The post of Chief of Staff in the White House has been sardonically described as "the worst job in Washington." The Chief of Staff shoulders a staggering amount of responsibility. Among countless other tasks, the authority of being able to choose whom gets an audience with the president gives one a hand in the unfolding of history.
Historically, large personalities have occupied this position. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney used the role as a stepping stone to cabinet appointments. Rahm Emanuel surely sees more glory in his future political career. Andy Card, well shucks, he was just there to serve George W. Bush. To the public, Card's only notable moment was when he interrupted Bush's rendition of "My Pet Goat." Behind the scenes, however, it was Condoleezza Rice and Andrew Card who set the tone and the agenda of the Bush administration.
Card served as a representative from Massachusetts from 1975-1983. Being the Elephant in the room, Card was a moderate Republican, favoring social issues that were and are popular with liberals. He gained a solid reputation for working the middle ground, garnering praise from both sides of the aisle. After a failed attempt to win the GOP nomination for governor in 1982, Card landed a string of jobs in the White House, all with droning titles such as Special Assistant to the President and Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs. Those titles give testament to the fact that this guy could successfully order large groups of people to compromise.
Andrew Card's managerial style seemed to make everyone feel like they were his best friend. Even when it came down to Card to deliver news of termination, it was said it was like "Dudley Do-Right firing you." Card motivated by example and earned the trust of underlings, colleagues, superiors, and foes. He continued to move up the ladder during the George H.W. Bush administration, ultimately serving as Secretary of Transportation. His first real starring role was coordinating relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew.
Card directed the White House transition to Bill Clinton, and got the media to shut up about Slick Willie ransacking the place when Clinton left town. At the outset of the Clinton years, he followed the Republican exile out of Washington. Card spent his time in private employment helping iron out favors between the automobile industry and the government.
When George W. Bush was displeased with the organizing efforts for the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia, he decided to give ol' Andy Card a test by putting him in charge. The result was a smooth coronation with little in-fighting. Thus, Card was anointed Chief of Staff.
On his first of many long days at work, Card directed the overturning of over 300 Clinton regulations. Card led the way in allowing the government to raise the limit of arsenic in drinking water and permit more raw sewage to be dumped in rivers. There was also a "Welcome Back!" party for loggers and miners, a vacation for energy efficiency initiatives, and fresh powder for snowmobiles in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
Still, as Jon Stewart quipped, "If the Bush administration were a boy band, Andrew Card would be the vaguely likable one." Card's earnest and approachable style went along with his using a 16th century memory technique to keep up with the ultimate multitasking job. His meandering explanations of things both spine-tingling and mundane often were endearing instead of torturous.
Insiders have claimed that Bush would tend to treat Card as a servant, haranguing him to instantly produce cheeseburgers. Card stayed on the job longer than most in a job known for frequent turnover. He carried the fierce loyalty that was the trademark of the Bushie inner circle. Card described himself as "just a staffer," but the usual ambition of a Chief of Staff has started to show with rumors afoot that he seeks the seat of former Senator Edward Kennedy. Card also got some significant face time when he criticized the casual dress code that Barack Obama seems to have installed in the West Wing.
There have been several lame attempts to lump Card in with the general crazies who roam the halls of government. There was MSNBC belittling Card's distinction between a Time Line and a Time Horizon. There was "The Nation" excoriating Card for failing to keep George W. Bush focused after informing him that airplanes had flown into the World Trade Center. John Nichols went so far as to suggest that the failure was deliberate, allowing the real president, Dick Cheney, to run the show.
There is no getting around the fact that all of the evidence suggests Andrew Card is a decent man. The United States government is guilty of doing some horribly nasty things during the six years that Andrew Card served as The Gatekeeper. It is also responsible for horrifying acts against respectable society since before it came into existence in 1776. Whether you vilify or deify the major political players in Washington, remember that in the middle of all of the acid recriminations are people like Andrew Card. Good people with views that may not line up with your own, but deserve to live anyway.
Coming up next: Counselor to the President Karen Hughes