Duke University Alumni Magazine

Making It On The Hill
Blue Devils In The House
by Robert Bliwise

Two Democratic veterans and a new-revolution Republican may be at odds on policy and philosophy, but they do agree that Congress has become frustratingly fractious.
It's late March and Washington's cherry blossoms, like so much in this capital captivated by politics, seem merely a distant promise of rosy times. But alert as always to the comedy potential from political foibles, the satirical troupe the Capitol Steps is performing in Georgetown. The lead troupe member jokes that it's so cold that people are "actually huddling around Bob Dole" for warmth. He goes on to reflect on the oddity of performing some months back for the O.J. Simpson jury--playing to sequestered individuals who were shielded from current events. It was, he observed, just like playing to Congress. Playing in Congress is a demanding role--especially in light of the Republican revolution-in-progress, and in the face of the approaching elections. Duke counts three graduates in the House. (Henry Hyde of Illinois attended Duke in the Forties.) Two are Democratic veterans who are coping with and, in some ways, almost exuding in their new status on the Hill, and one is a Republican at the vanguard of the revolution.

hen you walk into Capitol Hill's Longworth Building and find Robert D. Inglis' office, you're struck first by a warning: "Notice to all PACs," it reads. "Remember, you didn't give me a dime and I don't owe you a thing." The political messages don't stop there. A sign demands, "Sign the Balanced Budget BILL." A series of charts document "the middle-class squeeze," asking "How much of your paycheck goes to taxes?" and asserting that with a balanced budget, interest rates will drop and America will become "more prosperous and more competitive."

     Bob Inglis '81, now in his second term of Congress, is a Republican representing South Carolina's fourth district. The heart of the dis-trict is the city of Greenville, a textile center after the Civil War and now a center of high-tech investment. Locals call the stretch of interstate between Greenville and Spartanburg "the autobahn" testimony to the influx of foreign-owned industries. One of the most conspicuous features in Inglis' inner office is alarge BMW logo; he jokes that the letters stand for "Bubba Makes Wheels."

Photo: Sam Kittner

     In its look at the 104th Congress, Politics in America says the reserved, courtly Inglis "hardly seems a revolutionary." But "a true political outsider whose first-ever campaign ambushed a popular Democratic incumbent," he is "as close to that as anyone in the GOP House class of 1992," the description goes.

     A summa cum laude graduate of Duke, Inglis earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. At thirty-one, he became the youngest partner in one of Greenville's most prestigious law firms. As reported in Politics in America, a set of political biographies compiled by the Congressional Quarterly, Inglis' 1992 campaign was an intensive door-to-door effort against a popular moderate Democrat--but a Democrat tied to an unpopular president. Inglis accepted no PAC money; he advertised himself as "un-bought and not for sale," a "citizen statesman, not a professional politician." James Guth, a political science professor at South Carolina's Clemson University, says Inglis ran "an enormously insightful and daring grass-roots campaign that the Democrats didn't see coming."

      Two years later, he was such an overwhelming favorite that his opposition was, as Guth describes him, "a self-anointed Democrat who hand-lettered his own campaign signs."Inglis includes among his political heroes not just the expected--Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan--but the Republican "Gang of Seven," who were responsible for exposing the suspect operations of the House Bank and helped spark the Republican takeover of Congress. He mentions that one of that group, Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum, now a senator, ran a low-budget, grass-roots campaign that served as a model for Inglis. Santorum claims to have knocked on 20,000 doors in his campaign; Inglis didn't approximate that number. But Southerners do move at a leisurely pace, observes the South Carolinian.

     Asked today about his shaping academic experiences, Inglis points to a political-science course at Duke. Among the course assignments: Design a strategy to defeat your incumbent member of Congress. In researching the subject, he interviewed a congressional challen-ger along with South Carolina's Don Fowler. Fowler is now chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As Inglis remembers it, the course was taught by a visiting professor with conspicuously liberal leanings. Inglis was impressed with the depth of the professor's belief system. "It was a real crisis in confidence for me as a student to wonder whether conservatives really believed anything or whether they just wanted to stop the liberals. The hap-py thing I discovered is that conservatives believe in a very different vision of government. And it's not simply stopping the liberals, it's replacing the bureaucratic welfare state with an opportunity society."

