David Stockman's best seller, "The Triumph of Politics," is a book of judgments and revelations. "In this remarkably candid account," according to the dust jacket copy, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget tells all. Or does he?
Actually, some of the harshest judgments were excised by the author, apparently in a last-minute fit of self-censorship. A more unvarnished Stockman is revealed in a master set of Harper & Row galleys obtained by The Washington Post. In the galleys, the original and elaborate vilifications of Reagan administration officials may still be read through the thin black lines by which Stockman altered the text.
In the published version -- "Stockman II" -- the words hurled at former treasury secretary (now White House chief of staff) Donald Regan are withering. But in the unpublished version -- "Stockman I" -- Stockman's contempt is even less controlled.
In one passage, Stockman describes a confrontation with the former supply-side assistant treasury secretary, Paul Craig Roberts, with whom he had a falling out. " 'Craig,' I said, 'go to hell.' It felt remarkably good."
In "Stockman I," Stockman doesn't stop there. "Perhaps," he continues, "I should have said that to his boss, the Secretary of the Treasury, long ago. The thought was tempting, anyway."
In "Stockman II," Regan is depicted as a power seeker: "The Secretary of the Treasury chose to turn these desperately needed policy review sessions into yet another quest for power."
But in "Stockman I," the word "power" does not appear at the end of the sentence. Instead, Regan is said to be on "yet another quest for gratification of his insatiable ego."
"Stockman II" has Regan muddying the debate over economic policy. Stockman writes about one conference with President Reagan at which Regan "thoroughly confused the issue . . . "
"Stockman I," however, makes a more serious charge. Regan, here, is not "confused." He has "thoroughly misled the President . . . "
What explains Regan's behavior? In "Stockman II," Stockman attributes it to unclear thinking: "His philosophy of tax policy was no more coherent, to be sure, than his understanding of the supply-side catechism, and that was not an asset."
But in "Stockman I," the sentence did not end this way. Instead, it added a word: " . . . and that ignorance was not an asset."
The "ignorance" label, in fact, does surface later in "Stockman II." When Regan tells the president, "You can't raise taxes in a recession," Stockman writes: "It was a non sequitur, and it was ignorant twaddle."
In "Stockman I," however, the "twaddle" was more than "ignorant." It was "willfully ignorant twaddle." Regan was not merely ignorant, but ignorant by intention.
Regan was not the only administration official whose evaluation Stockman altered when going from galleys to bound book. In "Stockman II," William Clark's appointment as national security adviser receives Stockman's backhanded praise: "He was a shy and quiet person, who by virtue of years of loyalty to Ronald Reagan now suddenly found himself in a job for which his sole qualification was a desire to serve his country as best he could."
This peculiar locution does not appear in "Stockman I." In that version, Stockman writes that Clark "found himself in a job for which he possessed not one single qualification other than a desire . . . "
"Zeal" is an unattractive quality that Stockman ascribes to Jude Wanniski and Arthur Laffer, the supply-siders who assisted in his rise and whom he subsequently abandoned. In "Stockman II," he writes, "I suspected the zeal with which they promulgated this nonsense had more to do with protecting their now precarious reputations than anything else."
But in "Stockman I," "anything else" does not appear. Instead, Stockman writes " . . . actual belief in the snake oil they were busy selling." Thus the true believers he deserted were, in his mind, false believers.
Ronald Reagan, too, undergoes a change between "Stockman I" and "Stockman II." He's no longer to blame for the federal deficit.
Much of "The Triumph of Politics" is devoted to this subject, placing blame on the grubby greed of politicians for pork barrel projects. In "Stockman I," Stockman specifically blames Reagan for the deficit -- without qualifications. "The $800 billion worth of deficits," he writes, "were the results of his Reagan's deficit spending."
But in "Stockman II," this charge, of great historical significance, has disappeared. Instead, Stockman fudges: "The $800 billion worth of deficits were the result of the spending he didn't want to cut." Reagan is no longer responsible for the spending -- just guilty of a reluctance to pare it.
Stockman and his publisher declined comment yesterday.
"The Triumph of Politics" ("Stockman II") is a chronicle of how Stockman's sage advice went unheeded.
"Stockman I" is also a chronicle of how Stockman's editors' advice went unheeded. The margins are filled with crossed-out editorial suggestions, mostly about the inimitable Stockman style. In every case, Stockman paid no attention.
"Block that metaphor!" writes an editor, about this passage:
"The congressional politicians were threatening to split his program at the seams by intransigently blocking the deep spending reductions that had to be matched up with the big tax cut. This resistance was now incubating a deficit that could soar out of control and hobble the economy."
Stockman, however, stayed the course.
In another appealing mixed metaphor, Stockman writes that " . . . the fiscal architecture of the Reagan Revolution had been turned into a complicated layer cake by virtue of the scramble and haste with which it was being launched." The editor noted: "Architecture turns into a cake and is then launched." Stockman, however, likes the mix and blasts off.
He continues: "That was about as close to gridlock as you could get. We had painted ourselves into a corner. The score was $150 billion deficit, zero savings." "Triple metaphor," drolly writes an editor.
Elsewhere, Stockman describes the echoing of Cabinet members in support for a restriction of Japanese auto imports as "a Swiss chorus." "Greek?" wonders an editor. "Swiss chorus," reads the published version.
In another sentence, Stockman invents an unlikely vocation: "People had made careers out of underestimating Ronald Reagan . . . " Notes an editor: " 'made careers out of' doesn't sound right -- sounds as if they were successful people." A substitute was offered: "Ronald Reagan's road to the White House was paved with people who had underestimated him . . . " The substitute was rejected.
The self-portrait that Stockman paints is of a faux naif whose innocent beliefs are shattered time and again by hard realities. Other politicians' motives, however, are at best suspicious. In describing how they protect federal subsidies for their constituents, he writes: "Sacred cows run in herds -- that's the part I didn't understand."
An editor circled the words "the part" and commented in the margin about the persona called David Stockman: "There are so many things he didn't understand."