Tony Snow hasn’t even started his new job as White House press secretary and already he is learning a lot — about himself. He says he’s been called “a BushBot, a puppet, a force of evil in the modern world, a White House mouthpiece-toady-stenographer.” And more.
But the good-natured columnist and Fox News commentator — named Wednesday as Bush’s new spokesman — can give as good as he gets. Although a strong supporter of President Bush, Snow has used his column to label the president “something of an embarrassment,” cast his domestic policy as “listless” and compare him to “the boy who can’t say no” when it comes to federal spending.
The 50-year-old conservative commentator has done an even tougher Snow job on Democrats.
He’s dismissed them as “reduced to a state of unshakable hysteria” and faulted their “righteous ignorance.” He’s labeled Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid “wheezy prophets of the Defeatocrat Party.”
He also has been a strong defender of Bush on many an occasion, applauding his “brilliant” foreign policy, his stick-to-his-guns persistence in Iraq, his “delicious disdain for the Beltway culture,” his “visionary” Social Security plan.
“On the seminal issues of national security and global destiny, he positively dwarfs the political opposition,” he has written of Bush.
Straying from the minimalist approach
To put it mildly, Snow does not come from the cautious culture of some press secretaries of the past — the ones who make an art form of saying as little as possible.
All of that gives Republicans hope that Snow’s fresh voice — and star quality as a polished media figure — will help reinvigorate the beleaguered White House and jolt it out of a defensive crouch.
“Tony’s sympathetic to the president, obviously, in terms of policy and philosophy, but he’s not a Bush insider and I think that could be healthy,” said William Kristol, who worked with Snow in the first Bush administration and was a regular panelist on Snow’s TV show on Fox News. He describes Snow as “a happy-go-lucky guy” with a relaxed attitude that could do the tightly wound Bush team good.
Willing to stand up to his boss
Snow wrote in a February column that over time, even the best presidential aides burn out “or worse, lose their capacity to tell the boss, ‘Sir, that idea stinks.”’
In an Associated Press interview Wednesday, he rejected the notion that his past criticism of the president could be an impediment as he becomes the public face of the Bush administration. He said it would be a mistake for people to “waste their time on old columns,” diverting attention from the real issues.
Former White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, who worked with Snow in the first Bush administration, said the commentator “has a good personality for bringing together contentious people and contentious issues,” and the independent stature to help him prod the White House staff toward better press relations.
Worked for first President Bush
Snow, who served the first President Bush as a speechwriting director and in media affairs, also has shown a healthy perspective on White House service. In a 2001 column, he offered some advice to members of the new administration, including a reminder to keep their humility in check because “you are just a visitor to the history factory” that is the White House.
“People will kiss up to you in ways you cannot imagine,” he wrote. “In 1991, while I was a minor grandee in that same White House, I received more than 400 Christmas and holiday cards at the office. The following year, following Mr. Bush’s defeat, I received 25.”
Snow’s biography reflects both his standing as a longtime Washington insider and more eclectic elements of his background. He hosted “Fox News Sunday” from 1996 to 2003 and held a string of print journalism positions earlier in his career.
He also has served as an advocate for the mentally ill, taught school in Kenya and Cincinnati and is an avid musician, playing guitars, saxophone and flute. He plays in what he calls “an old-farts rock ’n’ roll band” called Beats Workin’, attended a rock band “fantasy camp” in New York three years ago, and admits he’s a “SportsCenter” junkie.
Fitzwater said Snow’s main concerns about the job focused on health and family,
Snow, who had his colon removed last year after being diagnosed with cancer, delayed a decision on taking the job while he consulted with his doctors and had a CAT scan. Snow and his wife, Jill have three children, 9, 10 and 13.
He said Wednesday he hopes to operate as efficiently as possible and “get as much time off as I can,” working from home on the weekends.
Why give up a comfortable job with a much bigger salary for such a pressure-cooker job?
Said Fitzwater: “I always tell people you may lose your health, your wealth and your family but it’ll still be the greatest job you’ll ever have in your life.”