     Ironically, his first political involvement was with Jimmy Carter's 1976 run for the presidency. The sister of Jody Powell, a close Carter associate and later his press secretary, was the organistat the church attended by Inglis' family. Carter paid a visit to the church; Inglis' father made a financial contribution to the campaign, and Inglis was enlisted to distribute campaign material. Four years later, Inglis enmeshed himself in Ronald Reagan's presidential run. "So I had already redeemed myself."Having waged his own campaign as an anti-PAC candidate, Inglis has been a congressional gadfly in his opposition to political action committees. But the battle to rein in PACs is "going pretty slowly," he admits. "I'm fond of saying about term limits that it's difficult to sell. It's sort of like trying to convince the chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders. And if that's the truth in term limits, it's even harder to sell campaign finance reform." Even though Supreme Court decisions have equated political contributions with the right of free speech, Inglis says constitutional distinctions can be drawn between organized giving and independent giving. (Corporate gifts to campaigns, for example, are illegal.)

     "PACs are getting fairly sophisticated," says Inglis, and they want what amounts to "a contract" from members of Congress. "There's a real expectation that if I'm going to give you a large sum of money, then you're going to do what I need you to do when it comes to voting." A more pernicious PAC effect is the increase in the cost of running for office. In the last round of congressional elections--which brought the presumed Republican revolution --something like 90 percent of the incumbents were re-elected. That reflects the fact that PACs give so generously to incumbents, Inglis says. "The incumbent has so much money in the war chest and the ability to raise tremendous sums very quickly that it squelches the opportunity for challengers. In fact, it hurts the competitiveness of elections."

     Inglis has promised to serve no more than six years in the House. Term limits is one of his sustaining themes: He has pushed for a six-year limit for House members and an eighteen-year limit in the Senate. He says he recognizes some drawbacks to term limits, including the loss of institutional memory. ("You lose people who have been around a long time who remember things. Of course, some of them have been around so long they've forgotten everything," he says wryly.) As he sees it, "I think it's the best reform to bring to the institution as a whole," a reform "that would change the institution."

     Part of his term-limits exuberance grows from the theory that people are naturally risk-averse. "Given a tendency to avert risk, in the case of a member of Congress what happens is the longer you've been here, the more cautious you become. Members who have been here longer get nearly catatonic about what some group may think of them, whether they will offend this group or that group. And they are constantly trying to cautiously negotiate their way through various interest groups." A representative less seasoned to the ways of the institution will "just go ahead and vote and offend some interest group or another," he says. "You figure that in the end it will all work out. Or you go back to practicing law or whatever you were doing."

     To the critics of term limits, it seems clear that inexperienced representatives would be more susceptible to the overtures of lobbyists. Inglis doesn't see things that way. "The longer that somebody's here, the more inclined the lobbyists are to have the ear of that member. Human relationships take time to develop. The more senior members are more likely to be influenced by lobbyists and to be led around by them, frankly, than junior members."

     Clemson's James Guth says Inglis' anti-PAC and pro-term limits stance--which puts him in opposition to some of his newly-ensconced Republican colleagues--is popular. But a big part of his appeal is that Inglis "is a very articulate and engaging person," according to Guth. "Whether you're liberal or conservative, it's hard to meet him and not feel he is a very genuine individual, very easy to like."

     "What's interesting about Inglis is the way in which he deals with the district. He seems to have an almost obsessive need to educate and discuss issues with constituents. He spends a lot of time in town meetings; he actually tries to engage people in conversation and dialogue about issues, even on tough issues--which is something few politicians do. Although he has a pretty clear idea on most policy questions of the direction he's going, he gives the impression of potentially being more open to conversation--and maybe even to conversion--than a lot of his Republican colleagues. He has an ideological position, but he has the facts, too. Even if you don't agree with him, you have to be impressed with the fact that he does his homework."

      Inglis the educator has joined in the theorizing about the growing squeeze on the middle class. "The reason for the stagnation, particularly among the middle class, is the taxation, regulation, litigation cancer," he says. "The average American is spending fifty cents out of every dollar they make in taxes--federal, state, local taxes, sales taxes,gas taxes, all of those things add up. It's fairly obvious that we have an over-regulation scheme. I'm a recovering lawyer, so I can say that we really need to rein in the litigation explosion. Those three things take an enormous tax out of the productive capacity of the American people, and the risk-taking is not as great as it would be otherwise. There's no reason our $7-trillion economy can't be an $11-trillion economy, and in that expansion would be tremendous opportunities for all Americans."

