by Robert McGrew and
Starting from nothing, George W. Bush has assembled largest policy machine ever seen for a presidential candidate, staffed in large part by Stanford's own Hoover Institution.|
Over a hundred advisors from everywhere in America are struggling to give shape and form to Mr. Bush's proposals, still a full year before the election. No one has seen anything of this scope before at this stage of a candidacy. And Mr. Bush will need all the advice he can get in order to shape his proposals before this year's front-loaded primaries.
"What he's done in selecting people is unique," says John Cogan, who advises Mr. Bush's on the budget. "I don't believe there is any other presidential candidate except possibly Ronald Reagan who has ever done something like that."
Eight of his core advisors are from Hoover, but the vast majority comes from elsewhere - no one institution could possibly muster the raw numbers needed to staff his policy apparatus. Mr. Bush's advisors in Austin and Stanford suggested the rest. But the network of advisors in national in scope.
"There's no Texas mafia running this thing," says Edward Lazear, Mr. Bush's chief advisor on labor issues.
This hive of activity contrasts sharply with the policy machines run by the other candidates. Mr. Gore will inherit many of President Clinton's advisors, but the Republican challengers to Mr. Bush seem afraid to ask for help. Steve Forbes's campaign has racked up few advisors compared to Mr. Bush's. The joke runs that Pat Buchanan's only advisor is his wife Bay.
"Over the years, we've invited most candidates from both parties," says Martin Anderson, a Hoover fellow advising Mr. Bush. "When they come, they don't ask for advice."
This all began in April 1998, when Mr. Bush spent the afternoon discussing issues at George Schultz's house with about ten Hoover fellows including Michael Boskin, John Taylor, Martin Anderson, and Condoleezza Rice. This star-studded cast had quite a bit of experience in Washington: Mr. Schultz as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, Mr. Anderson as policy advisor to Presidents Reagan and Nixon, Mr. Taylor and Ms. Rice as advisors to President Bush. Mr. Boskin was chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisors and is an old friend of George W. Bush - the two once shared a cottage at President Bush's home in Kennebunkport. "We all said 'This guy is terrific. He's really smart and sharp and quick, and he's Governor of Texas,' " says Mr. Anderson.
Then, in July 1998, Mr. Bush invited Ms. Rice, Mr. Boskin, Mr. Schultz, and Mr. Anderson to Austin. He explained that he still could not be sure if he was going to run for President, but, if he did, he needed advice.
"So, on an as-if basis, we agreed to set up a policy shop," says Mr. Anderson.
The sequence of events, in fact, eerily parallels President Reagan's recruitment of his own brain trust for his 1980 campaign, which too began with a wide-ranging discussion at Mr. Schultz's house. That 1979 dinner party included Michael Boskin and Martin Anderson and left the Hoover fellows in the thrall of a Governor. By election time, Reagan's policy staff had grown to hundreds, with 74 economists working on his tax policy alone.
Bush's policy meetings continued throughout '98 and '99, growing from a core of advisors in Austin and at Hoover to the hundreds now scattered across the country. So many commuted to advise Mr. Bush that the San Francisco-Austin flight became known around Hoover as the "Austin shuttle." During these early meetings, Mr. Bush would invite half a dozen academics and think-tankers to his home in Austin, where he spent a whole day in give-and-take with them. Discussion would begin at breakfast, move into a seminar room, move back for lunch, and often continue till dinner. Despite the many small things a Governor must deal with each day, Mr. Bush made sure that nothing interrupted his policy briefings.
"He was not just a passive observer," says Williamson Evers, a Hoover fellow and an advisor to Mr. Bush on education since January. "He ran the meeting himself. He knew about the topic."
These early meetings were a chance for Mr. Bush to find specifics on the kinds of issues he had never had to deal with as a Governor: problems of international affairs, monetary policy, or social security.
"He tends to be a big picture guy," says Mr. Boskin. "He gets the details as much as he needs them."
But his advisors emphasize again and again Mr. Bush's ability to impress intellectually. They repeat that he knows where he is going, even if his path is still vague. In contrast, Mr. Bush's public image reflects his personal charisma more than any particular knowledge about issues. "This may be heresy, but one of the things people were surprised at was how much he knew," says Mr. Anderson. "Reagan was very much the same way. He came in with a bunch of ideas on what he wanted to do."
