DAVID STOCKMAN's memoirs have managed to spawn at least two imitations; only in that respect, however, can these books be construed as a form of flattery.
Owen Ullmann, White House correspondent for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, actually does seem to view Stockman with a certain degree of admiration, or at least awe. "With the exception of Alexander Hamilton," he writes, "never before in the nation's history had so young a man wielded so much power and influence." A bald assertion, all the more so in light of Stockman's abject and admitted failure to make the Reagan Revolution, as he now calls it, mean something more than red ink.
Ullmann's formidable footwork has produced an encyclopedic portrait: we learn that Stockman voted for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and refused to vote for Richard Nixon in 1972; that, as a young congressman from Michigan's Fourth District, he once bought a white leisure suit to be in sartorial sync with his constituents; that he is an agnostic, having failed to find proof positive of God; and that the index cards on which he reflexively scribbled notes filled, at one time, a half-dozen filing cabinets.
But the author's recitation (and frequent repetition) of detail grows numbing after a while, and at times it turns gratuitous. What does it matter, after all, that when Stockman arises these days, his Greenwich, Connecticut, neighbors "are still stirring in their designer sheets"?
In The Real David Stockman, billed as a report of Ralph Nader's Presidential Accountability Group, John Greenya and Anne Urban cover much of the same ground. Despite more than a fair share of heavyhandedness, their book generally is a deftly written, fast-moving account of Stockman's rise to power and fall from grace.
Greenya and Urban have gotten the big picture in sharper focus than Ullmann -- the insidiousness in Stockman's strategy of hoodooing and hoodwinking his way to the budget cuts he had, as a matter of personal ideology, long craved -- but their reliance on such Nader stalwarts as Joan Claybrook and Sidney Wolfe, as well as Nader himself (who holds the copyright to the book), is something like a casino stacking its own decks.
To its credit, though, this book has captured the premier technocrat of the Reagan Revolution in the appropriate shades of technicolor: red ink, white lies, and blue smoke. The modus operandi of the revolution's perpetrators, it is clear now, was a fundamentally dishonest one. Stockman's memorable lexicon -- including "Trojan horses," "cooking the books," and, of course, "magic asterisks" -- is ample enough evidence of that.
STOCKMAN, it should be noted, lived up to the terms of his book contract by declining, until just recently, requests for interviews. As a consequence, Ullmann and Greenya and Urban were compelled to round up the usual sources. One of them is Chester Byrns, a Berrien County, Michigan, circuit judge who came to know Stockman in his first congressional campaign, and who has this to say to Ullmann: "He had this bad habit of covering his mouth and he had this Prince Valiant haircut." Byrns ventured a variation on the same theme to Greenya or Urban: "Dave was wearing his hair long in those days, sort of a Prince Valiant haircut, [and he] had a nervous habit of stroking his mouth when he talked." Greenya and Urban, thank goodness, just missed snagging an interview with Stockman's mother, who told them, "I just met for three hours with one of you people last week, and I don't have anything more I want to say." Ullmann, the smart money says, got to Mrs. Stockman first.
Greenya and Urban, however, may have succeeded in finding the source with the shortest and sweetest assessment of Stockman. He is Ort Middough, who lives in Paw Paw, Michigan. Middough manages to put his finger on how Stockman, by playing fast and loose with formidable facts and figures, was able to impress people. "I never threw a question at him that he didn't have an answer to," he says. "Only trouble is, I'm never sure I'm smart enough to know if he's telling the truth."