“She served her country well”



Janine Brookner, an accomplished former CIA agent who overcame brutally unfair treatment at the agency, has unfortunately passed away. While many tributes to this wonderful person have already appeared (here), I would be remiss not to add a revealing anecdote from decades ago that I’ve kept confidential until now.

I met Janine Brookner, then a single mother, a couple of times in the mid-1980s. Her son Steve and I lived next door during our freshman year at Dartmouth. At the time, she was assigned to the United States Mission to the United Nations where she monitored Soviet Bloc officials. Our UN Ambassador then was Jeane Kirkpatrick.

In 1985, Amb. Kirkpatrick hired me for a 6-month internship. My job was to help her compile and edit four years of speeches, Congressional testimony and other official documents. We worked together almost daily for months and gradually, as I earned her trust, she would open up about some officials she worked with during her 4+ years in the Reagan Administration. Though she never shared anything confidential, she didn’t pull punches in giving her views.

I still vividly recall mentioning that I’d returned from New York to see Steve and had also bumped into Ms. Brookner. This was about 5 years before the CIA’s public humiliation of her. At the mention of the name “Janine Brookner,” Amb. Kirkpatrick put down her pen and became literally motionless. After a few moments she looked at me and said, “Janine Brookner has served her country well.”

She paused and then repeated that same statement.

The reason that memory has stuck with me so long is that I’d heard Amb. Kirkpatrick speak about many officials. Typically she’d comment about their intelligence (or lack thereof), savvy, or leadership. But I never heard her describe anyone else the way she described Janine Brookner, not even remotely.

Janine Brookner was a remarkable woman for her career and for how she triumphed over an awful level of misogyny. Rest In Peace, Ms. Brookner.

Politicians can be funny. No, really



Since 2020 has been such a train wreck, Landon asked me for a post-election essay on political humor. If you want a smile, click here for some of my favorite anecdotes about George & Barbara Bush, Dana Carvey, Raisa Gorbachev and Al Gore. Yes, Al Gore.

Here’s an excerpt:

“President Frank Underwood was right when he said about Washington, ‘Nobody’s a Boy Scout. Not even Boy Scouts.’ [But] if today’s political divisions are deeper than 30 years ago, it’s only by degree.

“That said, this will not be a diatribe on politics. Interested readers can find plenty of political commentary on blogs and cable networks, argued by advocates demonstrating their months of experience. But though much of modern politics evokes dystopian scenes from Hunger Games, I’ve been lucky enough to see just enough humor to keep politics tolerable.”

Remembering 41: “If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri”

Filed under: George Bush,White House


The outpouring of kind words after President Bush’s passing is a deserved tribute to his leadership as President and his public service. For two exceptionally good testimonials, click here and here.

But no tribute to Mr. Bush would be complete without mentioning his zeal to win – especially on the softball field. This man did not like to lose even if it was “just a friendly game” of softball with his staff. And woe to any staff member who didn’t appreciate this!

Mr. Bush’s passion to win and a young staffer’s naiveté were both on splendid display at a 1987 staff softball game at the Vice President’s residence on Observatory Hill. I was playing shortstop when Mr. Bush came to bat. He hit a one-hop and sprinted to first. I moved toward second base, grabbed the ball and then realized I had two options:

#1: Throw it hard to first, likely throwing him out though risking “beaning” the nation’s second most powerful elected official.

This would not have been a good career move.

#2: Deliberately overthrow the first baseman, my fellow speechwriter Joe Casper.

After a nanosecond of introspection, I made the throw. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the height of his career couldn’t have grabbed the ball I tossed over Joe’s head.

More than 30 years later, I still vividly recall that look Vice President Bush gave me while standing on first base. He knew I’d deliberately overthrown and he didn’t like it one bit.

If his glare had been a knife, it would have sliced through the USS Missouri.

George Bush was a tough and demanding boss but never unfair. If a speech text wasn’t to his liking, he would stress firmly what needed to be improved. But he was always respectful to his staff. In turn, this fostered the intense loyalty that so many of us have felt toward him for these past decades.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. Thank you for everything.

Remembering Barbara Bush

Filed under: George Bush,White House


With former First Lady Barbara Bush’s passing, the nation mourns a wonderful, remarkable First Lady whose signature issue was a lifelong campaign for literacy. Those who knew her have posted well-deserved tributes to her and her exemplary life (click here and here, for example).

No tribute to Mrs. Bush would be complete without a reference to her sense of humor. She was a funny person but not in a comedic way. Rather, her humor was purposeful and sharp – often very sharp.

I was a speechwriter for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush from June 1986 to January 1989. The Bushes were exceptionally kind about inviting staff to their home for softball, drinks and jokes. Mrs. Bush would always come out for those events and more than a few times, when she offered an especially barbed or bluff bit of humor, those of us in the conversation would shoot each other a look that asked, “Did she really say THAT?!”

My favorite Barbara Bush story took place in early December 1987. That month, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev came to DC for a summit with President Reagan and Vice President Bush. Shortly after he left, the Bushes invited staff members, including me, to their home for drinks and jokes. (See photo)1988 Bush holiday party

Midway through, Mrs. Bush turned to the Vice President and said, “Tell them what Raisa [Gorbachev, wife of the Soviet Premier] said to you at the concert.” “No,” replied Mr. Bush, waving her off. “Oh go on!” she prodded and once more, he said no, shaking hs head.

At that point, she told us what happened: Gorbachev had hosted a dinner at the Soviet Embassy for the Reagans, Bushes, and other U.S. officials. The post-dinner entertainment was a Russian opera singer. Vice President Bush seated next to Raisa Gorbachev and as the singer reached for the high notes with visible passion, Mr. Bush said through the interpreter, “I think I’m falling in love.”

“Be careful,” Mrs. Gorbachev replied, “Remember what happened to Gary Hart.”

I don’t recall the look on Vice President Bush’s face when Mrs. Bush told this story but something tells me that he probably wasn’t entirely pleased. Then again, it was so typical of Mrs. Bush to dispense with formalities and share something she thought was funny.

Mrs. Bush, we will miss you. R.I.P.

Killing O’Reilly



(Note: Dawson & Associates, which I have been affiliated with since 2008, has posted my blog here.)

A storm of controversy has erupted over Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s new book, Killing Reagan. The controversy has engulfed almost every aspect of O’Reilly’s book – the lack of research, dubious use of unnamed sources, and a thesis at odds with extensive eyewitness documentation.

In November, George Will used his syndicated column twice to eviscerate O’Reilly – see here and here.

The book’s theme is that Reagan’s injuries from the March 1981 assassination attempt hastened his mental degradation. Those injuries led to a situation in which, O’Reilly claims, Reagan was increasingly befuddled and detached from reality.

O’Reilly’s thesis about Ronald Reagan simply isn’t supported by the facts and it’s certainly not supported by what I saw firsthand at the White House. From 1986 to 1989, I worked in the White House as a speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Peter Robinson, the speechwriter who wrote Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall speech (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”) helped me land this position as he was a former Bush speechwriter who had recently been promoted to the President’s team.

My office was in 2013 Eisenhower (at the time, it was simply the OEOB) and during my years at the White House, I often went downstairs to Peter’s first-floor office. Invariably, he would show me examples of Reagan’s edits to the latest speech drafts. These edits were in the President’s distinctive and unmistakeable handwriting style. Some drafts contained mild edits. But usually, the President’s handwritten changes were extensive and detailed.

When I emailed Peter recently, he confirmed the former President’s intent focus on his speeches as a medium through which to wield influence:

Reagan edited his speeches all the time! And he was the best editor I’ve ever had – superb edits. Take a look at Reagan in His Own Hand, the book by Martin and Annelise Anderson…. There are examples of Reagan’s markups on speeches all over the place.

In short, O’Reilly’s book is flat wrong in his contention. The disengaged, confused President that O’Reilly disparages could not have produced the continuous stream of detailed, handwritten edits and improvements that I saw constantly during my White House years.

“Get in. I’ll give you a ride.”

Filed under: Frank Lautenberg


LAUTENBERGWith the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, the U.S. Senate is a poorer place and not in the financial sense.  In a city where ego is rarely in short supply, Mr. Lautenberg stood out as truly gracious and a real gentlemen.  He was also the last member of the “Greatest Generation” to walk the halls as a Member of the Senate.

If you spend enough time in Washington, you typically have some good stories about well-known people.  Senator Lautenberg’s passing brings back a memorable anecdote from the winter of 1987-88.  It was early evening — probably around 7 or 7:30 pm — when a young speechwriter to George H.W. Bush walked out of the Old Executive Office Building and began the walk up 17th Street to the Farragut North metro station.  It was raining and the hapless speechwriter had naturally forgotten his umbrella.

As he was walking past the front door of the New Executive Office Building, a car pulled alongside.  The front, passenger side window went down and the 60-something driver inside called out, “Is this how you get to The Mayflower?”  It was and a short back-and-forth ensued about the best way to the hotel since road construction had made 17th Street a nightmare.

Finally, the driver asked, “Are you going that way?”  Yes, sir, replied the twentysomething government worker in the dark (and increasingly wet) wool suit who still didn’t have any idea to whom he was talking.  “Get in.  I’ll give you a ride,” the driver snapped.

When we got to the hotel, I hopped out and thanked the driver for the lift.  His reply: “You can tell your friends you got a ride from the Senator from New Jersey.”

In different circumstances, the logical rejoinder would involve a Soprano-esque snark about New Jersey and “going for a ride.”  But not today. R.I.P., Mr. Lautenberg.

Recalling “Dictatorships & Double Standards”



Jeane KirkpatrickSorry for the long drought in blogs.  Chalk it up to global warming.

Former Slate and New Republic editor Michael Kinsley has this delightful review of Lawrence Wright’s new book on Scientology in Sunday’s New York Times.  Describing Scientology, Kinsley writes:

The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday [including] the determination to control its members’ lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick)….

As the Scientologists have a legal budget on par with the GDP of a developing country, they can respond to Kinsley and The Times.  But Kinsley’s remark about Kirkpatrick deserves a comment since the sway of history during the past few decades puts her once-derided thesis in an increasingly vindicated light.

First a disclosure: During much of 1985, I worked with Amb. Kirkpatrick, helping her prepare her UN speeches and papers into a book, Legitimacy & Force.

Kirkpatrick’s distinction about authoritarian and communist dictatorships came to public attention in a November 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships & Double Standards.”  It was a critique of American policies that sought to undercut authoritarian pro-Western regimes (Somoza, the Shah, Lon Nol) while minimizing the destruction of human freedom in totalitarian regimes and movements (Soviet satellites and funded insurgencies).

Her article was often called a criticism of a “human rights” foreign policy – ironic because the phrase “human rights” never appears in the text.

What she did posit was that America’s foreign policy would be better focused on undercutting through trade, food aid, and yes, even foreign aid those governments that were trying to shut down all aspects of unsanctioned behavior (read: Jaruzelski’s Poland, other Soviet satellites).

With 30 years of hindsight, the insight of Amb. Kirkpatrick’s distinction has become blindingly obvious. Precisely as she and like-minded Reagan Administration colleagues (especially CIA director William Casey) predicted, once the aura of “invincibility” came off the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s due in no small part to aggressive American efforts, its empire crumbled with stunning swiftness.  In turn, once the Kremlin was no longer able to maintain an empire, those “wars of liberation” in El Salvador, Colombia, and Africa suddenly came to ignominious (for the rebels) conclusions.

A blog is not nearly long enough for a full discussion of issues that could easily consume tomes.  But suffice it to say from this member of a group occasionally labeled “the Kirkpatrick Mafia,” it is pleasing beyond belief to know that Amb. Kirkpatrick was able to see her views vindicated prior to her passing in 2006.

Incidentally, for the trivia minded, Prof. Kirkpatrick also holds the distinction of being the first Cabinet-level female appointee whose duties focused on international policy.

Microsoft: “with hollow eye and wrinkled brow”



The slow erosion of Microsoft’s brand continues.  New York Times columnist Randall Stross has a wonderful essay this morning on how the salons in Redmond are using Microsoft 8 as an excuse to phase out the eye-rolling “Live” appendage to  its desktop software:

After so many years of pushing the Windows Live brand in so many products, the company couldn’t easily drop the branding, even if executives had come around to the idea that it was misbegotten. But the imminent arrival of a new version of its flagship PC operating system, Windows 8, seems to provide cover for the change.

While schadenfreude at Microsoft’s expense is a frequent occurrence these days, the import of this is larger than a misbegotten marketing strategy.  Stross covers one key point and passes over another.  First, as Stross rightly notes, the emphasis on “Live” was Microsoft’s attempt to capitalize on real-time integration of software programs and users across the web.  This worked fine for Xbox where the addition of real-time gaming actually lent itself to the “Live” moniker.  But as PC users gravitated toward the web, particularly on mobile phones when 3G became ubiquitous, something else happened: The central focus on the PC and all its attendant software began to fragment. Microsoft couldn’t respond as Apple and Google effectively grabbed the smartphone OS market.

The second point, which derives from this, is that the web (especially the mobile web) put the public’s focus on third-party software developers. This is another big Microsoft weak point since the company has spent nearly 20 years expanding its bundled software in an effort to stamp out third-party competition.  This strategy worked fine when dial-up ruled but as mobile broadband expanded, this was doomed.

Memo to former AG Reno: You could’ve saved a lot of time and trouble.  The marketplace worked.

