Era of Washington Harrumphing

President Bush meets with his speechwriting staff. Matt Latimer is seated on the couch, to the left of the President. (The White House)

Matt Latimer, former speechwriter for President Bush, is getting the back of the hand from his one-time colleagues in the administration because of his memoir, "Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor."

No surprise. Of Ed Gillespie, the former RNC chairman, Latimer had this to say: "Ed was a speechwriter's worst kind of boss: a lackluster writer who thought he was a good one." Add to that Latimer's account of meeting Josh Bolten, Bush's chief of staff: "like getting a proctology exam from a doctor with cold hands."

Bush cabinet secretaries Spence Abraham and John Ashcroft, faring no better, are deemed: "recycled losers ... no matter how badly a person screwed up, sooner or later he'd turn up somewhere else, forgiven and forgotten."

The tactic in play is to dismiss Latimer as a man at the fringe of the White House goings-on, a non-entity who couldn't possibly have known what the important people in the center of the room were talking about. Says Gillespie: "Who is this guy again? Who is this writing a book?"

Dana Perino, former White House press secretary, put it this way: "Do you know how many people have emailed me and said, 'Who the heck is Matt Latimer? Who is this young man? What is he talking about?"

It all adds up to another session of: What's wrong with politics today? We asked Latimer to weigh in on that question.


What has always been wrong with Washington but has become oppressive in our era is the harrumphing. The harrumphing about my book, "Speech-less," for instance (if I can make a self-involved and shamelessly commercial reference here.)

Before pundits had even read my book, they were out in force harrumphing. And when not harrumphing, they were grousing and fulminating and expressing outrage.

In a town known for its buddy system, "Speech-less" talks about ...well...the Washington buddy system. Its foolishness but especially its humorlessness. Much to their discomfort, I call out Senators, for example, who if not catered to or honored like 17th century French aristocrats become fearsome harrumphers.

And I mention others far removed from the people who elected them or pay their salaries, such as those who grumble or delay when asked to take action against waste at the Pentagon. And I discuss White House officials who seemed to put positioning and power games ahead of principles and ideals.

All of this has caused jowls to shake and fingers to wave, with the point being that Washington's super-serious potentates have forgotten what a loony bin the federal government often is and that DC remains a self-protective company town.

As amusing as all this is, the reaction to my book underscores a serious problem in our nation's capital. We've lost the ability to be self aware and to laugh at ourselves. That makes it even harder to repair a system of government that far too often is distanced from Americans' daily problems and concerns.

By Steven E. Levingston |  October 7, 2009; 5:30 AM ET Politics , Steven Levingston
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