In her column in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan once told of a dinner she attended in the Family Quarters of the White House during the first President and Mrs Bush’s time there. Peggy wrote:
I sat near Dick Cheney [who was then secretary of Defense]. President Bush’s sister turned to him and said she hoped he was keeping a diary. He sort of winced and looked down. No, he said, “unfortunately, you can’t keep diaries in a position like mine anymore.” He explained that anything he wrote could be subpoenaed or become evidence in some potential legal action. “So you can’t keep and recount your thoughts anymore.” We talked about what a loss this is for history. It concerned him. It was serious; so is he. Then everyone started talking politics again.
During that same period, I did keep a personal journal, which fortunately was never subpoenaed. I didn’t begin these journals in January 1981, when I had the special honor and opportunity to go to Washington with George and Barbara Bush. I had been keeping a diary since age nine and continue to this day. I was going to write up what I did each day no matter whether I was in the White House or the Texas House, of which I was then a member.
The good folks at Texas A&M University Press have published two volumes of selected entries from these diaries. The first, called When Things Went Right, describes my time working for then-Vice President Bush at the start of the Reagan Administration. The second, Inside Reagan’s Navy, tells of my subsequent service as a political appointee in the Pentagon. This fall, the Press will publish the third and final volume of my “anecdotage”, called Zenith, which will cover the first Bush Administration.
The job of assembling these three books meant reading the many volumes of journals from the 1981-1993 period; choosing certain passages to illuminate events and the people involved in them; and annotating the entries to identify who those people were and how the story ended up.
If keeping a journal is a discipline – and that’s all it is, a habit more than history – then my indiscipline has been to write down everything rather than be more selective. Thus, three books of roughly 300 pages each contain only a fraction of all that is in the raw journals.
What you will find there are not dramatic stories as the Berlin Wall came down or decisions were made to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I could only write what I saw, and when scenes like these were being played out in the Oval Office, I was in my office, wrestling over who should be an assistant secretary of Agriculture.
This is not a complaint; it’s just a fact. Fortunately for America and for history, John Sununu was there, and we have his memoir to recount what happened.
What I do hope my journals record is something of the atmosphere of Washington during the Reagan-Bush Era and descriptions of the people, high and low, whom I encountered in those years. The compliment this author most enjoys hearing from a reader is, “You made me feel like I was there!”
If I have performed no other service, it has been to preserve examples of the great wit of my boss, John Sununu, the White House chief of staff. To conclude with just one of many such instances: I was telling Governor Sununu of a wrangle on a regulatory commission between its members and the chairman, a man named Chan. As I went through this complex tale, I noticed a small smile stealing upon John’s cherubic face. I decided to stop right there and let him pronounce the line he had conjured up. I did and he did:
“Were you there,” he asked with a lift of his eyebrows, “when the fit hit the Chan?”