“A sort of homecoming”

Filed under: Jody Powell


Robert DawsonWashington’s salons have long known that on matters of environmental regulation, the gentleman at left is without peer. Robert K. Dawson, former Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works during the Reagan Administration, founded the eponymous Dawson & Associates in 1998 and during the past decade, the firm has established a reputation as Washington’s premier experts in natural resources regulation, environmental permitting, energy, defense, infrastructure, and government contracting..

With ten former Flag Officers, mostly drawn from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Dawson team offers a wealth of expertise that no other firm in Washington can match.  That is why I am proud to offer the following announcement today in concert with Mr. Dawson and the top-notch team at his company:

Dawson & Associates Welcomes
Peter Arnold as Senior Advisor

(Washington, D.C.) – Peter Arnold, a former White House and Capitol Hill staffer who has run several major lobbying coalitions for the telecommunications and high-tech industries during the past decade, has joined Dawson & Associates as a Senior Advisor, the firm announced today.

You can read more here.

I will continue to lead Arnold Consulting Group, as I have since 1998.  But I will now also be responsible for overseeing Dawson & Associates’ public affairs and crisis communications efforts on behalf of its clients.  In a sense, this is (apologies to Bono) a “sort of homecoming” since I first worked with Mr. Dawson in the early 1990s during my time with Jody Powell and Sheila Tate.  Twenty years later, things have come full circle and for that, I extend a tremendous feeling of gratitude to this gentleman for his faith in me.

— Peter Arnold

A class act

Filed under: Jody Powell,White House


Sheila TateAnyone wondering if remarkable people still rise to the top in Washington, D.C. should take a moment and read the email below. Sheila Tate, former press secretary to Nancy Reagan and spokesman for the 1988 George Bush Presidential campaign, is retiring after a remarkable career proving that Alan Alda was half-right when he said, “It’s better to be wise than smart.”  In Sheila’s case, she was both.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Washington intelligensia was rocked with the news that Sheila and former White House press secretary Jody Powell had created an eponymous firm, Powell Tate.  It was the summer of 1991 and the firm quickly established itself as “the” place for corporations in need of crisis help.

Sheila brought me into Powell Tate about six weeks after the company started which only goes to show that her judgment even in those glory years was remarkably fallible.  I had had the privilege of working with her on the 1988 Bush campaign, where she was chief spokesman though it should be noted that I did not write a certain line about the California raisins.

Everyone who ever worked with Sheila has favorite anecdotes and this writer is no exception:

  • At a surprise birthday party for Sheila in 1991, a senior Powell Tate consultant gently ribbed her during a toast about a client problem that happened when the two worked at a different PR shop.  When the toast was over, Sheila smilingly replied, “Michelle, we always hated you back then.”
  • After the first President Bush had an unfortunate stomach incident during a state visit to Japan, Sheila went on CNN and was asked if this represented a “burp” on the Bush Presidency.  Not missing a beat, she replied that “I think it’s more of a ‘yurp’ than a ‘burp.'”
  • My favorite: a photo taken shortly after the rather bitter 1988 Presidential election showing Sheila standing between George H.W. Bush and Mike Dukakis.  As I recall, the incoming Prez wrote underneath it, “To Sheila, Only you could referee this one.”

Sheila, if you’re reading this, there are two things you should know.  First, you and Jody were a remarkable influence on me that I will never forget.  Second, I was underpaid.

As I sit at my computer on a very cold Christmas Eve day, I can’t help think about the fact that when Jody and I started Powell Tate in 1991 we didn’t have computers.  Nor did we have cell phones or blackberries; social media would have sounded like a disease.  Hmm.  Maybe not a bad definition.

Powell Tate started with about 10 employees and far fewer clients.  We were in very cramped quarters in the Metropolitan Square Building.  The great part was we got to design our new space at 700 Thirteenth Street from scratch.  And now, a mere 20 years later, you’re leaving it!

Back in the “early days”, I was an early bird, usually at work about 7:30am.  Jody showed up about 10am.  I left by 6pm and he worked into the evening hours which was great for West Coast clients and a few European clients as well.  We grew rapidly and we all worked as hard as we needed to, even overnight on occasion, and created great memories while doing great work for our clients.

On January 1st I will be erased from the IPG systems and my new address will be: ______.  The company has allowed me to slide slowly into retirement and I now embrace it with enthusiasm!  Before that happens, I need to wish each of you a wonderful Powell Tate experience, a long and rewarding career and great memories.  Don’t lose the essence of our culture where the individual and hard work is valued and the team is valued more; and above all, stay loyal to your clients and give them your very best.  I hope each of you can look back when you are about to retire and know you did your best, you loved your work and you truly admire your colleagues.  And, if you want me to be really happy, vote Republican.

Sheila Tate