Quote Cuisine

"I love background," Wittmann says of his time in the McCain campaign. "Background is hilarious. A lot of journalists liked to call me on background because then they could have a Republican staffer saying heterodox things." (By Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Everybody wants some of Marshall Wittmann's wisdom. People keep calling, asking him to explain the mysteries of Washington.

USA Today wants to know the state of Dick Cheney's status. The Albany Times Union wants to know if the administration is getting serious about the deficit. The Washington Post wants to know if Republicans are happy that Democrats are calling for withdrawal from Iraq.

"His overall image as the graybeard and wise man of this administration is gone," Wittmann tells USA Today.

"Republicans are as serious about fiscal responsibility as Paris Hilton is about modesty," he tells the Times Union.

"For Republicans, this is manna from Heaven," he tells The Post.

Wittmann, 52, is a pundit, a Washington sage. As they say in the news biz, he gives good quote. It's a rare talent and it makes him very popular with reporters but not so popular with other quotemeisters, who see his name everywhere and experience a form of angst that is unique to Washington -- "quote envy." Which happens to be a term coined by Marshall Wittmann.

"The fact that he coined the phrase 'quote envy' shows why he gives people quote envy -- they could never come up with that phrase," says Kate O'Beirne, Washington editor of the National Review and a pretty fair quotemeister herself.

She's right. Wittmann is a quote machine, a sound-bite jukebox. The American Journalism Review ranked him right up there with the legendary Norm Ornstein, Tom Mann and Larry Sabato -- guys who would be in the Quotemeister Hall of Fame if there were such a place, and maybe there should be.

But Wittmann isn't like those guys. They all have PhDs in political science. They're academics and professional analysts -- Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute, Mann at the Brookings Institution, Sabato at the University of Virginia. But Wittmann is an activist. He came up the hard way. He's been a Trotskyite, a union organizer, a lobbyist, a government bureaucrat, a think tank cogitator, an aide to Sen. John McCain and -- despite the fact that he's Jewish -- the official spokesman for the Christian Coalition.

Which raises a perplexing question: Why the hell would anybody listen to the political thoughts of a guy knuckleheaded enough to get mixed up in movements formed by both Leon Trotsky and Pat Robertson?

A Wittmann Sampler

It's a long story and Wittmann doesn't mind telling it at length, complete with comic digressions. He likes to talk and one of his favorite subjects is Marshall Wittmann.

"To psychoanalyze myself," he says, grinning, "clearly I have an extra contrarian gene."

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