Reflections on an Imagemaker
Democrats Eulogize Political Pioneer Bob Squier
By Dana Milbank
Vice President Gore took a red-eye from Seattle. A gaggle of governors, congressmen and current and former senators assembled, including Chuck Robb, Chris Dodd, Evan Bayh, Bob Graham, Jim Sasser, James Blanchard, Vic Fazio and Tony Coelho. Top administration officials including Sandy Berger, Richard Riley, Bill Daley and Alexis Herman joined the gathering, as did President Clinton and the first lady.
The recipient of all this praise was Bob Squier, who died Jan. 24--on the same day his pal and former client Gore won the Iowa caucuses. Nearly a thousand mourners--a Who's Who of the Democratic establishment--met at Washington National Cathedral for his memorial service.
Clinton, in his eulogy, said he and Gore were the beneficiaries of their ad man's "abundant American optimism" and passion. "But for him, we might not have been here today."
After the service, the vice president joined Squier's widow, Prudence Bergman, at a reception at the Cosmos Club, where people hobnobbed in a gilded ballroom equipped with two bars and a buffet. An enlarged photo of a young Squier, looking like Robert Redford with a camera, greeted them. It was just the sort of event Squier loved to put together. "He'd have been rearranging the flowers," said Steve Selby, a former colleague.
Squier was a founder of the political consulting industry, the Andrew Carnegie of the televised political campaign. "Bob will be remembered as a pioneer in politics, a pathfinder who created the modern campaign," Bill Knapp, a Squier partner, told mourners yesterday. More objective sources would agree. In his 32 years in the business, Squier advised seven presidential campaigns, including those of Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter and Clinton. He handled so many Senate campaigns that at his high point, in 1992, he represented 19 senators--a third of the Democrats in the Senate.
Squier's client list over the last three decades included Mario Cuomo, George Mitchell, Gary Hart, Tom Daschle, Tom Harkin and dozens of others. He created the early barrage of Clinton ads in '96 that doomed Bob Dole before the fall campaign even began. He designed a famous spot in 1992 that featured an old clip of George Bush asking, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" and then a narrator asking, "Well, it's four years later. How ya' doin'?" In 1988 Squier created a vicious spot for Michael Dukakis with footage from Lloyd Bentsen's debate with Dan Quayle, with the phrase "President Quayle?" on the screen.
Squier had planned to cap his career with the election this year of Gore. But he was pushed aside painfully after a rocky start to the campaign last year, replaced by Carter Eskew, a protege turned adversary. Within a couple of months, he discovered the colon cancer that would kill him six months later at age 65.
Such bitterness was forgotten yesterday. Eskew, who has had kind words to say about his old friend, filed into a pew with Bob Shrum, Donna Brazile and other Gore campaign advisers. Other warring factions of the Democratic Party put aside their animosity for the moment, too. Anita Dunn, who left Squier's firm to be a top adviser to Bill Bradley, sat a few rows away from a lineup of Gore advisers. Mark Longabaugh, another senior adviser to Bradley, was there as well. Onetime adversary and fellow "Today" show commentator Roger Ailes was there, as was America Online chief Steve Case, a client.
The service had the tone of a political-junkie support group, a disreputable profession learning to love itself. Mark Squier, one of Bob's sons, told the gathering: "He loved this city and he loved the business of politics, and man, did he love to win." Clinton remarked that Squier "actually liked politicians," to appreciative chuckles from the crowd. "And he wasn't afraid to admit it, even in this age when a sort of sanctimonious disapproval of us is the only politically correct position. He saw people in politics as basically good people who struggled to reconcile personal conviction and popular opinion into a combined force."
While Squier pioneered the televised campaign, he was also a father of the consulting business in a more direct way. His firm served as an incubator for Democratic talent, men and women such as Eskew, Dunn, David Doak and Tom Ochs. Typical of the Squier method is Bennet Ratcliff, who joined Squier as a researcher in 1989, two years after graduating from college. He worked his way up to senior vice president, and, when he announced his departure in 1998, was amazed that Squier handed him the firm's client list. "Pick who you want and take them with you," Squier told Ratcliff. Ratcliff took the Kentucky governor--Paul Patton--and Squier insisted he take part of the National Abortion Rights Action League's business.
Yesterday, his proteges repaid him with warm remembrances of his exploits as a young swimmer, as the author of documentaries on Faulkner, Melville, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and as an epicure.
Mostly, though, they talked of Squier the businessman. "One year we did work for Burger King," Knapp told the mourners. "That year he loved Whoppers, too."
"He worked with everyone from Keith Richards to Ann Richards," Clinton quipped.
But never once did Bob Squier work for a Republican.
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