     Deficit hawk that he is, Inglis agrees that there's a lot of truth to the observation of pundit Michael Kinsley that the people don't want leadership as much as they want alchemy. Slice away at the budget, that is, but don't cut too close for my own comfort. Inglis says he's spending a lot of time with groups of older citizens talking about the Republicans' proposals to slow the growth of Medicare. "It's a very interesting case. At all these Medicare meetings, whether it's with a solidly middle-class audience or with groups that have less discretionary income, I find the same thing. At first there is some real concern; there is a level of fear about changing Medicare. But then when you explain what the changes are you're proposing, they fairly readily agree that something needs to be done. If you present the facts, it's pretty hard to come to any other conclusion. If you're going to balance the budget, you've got to deal with entitlement programs."

Photo: Sam Kittner

     Inglis' rating from the American Conservative Union is a pure 100 percent. (It hovers between 5 and 10 percent from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.) For all his focus on economics, he is unyielding on social issues. A few years ago, he was quoted as saying of abortion providers, "They are not doctors. They may have graduated from some medical school at the bottom of their class, from some back alley." Convinced that this fall's campaign will hinge largely on the country's moral direction, he eagerly confronts what he calls the "mindless mush" of moral relativism or politically correct thinking. "The American people feel there is a moral problem with our society. They sense a lack of respect for human life and property. And I think the American people have a real concern about the transmission of values, or the lack of transmission of values.

     "I'm an optimist; I think that the American people have tremendous strength at their core. I also think that strength has been dulled by what's been perceived as the politically correct approach--that you can't mention values, that you can't take a position that something is right or wrong. If we can get rid of all that politically correct hogwash and replace it with basic American common sense, and if our leaders are willing to stand up and say that something is right and something is wrong, then the American people will re-find their moral compass."

f there's any doubt that retail politics transcends ideological labels, Robert E. Wise Jr. '70 could make the case. One longtime Wise observer, political editor Richard Grimesof the Charleston Daily Mail, says the congressman is "more liberal than a lot of the politicians they elect in this state, which tends to be conservative." But Wise-known as a rather accomplished clogger-is a high-energy politician in the area of constituent services, always quick to help a citizen through the maze of the federal bureaucracy. He is, says Grimes, "a very responsive congressman." He also defies the liberal label on some key issues for West Virginians, including gun control, which he has opposed consistently.

     Suddenly out of the majority, Wise finds himself in a whole new game. "Well, if adversity builds character, then I'm heaven-bound; I'm on the glory train."

     Wise, who earned a law degree from Tulane University, was first elected to Congress in 1982, fresh from the West Virginia Senate. As Politics in America puts it, he came to Washington as "a self-described populist with a penchant for challenging established power." Just a few months into his first term, he took on his state's congressional delegation by fighting funding for the Stonewall Jackson Dam, a long-planned flood-control project in his district. His maverick status isn't as notable today. But in an unusual gesture, he does pump back some of his congressional salary to his state. The money goes to support financially needy West Virginia college students.

     In conceiving of the role of government, Bob Wise is the polar opposite of Bob Inglis. He boasts that he has one of the highest ratings in Congress from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, and the highest rating by far in his delegation from the ACLU.

     Wise's first shaping experience in politics was watching Terry Sanford, then Duke's president, manage emotions on campus during the difficult days of 1969. To this day, Sanford and Robert Kennedy (whose son, Joe, is a congressional colleague) remain his political heroes. Sanford "encouraged a lot of students to express themselves through the system," he says. Wise joined with other students in lobbying Washington against theVietnam War, and later worked in Sanford's 1976 campaign for the presidential nomination. "That was a time when people looked more to the government as being the first place to express themselves. Today in many people's minds, government plays a much lesser role, and sometimes even a negative role."

     The tax bite that supports the government is modest compared with what it takes to run most other industrial nations, he says. "We have a historical tradition in this country of not wanting a large, all-intrusive government. But there's not enough awareness of where government is a positive force."

     We just came through another set of devastating floods in West Virginia, where half the state was declared a natural disaster area-the second time in ten years. I think that most people would say that the Federal Emergency Management Agency did an incredible job at being on the scene and assisting people. I think Social Security has been the single most effective anti-poverty program that's been created. One of the most responsive chords that we struck this year was the fight over student loans. I saw people of every political stripe, parents and students, coming forward and saying, hey, the small amount of interest that the federal government pays while I'm in school is more than offset by what I'll be able to return to the economy in taxes."

     An unabashed activist, Wise sees numerous arenas for a more robust federal role: student-loan programs, Title I and similar programs geared to educational achievement at an early age, safeguarding pensions, guaranteeing some level of health insurance to all citizens, "jaw-boning" payroll-trimming business executives to be mindful not just of their shareholders but of "stake holders" in the community. And he'd like to see public financing of congressional campaigns. The "peace of mind" produced by a stronger field of candidates and a diminished chase after private money would be well worth the cost to taxpayers, he says.

     Wise is also responsive to what he believes to be a widespread"gut-level environmentalism." Having grown up in the Kanawha Valley, known as "Chemical Valley" for its array of chemical plants, he can remember "when the air smelled bad and it was hard to breathe sometimes," he says. "And the fact that one of the first actions of the Republican majority was to cut back environmental enforcement 25 percent doesn't sit well with a lot of people."

     A promoter of compressed natural gas, an abundant natural resource in West Virginia, Wise bought a 1984 Ford Tempo that could run on either compressed natural gas or gasoline. He traded it in for a 1987 dual-fuel model. "It has red stripes down the side and says "Burn America's Clean-Burning Fuel, Natural Gas.' My wife says that certainly looks nice pulling away from a diplomatic reception."

     In Congress, Wise has advocated capital budgeting for the federal budget, which he says is "very arcane, but, I think, vitally important." (He admits, "I'm cursed; I never identify myself with really sexy issues.") If a business or a university had to set up its books like the federal government does, there would be no investment, he says. "A dollar that you spend on a mile of highway today costs a dollar this year; you don't spread the cost out, you don't amortize it over a ten-year period. So you don't ever get an adequate reflection of investment, and thus you discourage investment. We ought to be putting more into infrastructure, into education, into job training, into research and development, and yet, because of the budget constraints, we're going to put less and less. We're going to eat our own seed-corn.

     "People tell me they want the federal budget to be like the family budget and a business budget, and that's fine. But every family I know borrows to meet expenditures. We borrow for the house, we borrow for the car, and we borrow, above all, for our children's education, because that's a long-term investment. You're insane to balance the budget if you don't reflect investment."

     Wise is one of two so-called "floor sheriffs" for the Democrats. When the Democrats became the minority, they "took a page out of the book of the Republicans," who had official objectors when they were in the minority. He regularly distributes his own newsletter around Capitol Hill, "The Wise Whip Wrap-Up." It includes talking points for Democrats (sample: "Keep thumping the Title I and Educationcuts. Local school districts must plan the fall budget in the next month."), along with his own cartoon creations (sample: a Republican-as-Frankenstein's monster is squeezing a defenseless innocent who pleads, "Help! Tell him I'm not a moderate.")

     As floor sheriff, he tries to "make sure that nothing sneaks by, to make sure that if they're trying to ram something through, we close the process down," he says. "You're not as much a legislator as you are an advocate for something. The thing you learn being in the minority is that you will score some points on the floor, but at the end of the day when they take a vote, they're going to roll you." Wise compares his role to a lawyer testing arguments for an appeal to the next courtroom-an appeal, that is, to public opinion.

     From his veteran perspective, he considers Congress "a more tempestuous body" than it was twenty years ago. "My feeling about the House is that it is often like a cable-TV wrestling match. It is loud and raucous at times. But I do truly believe that it's the people's House; and if it's got a raw edge to it, it's because there's a rawness right now in the electorate, and it's very representative.

     "There isn't as much comity, reaching across party lines, as I've seen in the past. There's a much sharper edge to people. A lot of the people who have been able to reach across the lines and negotiate compromises with one another are either gone or leaving. So you have a body in which it's much more difficult to reach a final compromise. The best example is today the House will be voting on its eleventh temporary spending bill this year. What that reflects is the inability of the parties to get together on a final budget:We're six months into the budget year and we still don't have a budget."

