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Nobody’s Pluperfect

Matt Latimer has written this year's most entertaining book about what goes on -- or doesn't -- in Washington.

By From the December 2009 - January 2010 issue

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Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor
By Matt Latimer
(Crown Publishers, 283 pages, $26)

Matt Latimer has written this year's most entertaining book about what goes on -- or doesn't -- in Washington. This is a laugh-out-loud book with a serious message, for those willing to hear it. It has also generated controversy.

Latimer was a geeky kid from Flint, Michigan, who set out for Washington (via law school and journalism school) determined to write for the president of the United States. America is a country where just about anyone can grow up to become just about anything -- and that's just the problem, George Will said after Bill Clinton became president. Some Bush people feel that way about Latimer.

Latimer worked for a congressman and two senators before becoming a speechwriter for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and then President Bush.

He is complimentary of Rumsfeld (as he is of Vice President Cheney), but he is critical of others, including some who helped him along the way. His treatment of President Bush is...frank.

Latimer has a gift for storytelling, but he's a bit unpolished at times (and he doesn't seem to understand the pluperfect). He says he had the feeling that White House chief of staff Josh Bolten "would stand at the window late at night to see who was still working," a snide comment he doesn't give any support for. He relates that in his interview with Secretary Rumsfeld, he told him about "all the long-winded speeches that senators gave to empty chambers, while their staffs praised them for their mediocrity." He says Rumsfeld "loved that observation." How does he know? "Rumsfeld seemed to like that observation" would have been better journalism, without any sacrifice of immodesty.

Latimer thought that working for the president would be the experience of a lifetime, and it was, but not in the way he had expected (that's the pluperfect). In the end he was disillusioned, but that's the way Washington is. Mostly. It wasn't for those of us who worked for Reagan.

In the final chapter he lashes out at "professional Republicans" who, he says, are only in it for being close to power for the sake of power, and who are more interested in keeping their lucrative contracts and cushy Georgetown houses than in supporting candidates who believe in Republican ideals. Yes...but. On Election Day, Latimer voted for Obama. Is the naïveté of voting for Obama better than the consultants' greed (that would be Latimer's term) in supporting McCain?

Latimer came in at the end of the second administration, and saw only the worn-out Bush, but he gives him full credit for the conservative actions he took: reducing taxes, supporting missile defense, and starting a discussion on Social Security. That's generous. It was not always great at the beginning. No tax cut could, or can, offset McCain-Feingold or Sarbanes-Oxley, both of which were enacted early on in the administration and neither of which President Bush vetoed.

Was Latimer disloyal to President Bush and to the others he worked with? That's the charge of my good friend Bill Bennett, who called Latimer a "worm" and has consigned him to the lowest circles of Dante's inferno which, Bill reminds those of us who haven't washed since college, is for "for people who are disloyal in the way this guy is disloyal, and at the very lowest point Satan chews on their bodies." Whoa! A lot of learning can be a dangerous thing too. Satan chewing on Latimer's body? Hell, Matt's so young, Satan could suck him through a straw. Besides, they say the lowest circle has been completely renovated in compliance with Consumer Product Safety Commission standards (Charlie Rangel is rumored to have a still-unreported income producing property there), and you can even hear Bill Bennett's radio show, when the furnace is low, but only if you also subscribe to the New York Times. Incidentally, what was Dante doing, slipping us the skinny on Hell?

The people whom Latimer criticizes, and their supporters, need to relax. Washington, after all, is a town where people don't take friendship personally. Or insults. Most of those whom Latimer criticizes are adults with considerable achievements, whose only damage will be to their egos. Unless they make his criticisms a two-day story.

Latimer's a talented writer and could be a valuable resource for the conservative cause. Whatever his sins, a lot can be forgiven a man who reveals to us that President Bush said, "If bull---t was currency, Joe Biden would be a billionaire." Who has done more to rehabilitate the former president? Don't miss this book.

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About the Author

Daniel Oliver is a Senior Director of White House Writers Group in Washington, D.C. He served as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan.