Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, originally questioned whether Karl Zinsmeister's resume properly described his past role at the magazine of the American Enterprise Institute. Greg Sargent first raised the issue on a blog called The Horse's Mouth, which is hosted by The American Prospect, a liberal magazine. This version has been corrected.
A Bush Aide's Blunt Words
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Bill Clinton is a "virtuoso deceiver" and Hillary Rodham Clinton a "true chameleon" guilty of "self-serving behavior, comparative radicalism, and dubious personal morality."
Al Gore is a "mad dog" known to "foam at the mouth." John McCain is given to "showboating." And Jacques Chirac, Nelson Mandela, Gerhard Schroeder and Kofi Annan are all "feckless fools."
Says who? President Bush's new chief domestic policy adviser. While most White House aides carefully trim their public commentary, they can't take back what they said before arriving in the West Wing, and few in this day and age arrive with a more provocative paper trail than Karl Zinsmeister, who started his new job yesterday.
For a dozen years until his appointment, Zinsmeister held forth on all manner of issues and personalities as editor in chief of the American Enterprise Institute's magazine. With a sharp pen, he skewered the left, taking special aim at environmentalists, anti-globalists, feminists, contemporary artists, university faculties, Hollywood, Broadway and particularly the media, composed mainly of "left-wing, cynical, wiseguy Ivy League types, with a high prima donna quotient."
A review of years of articles reveals a formidable thinker with a powerful sense of what he considers right and wrong. As Zinsmeister sees it, racial profiling by the police makes sense; the military, if anything, treats terrorist suspects too gently; and casual sex has led to wrecked cities, violence and "endless human misery." In a "soft, often amoral, and self-indulgent age," he warned, some children "will be ruined without a whip hand," and he assured that "things generally go better with God."
Although Zinsmeister wrote admiringly of Bush, his future boss was not exempt from remonstration when he seemed to stray. Zinsmeister chided candidate Bush for promising he would make it easier for legal immigrants to bring in relatives and questioned whether incumbent Bush "actually has a soft spot for big government."
"Though he talks a good line about battling government bloat," he wrote this year, "our current President has shown an eerie lackawanna when it comes to actually keeping a lid on the federal Pandora's box. Quite apart from Katrina or the war on terror, there has been a pattern of troublesome spending spikes right from the beginning of the Bush Administration."
For Zinsmeister, provocation has been his stock in trade. "That's kind of my M.O., for better or worse," he said by phone last week. "My main beef with much of the Washington discussion is you're forced to be so mealy-mouthed. I had the luxury as an outsider of being as blunt as I wanted. When you're outside trying to push the elephant even an inch, you have to be very crisp and uncouched."
But Zinsmeister said he understands that must change now that he advises the president. "When you're inside the tent, you have to shift gears. That's a double standard, but it's an appropriate one."
White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joel D. Kaplan said he believes that Zinsmeister will be able to make that transition. "He's here because of his powerful intellect and reputation for outside-the-box solutions to public policy problems," Kaplan said. "An outside-the-Beltway perspective, we thought, would be helpful."
In his new post, Zinsmeister will oversee the president's domestic policy process and help shape White House positions on a wide array of issues, including immigration, Social Security and energy. The position has been key in past administrations, although in this White House, it has at times been overshadowed by other aides such as Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Zinsmeister's predecessor, Claude A. Allen, resigned after being accused of trying to fleece retail stores in a product-exchange scam.
With scant experience in government or campaigns, Zinsmeister seemed an unlikely choice for White House domestic policy chief. Until his appointment, he was little known in Washington. At 6 feet 5, he would have stood out in the capital, but he edited the American Enterprise magazine from Cazenovia in Upstate New York. He finds Washington so distasteful that even for his new job he plans to move his family no closer than Baltimore.