     There's not much overlap in agreement between Wise and House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But Wise did vote for some of the Gingrich-inspired internal reforms. He points out that when, two Congresses ago, he headed the Democratic Study Group, he recommended making committee chairs more accountable to the party caucus; Gingrich took that reform to "a whole new level" by ignoring seniority and appointing the chairs himself. Wise says he gives the House speaker credit for "bringing to a head the quiet internal debate that has been wracking this country for the last ten years. He is forcing all of us to focus on just what it is that we want government to do. And I think that's a very worthwhile process. It won't be finished in one session of Congress. But I'm hearing a lot of people for the first time evaluate what they want the government to be doing in education and research and infrastructure development."

     Wise has no illusions about the low esteem in which the public holds his profession. When he goes into schools to talk to students, he begins by asking what connotations the word "politician" brings to mind. "And always the word comes out crook or liar or cheat and so on." He tries to sketch the honored roots of the term, beginning with the classical concept of administering the "polis" or city-state. He believes that, in fact, the standard has been rising for elected officials.

     He likes the job for the same reason he "stopped thirty years ago on a quadrangle at Duke" to join in a protest, he says. "As difficult as it is, as often frustrating as it is, there is still the opportunity to influence the direction the country goes and to make a difference in people's lives. And that's the most sacred trust you can be given. This is not a place to be if you can't handle deferred gratification. In small ways sometimes, in large ways other times, you can still make a difference in people's lives."

est Virginia has three members in Congress, all Democrats; two of the three are Duke graduates. (The state did have four representatives; that changed with the most recent census, and the districts were redrawn for the 1992 elections.) Bob Wise's senior in the delegation is Nicholas J. Rahall II '71, first elected in 1976 and now in his tenth term.

     As noted by The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, Rahall's second-ranking status on the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee helps a state where coal mining is a big economic player. One of the showpieces of Rahall's office, which offers a spectacular view of the Capitol dome, is a model of a coal-constructed district building. The office also displays various tributes testifying to his leadership with strip-mining legislation and railroad deregulation, a mounted chairman's gavel from his subcommittee, a map of the national highway system, and a photo of Rahall and his son-the latter wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt-being carried on the shoulders of the residents of Kefeir, Lebanon. Kefeir was the home village ofRahall's grandfather. Rahall has visited Lebanon a dozen times over the past decade, "even in the midst of some tough fighting." Along with tomes on mining laws and energy futures, his shelves carry books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Photo: Sam Kittner

     The Hill also sketches the close ties between Rahall and Robert Byrd, the senior senator from West Virginia. "I've known him since he was a child," Byrd told the newspaper. From his beginning days in West Virginia politics, the seventy-eight-year-old Byrd had a friendship with Rahall's father. The senator gave Rahall his first job on Capitol Hill as an elevator operator. During his summers away from Duke, Rahall worked in his senate office as an intern. As Byrd said in The Hill, "His father and grandfather used to come to my coal-mining town carrying sacks of laces and linen. Old Man Rahall worked hard and saved...and [they] made something out of themselves."

     Along with Byrd, Rahall has made himself a major force in bringing home the bacon. According to The Hill, Rahall and Byrd traveled to West Virginia in December to dedicate the Robert C. Byrd Correctional Institution. From there, they went to view a new watershed built to prevent flooding of creek waters. Finally, they attended the ground breaking for a library for the College of West Virginia, supported by federal funds.

     Rahall "has taken up some good fights for the state," says Daily Mail political editor Richard Grimes. The southern part of the state that Rahall represents is mountainous and hard to get around, Grimes points out. That's made federal road projects particularly vital. And remarkably, over the course of his political career, Rahall has enjoyed the support of the miners union and the mining industry alike.

     For years, he has earned a rating of 100 percent from the AFL-CIO, along with relatively high ratings from Americans for Democratic Action. He has voted against the Republican-sponsored balanced-budget constitutional amendment. But adhering to what he describes as "a rock-solid position" among West Virginians "that I reflect," he has also voted against gun-control legislation. And he has voted against the trade treaties, saying they have "benefited Wall Street more than Main Street."