Mr. Bush slowly built and organized his intellectual army. Mr. Bush appointed Ms. Rice, still a professor of political science after stepping down as Provost, to be czar over international issues. He appointed Stephen Goldsmith, the mayor of Indianapolis, to head all domestic policy and appointed Lawrence Lindsey, a former member of the Federal Reserve Board, to oversee macroeconomic policy.
Yet the people who staff his campaign are the same people who helped elect him Governor of Texas. Very few of his top advisors worked for his father as President, especially surprising considering that Mr. Bush has had to accumulate his staff over the short time he's been in political life. Indeed, Mr. Bush inspires comparison with Reagan more than with his own father, though those who know him best refuse to compare him at all.
Mr. Bush made no effort to conceal the meetings in Austin, but somehow, even in the midst of speculation about his presidential candidacy, the national press never noticed until last March. Then stories began running in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. Suddenly the Hoover Institution became big news.
But the policy briefings were changing as well. From a close-knit strike force that briefed Governor Bush face-to-face, his advisors evolved into a full-blown intellectual army, some of whose officers have never seen their candidate. In this, the story of Edward Lazear is perhaps typical.
Mr. Lazear, an award-winning economist at the Graduate School of Business, chairs Mr. Bush's committee on labor policy. Mayor Goldsmith recruited him in June to head the labor subcommittee, one of sixteen under Goldsmith's main domestic policy unit. Despite having worked on two significant proposals for the campaign, he will only have his first meeting with Mr. Bush in a few weeks. He doesn't want a job with Mr. Bush and describes himself as quite happy within the academy.
"I have no aspirations of going to Washington," he says. "The only reason I'm doing it is to help formulate policy."
Mr. Lazear works on the Bush campaign for a half-day a week, in addition to his regular duties as a teacher and a Hoover fellow. Of the six or seven people he works with, he selected about half, with Mr. Goldsmith choosing the others. Aside from brainstorming conversations about policy at lunch, he primarily works with people outside the Hoover Institution. He does it for the intellectual excitement of the work.
"It's certainly not onerous," he says. "I find it quite intellectually stimulating."
Is the typical advisor like Mr. Lazear, working merely for the chance to see his efforts enacted into law if George W. Bush wins? Certainly that must be a large part of the benefits package for anyone who counsels a presidential candidate. None of the multitudes who work part-time advising Mr. Bush get paid. Many also surely hope to work in Washington if Mr. Bush is elected, and then have an even greater impact.
That so many of those advisors are the best and brightest from Stanford raises the possibility of a mass exodus from Stanford. John Taylor disappointed hundreds of students who hoped to take Econ 1 from him when he took a sabbatical this year, surely to advise Governor Bush. Michael Boskin, who taught Econ 1 most recently in the spring of 1998, is one of Mr. Bush's closest advisors. And both names have been bandied about as Alan Greenspan's replacement as Federal Reserve Chief. Will Stanford lose all its Econ 1 teachers?
"I don't think the place will be totally denuded, but I think we will temporarily lose a couple of people to pretty high positions," says Mr. Boskin. "And I think that's a good thing. A Presidency is more than just a President: it's also the people he brings to the administration."
In fact, by losing now, Stanford may stand to gain later. When senior policy advisors return from Washington, they often do not return alone. After all, sunny California is a great place to take a break from Washington. And, before they return, the opportunities for high-level speakers and internships are boundless.
But a job in Washington cannot completely answer the question of motivation. Many of the most senior advisors, like George Schultz and Martin Anderson, had worked extensively in Washington more than twenty years ago. Mr. Boskin dismisses the idea that anyone is interested in much beyond getting Mr. Bush elected. Mr. Cogan suggests that many will not be looking forward to going back to the rat race of politics.
"I don't think any of us are angling for an appointment," he says.
Indeed, the first few Hoover fellows joined at a time when Mr. Bush was not even sure he was running, much less intimidating others in the polls. If Washington was on their minds, it would be a gamble two long years away. What tipped the balance in favor of Governor Bush for so many people?
"He's got a secret weapon," says Mr. Anderson. "It's the same one Eisenhower had. Clinton's got it. Even when they disagreed with his policies, they still like him."