David Stockman, 1980s Beltway boy wonder, spreads the blame in a new book

April 5, 2013

Now, you might be too young to remember this, but 25 years before anyone had ever even heard of Peter Orszag, there was another boyish, bushy-haired bachelor whose stint as Office of Management and Budget director set the gossip columns afire in Washington.

Senate Budget - OMB Dir. David Stockman testifying. CREDIT: James K. W. Atherton
David Stockman in 1982. (James K. W. Atherton)

That was David Stockman, a mere 34 years old when he joined President Reagan’s Cabinet in 1981.

“He was really young, he had a lot of hair and there weren’t that many sexy men in Washington at the time,” recalled Chuck Conconi, then the “Personalities” columnist here at The Post and now a vice chairman at the crisis-communications firm Qorvis.

But it was Stockman’s habit of telling tales out of school that really made him a media sensation — and raised expectations among Beltway old-timers for his new book.

“The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America” was launched this week with at least two Washington book parties — including one Thursday night at Qorvis — and the obligatory talk at Politics & Prose.

We caught up with Stockman at another book party at a friend’s home in Georgetown, where the 66-year-old was still energized by a blistering critique by New York Times economist Paul Krugman.

David Stockman in Washington, DC Thursday. (Roxanne Roberts/The Washington Post)
David Stockman in Washington this week. (Roxanne Roberts/The Washington Post)

“It was probably going to get a little notice,” Stockman told guests. “Then it was denounced as the ravings of a cranky old man and went to No. 4 on Amazon in one day.”

No such thing as bad press, eh? Actually, it wasn’t all that easy for Stockman back in the day. Less than a year after joining OMB, he scandalized Washington with his indiscreet observations to an Atlantic reporter about Reagan’s budget (“None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers”). He kept his job for a few more years but then wrote a tell-all blasting fellow Republicans for failing to rein in the national debt. Then he went to Wall Street — which, in his new book, shares blame with both the Bush and Obama administrations for what he sees as a perilous fiscal situation.

About those indiscreet remarks: Stockman says he was misinterpreted and never meant to denounce Reagan’s policy. Yet, “it was shocking that someone would admit that we hadn’t figured it all out.”

On his early ’80s celebrity status: “It happened in such a whirl that I was more focused on what I needed to do in my job.” The subject of much eligible-bachelor speculation, he was at the time already quietly spoken for, by Jennifer Blei, whom he wed in 1983. Still together, they have two daughters, a journalist and a neuroscientist.

How is it to be back in the fray, making everyone mad again? “I have no dog in this hunt. I’m not working for either party. I’m not running for office. Why not?”

Related: Book review: ‘The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America’ by David Stockman, 3/31/13

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