     While he dates his political involvement to his high-school presidency of the Key Club, Rahall went to the House as his first elected office. At Duke, he was involved with the Young Democrats organization and treasurer of the North Carolina Democrats College Federation. Like Wise, his West Virginia colleague, he was caught up in the campus vigil that followed the Kent State shootings and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. As Rahall remembers it, the scene on the quad had a lasting consciousness-raising impact: "The joining of hands, black and white together, and the singing of 'We Shall Overcome,' the call home to assure mom and dad that I wasn't demonstrating, then the rush to get back and continue demonstrating-it was a defining moment. It heightened my interest in the political process and it got me doing something, joning with other like-minded students."

     After Duke, Rahall went to George Washington University law school. He later worked as a travel agent and a broadcasting executive.

     Considering today's political landscape, Rahall, again like Wise, laments what he refers to as a growing "lack of civility" among congressional colleagues. "After you had your expected disagreements during the day, it used to be that you were still friends. But that's gone. It's much more partisan, much more divisive. The debate is bitter more often than not, the demands are tougher on us from the people we represent." He traces much of the changing congressional climate to negative campaigning. "While everyone decries it and tries to claim plausible deniability, it's still done on all sides."

     Has the money chase denigrated the political process? "Yes, it is totally out of hand," says Rahall, who-while he criticizes multi-million-dollar congressional races-is quick to peg the Republican primary season as extravagantly expensive. He would like to see the media provide free or cut-rate time to candidates. And ultimately, he hopes for public financing of campaigns. "Unfortunately, PACs play a role in today's elections. And they will continue to play a role until we get to the day of full public financing. But if you outlaw the PACs, then only the guy with the deep pockets, the billionaire, is going to be able to run for office. I don't think we want a Congress of billionaires."

     At a time when even President Clinton, in his State of the Union address, celebrated the passing of big government, Rahall expresses skepticism about the "devolving" of federal responsibilities to the states. "Turning more power back to the states is a catchy phrase. Getting government off our backs and out of our pockets-that's a real catchy thirty-second sound bite. That was a major point of the self-proclaimed Republican revolution of the last elections. But some in this Congress, especially in the newer class, have used it to try to wipe out all government. That, I think, is scary. It is not sound public policy."

     According to Rahall, one of the federal government's greatest responsibilities is to "get kids off on the right foot"-meaning support of child-nutrition and other education programs. He credits Clinton for having "drawn a line in the sand" over cuts in education funding. He says he's open to examining "some type of tax incentives or credits" that would bolster corporations committed to worker retraining.

     And, representing as he does a large coal-mining area of the state, Rahall says he is environmentally-minded. "The Republicans talk about streamlining or reducing government. But the real goal here is to totally wipe out a lot of sound environmental protection that has brought us clean air, has brought us clean water, has improved the environment for our children. There is a balance that can be struck without denigrating or wiping out all the laws that are on the books today. I think, for example, we've done it very well in West Virginia. Industry can go in andmine the land as long as they put it back in sound environmental condition, and industry has been doing just that.

     "Coal miner health and safety-that's another very important issue in the Appalachian region. In the name of saving dollars, cutting back on coal mine and safety inspection is totally inhumane and absurd. That's putting a price tag on the life of a citizen. I don't think that is a just way of operating at all. That's just a horrendous policy."

     It may be "kind of fun" to be a gadfly taking nips at the Republicans, but it's more fun to be in charge, Rahall says. "When you don't yield that gavel, you don't wield the same influence as you do when your party is in the majority. And watching this majority in this Congress operate is particularly frustrating." Republican committee chairs, he insists, are beholden to interests that often don't reflect their own views. "The script is being written from above and handed to them, and they're having to uncomfortably follow that script. That was particularlytrue in the first hundred days or so when we had that so-called contract guiding every action of every committee, regardless of how those chairmen may have felt or may have voted in the past."

     The popular perception of Congress may be "a bunch of bungling idiots who can't agree on the time of day." But public expectations create some of the institutional frustrations, Rahall says. "Very rarely does a week go by that I don't hear, 'Oh, you've got to balance the budget. But wait a minute, I didn't mean right here, I didn't mean sacrificing that program that affects me.'" The diverse views of the American people on budget priorities suggests something about the complexities of governing-and about the difficult path to "concrete, concerted action" in a representative legislature.

