tony Snow

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Advice to the new Bushies from a Washington "insider" -- IT NEVER FAILS: New presidential aides and acolytes flock to town, abuzz with high hopes and vague ambitions. They scamper to balls and celebrations, race gleefully to the museums and monuments, drink in the sights and feel of the picturesque little town on the Potomac.

It's heady stuff, waking up one day and realizing: "Hey, I'm going to work at the White House! THE White House. The home of the President of the United States. The mansion of Madison, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan. The gravitational center of the free world! The place of dreams and imagination!"

Those of us who have been through the experience look at the newcomers with parental tenderness. The neophytes, with their excitement and jitters, look like children walking into a brand new school for the first time. They are dressed immaculately. They walk briskly and happily. They luxuriate in everything: the colors, the smells, the hushed-carpet quiet of the West Wing foyer; the echo of heels slapping the slate floors of The Old Executive Office Building.

And yet as one watches the spectacle, one knows that some day these same men and women will stop skipping into the buildings. Their smiles will flatten and dim. But at the end of it all, they'll wind up wiser and better.

My contribution to the Class of 2001 is some simple, time-tested advice.

  • Don't get a big head. If you lose your humility, someone will return it -- with compound interest.

    The boneyard of American politics is filled with people who labored under the false impression that their participation in a White House made them unique and special. But as some statesman once observed: The graveyards of the world are filled with indispensable men. Realize that service is an honor, the president is your boss (not the other way around), and you are just a visitor to the history factory.

  • In Washington, you can't take friendship personally. This is a corollary to the first rule. People will kiss up to you in ways you cannot imagine. Realize that their professions of ardor have nothing to do with you and everything to do with your job title. The moment you leave, they will court your successor.

    Marlin Fitzwater remarked somewhat dolefully after the 1992 loss of the first President Bush that his phone suddenly had stopped ringing. The reporters had moved on. In 1991, while I was a minor grandee in that same White House, I received more than 400 Christmas and holiday cards at the office. The following year, following Bush's defeat, I received 25.

  • In Washington, the urgent overwhelms the important.

    I got this one from Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation. The nation's capital serves as a magnifying glass for gossip. It takes a juicy morsel of rumor and concentrates it, as a magnifying glass does a ray of sun, into something instantaneously lethal. Don't get sucked into fretting over every little thing unless you want to get incinerated. As Mark Twain famously observed: "Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid."

  • Make friends in low places. Get to know the people who have worked forever at the White House -- the cleaners, mail-room employees, the cafeteria cashiers. They know the place better than you ever will. They also belong to one of the most efficient news organizations on earth. Often, they know what's going on long before you do -- and before your superiors have even a faint clue.

  • Stop once a day and pinch yourself. The White House, with all its pressures, intrigues, triumphs, betrayals, joys and disappointments, is the most special place you ever will work. Look out the gates at the people who slow their gait as they pass, trying to get a glimpse of someone -- anyone. They know what you're likely to forget. You're blessed.

  • Work hard. Be honest. Understand the honor of your calling. Leave no room for regrets -- for someday, in the not-so-distant future, you will be back where you started: On the sidewalk with the other folks, gawking at that grand, glorious, mysterious place -- where Lincoln walks at night, and our highest hopes and dreams reside.

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