     "Every day is not a high. And there are times you feel like you've done everything you could and you end up back at square one. And you have to start all over. But that's the challenge. I feel I can still make a contribution to the people who have sent me here. And as long as I can continue to make that contribution, then I have a responsibility to keep going."

bservers of Inglis, Wise, and Rahall wonder if any will keep going beyond the House of Representatives. The two West Virginians have both been speculated about as eventual successors to Senator Byrd; for his part, Inglis has talked about taking on a fellow South Carolinian, Democratic Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings.

      Once you've had your view of the Capitol dome-and expressed your view inside the Capitol dome-it's tempting to take your role as revolutionary or gadfly to yet another stage.


Oval officer: Sosnik, the president's political director, consults with Clinton on upcoming re-election campaign
official White House photograph

o observe that Doug Sosnik '79 lives a frenetic routine is to state the obvious: On a typical day, he arrives at the office for an eight o'clock staff meeting. He doesn't get home until ten or eleven at night. There's nothing typical, though, about his day, which may include meetings with ambassadors, congressional candidates, mayors, corporate lobbyists, and trip organizers. And there's nothing typical about his office location-the West Wing of the White House.

      For the past year-and-a-half, Sosnik has been Bill Clinton's political director. As he meets with this visitor on a Saturday morning in March, he explains that "right now when I'm talking with you, I'm supposed to be doing four things at once: There's you; there's this guy who used to work here who wants to see me, I don't know about what; there's a briefing with the chief of staff, who fortunately is not here yet; and there's a two-hour scheduling meeting where we're supposed to figure out where the president is going to travel between now and August."

      A tour of Sosnik's basement office looks like a trade show for the telephone industry: There's a "secure" line, a "political" line, an ordinary communications line, a fax line. He calls his space "not too luxurious but functional-wired for action." He can't be bothered, he says, to display "personal effects orfamous people on the walls." There are notebooks on his shelves labeled with the names of the onetime Republican contenders; a large black binder is devoted to Bob Dole."

      There have been high-profile people in this job like Lee Atwater and Ed Rollins," he says. "Then there have been low-profile people you've never heard of. My guess is by the end of the cycle, I'll probably fall somewhere in the middle."

      The cycle he now finds himself in-and finds himself trying to shape-is, of course, the presidential election. It's unusual that he's in the position, he points out, since he didn't work for the '92 Clinton campaign; only since taking the job has he built a personal relationship with the president. Sosnik reports to Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes. That means he "doesn't run things" at the White House, as he puts it. But he does have a major role in linking the White House with political leaders around the nation, and in deciding on Clinton's contacts when the president goes on the road. "I am the person looked to on a day-to-day basis to represent the political calculation around any given issue or any given event. It doesn't necessarily mean that what I suggest goes. But it does mean that I have a seat at the table to participate in all those matters that relate to politics."

      These days, more and more matters relate to politics. "We've really done things differently" for the campaign, Sosnik says. For more than a year, he's been one of a team of about eight who meet with the president once a week and serve as "a sort of working group for his re-election campaign." The campaign began early -at least informally, raised its money early (and spent relatively little of it), and ran its first series of commercials early. And according to Sosnik, it will still be a couple of months until the president makes his formal re-election announcement."

      We certainly have a better understanding of the powers of the presidency now than we did when we first got here," he says. He talks about Clinton's meeting with broadcastexecutives-which produced agreement for a system to rate television programs-as an example of the president's increasingly effective use of the bully-pulpit.

     "If you were here a year ago and talked to me," he tells his visitor, "I don't think you'd believe for a second that we'd be in the position we are in today. Some of it is luck, but we're learned more about the job and we're more focused now on how we do our business. I think we deserve some credit for doing better. We're doing a lot better-I mean, we're doing like night-and-day better than we were a year ago. But I don't want to overstate it, because we've got a long way to go."

      As for the Republican primary season, Sosnik sees it as having "turned off people" to politics, as propagating a series of debates that were "sort of unpleasant to watch," and as having revealed Clinton's challengers as "not really of presidential timber and having nothing to say." He likes a former opponent's description of Dole as the "mechanic-in-chief" who is more comfortable on the Senate floor than on the huskings. And he's quick to cite a newspaper account about bored audience members walking out on Dole's Cleveland campaign speech. The Clinton camp won't wage the fall campaign using generational themes, he says, but will try to emphasize "what we have done, what we have fought for, and what our view of the future is."

      Still, Sosnik's optimism is tinged with caution. "I don't spend too much time worrying about stuff that I have no control over," he says. "There's a lot of uncertainty in this country," he adds, "and there's a lot of uncertainty in world events."Asked to recall his favorite moment on the job, he says, "I haven't had one yet. Hopefully, it will happen in November."

      Sosnik is predictably dismissive of the notion that Clinton's re-election chances could sink with Whitewater. He calls Congress' investigation into the land deal-turned-sour "a lot of nothing." Before landing his current job, Sosnik, as a staff member in the White House legislative affairs office,was the administration's Capitol Hill point person for the Whitewater investigation. "That's how I got to meet everybody in the White House," he says with a hint of irony. "In the course of my first month here, it was clear that Whitewater was a very time-consuming thing. Increasingly, it became more and more time-consuming and, ultimately, it's just what I did for a year."

      "There have been a handful of documents that have been produced late. But the facts that do matter to people who are thoughtful is that we've provided 50,000 documents; we've been more cooperative than any other administration. Absent the people who hate the president and the first lady and are visceral about it, the people in this country understand what the Whitewater hearings are about. They know it's a political stunt up there on the Hill by the Republicans."

      He insists there's little threat from books like James B. Stewart's Blood Sport, which looks critically at the unraveling Whitewater story, and Primary Colors by an "Anonymous"insider, which paints an unflattering picture of the last campaign. "At the end of the day, most people won't read those books, and most people who do read them find that there's Ôno there there' beyond entertainment."

      "The vast majority of Americans," Sosnik says, "have made up their opinion about Bill Clinton, whether they like him or dislike him. There is a small group in the middle that has not made up its mind, and it will be the small group in the middle that will decide who wins and who loses in this election. And what they are going to care about when they go to vote is who's best suited to provide for their future and their family's future. It's not going to be books they haven't read.

      "This stuff is not complicated. Absent Watergate or the Vietnam War or incredible huge mega-issues of our time, elections are always the same. People vote about things that matter directly to their lives. And this year is going to be no different than any other year."

      Despite the odd dynamics of a sitting president being challenged by the Senate majority leader, Sosnik says we're likely to see some legislative accomplishments in the months ahead. The Republicans may be tempted to drive home the theme that Clinton is an obstructionist, but they'll need more than that, he says. "They ran on a platform of promises made, promises kept. There is an element of survival and self-interest in politics. And I think that Republican members on the Hill realize that regardless of whatever they do to go negative on the president-as invariably they will-they have to show something for their promises."

      Sosnik took a semester off from Duke in 1976 to work in a Senate campaign. It was "unattractive, non-thinking work," he says. "But while I was Xeroxing or collating or whatever I was doing, I was talking to everybody and learning this or that." For five years, he was chief of staff and campaign manager to a Michigan congressman. He volunteered in the 1980 campaign for Chris Dodd, the U.S. senator from Connecticut. (Dodd is also now chairman of the Democratic National Committee.) Sosnik was Dodd's driver for the campaign; but he traveled a considerable distance later as Dodd's chief of staff.

      In 1989, he began a stint with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That was his first exposure to national politics. "I was doing House races around the country. It helped me meet a lot of people, to build a national network." He says, only half-jokingly, that his Rolodex is his chief asset for the White House job.

      In the past, Sosnik has shaken off Washington, but he has persisted in politics-more or less, since he organized the presidential run of a ninth-grade classmate. He edited Campaigns and Elections magazine and he traveled to Argentina, Paraguay, El Salvador, and South Africa as a political consultant to campaigns and political parties. "Basically, this is what I like and I'm about as good as anybody else at it. I finally got comfortable with the fact that I'm going to wake up in the morning and do what I want to do and have someone pay me. And I'm not worrying too much about the cosmic meaning of life." In fact, Sosnik, who is married, admits that it's hard to have much of a personal life beyond the White House.

      He's not sure how long he'll stay in the job beyond the election. "It'll be hard" to move on, he says. "My phone rings a lot, my calls always get returned, and I have a lot of opportunities that are available to me now professionally."

      One thing he doesn't want to do is make his own run for office. "I never really thought of it as something that attracted me."

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