David A. Stockman's former lieutenants at the Office of Management and Budget, now scattered to the leading businesses and think tanks of America, are split in their verdict on the boss' book about the failure of the "Reagan Revolution."
"One of David Stockman's weaknesses, his major weakness, is the attitude that he understood it all, that nobody understood things the way he did," said Annelise G. Anderson, one of Stockman's top aides during his first year at OMB, a major focus of the book. "The fact that we didn't get nearly what we asked for doesn't mean it was a failure. Ronald Reagan has never given up. David Stockman gave up."
Former associates recalled the story of a Capitol Hill aide who once remarked that Stockman acts like a man who has never met anybody he didn't consider too stupid or too fat. This simile of intolerance may help explain some of the negative characterizations of colleagues in his book, "The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed."
In excerpts published this week in Newsweek, Stockman says President Reagan "wanders in circles," describes House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr.'s "scarlet, varicose nose," says Donald T. Regan, then treasury secretary, "operated on the 'echo' principle" by doing whatever he thought Reagan wanted, and writes that Reagan's inner circle -- the "fellas" -- were interested only in how their leader looked on the 7 o'clock news.
"The whole book is a sign of David's only real weakness -- the inability to acknowledge that somebody else may be right," said one of his former associates.
But Lawrence A. Kudlow, Stockman's assistant director for economic policy, said he believes that any judgment is premature without reading the whole book, "This is a constructive book. David told this story in the hope that people will learn something from history. The book is remarkably even-handed, not out to get anybody and not written with a chip on his shoulder. When he has negative things to say, in nearly every case he has positive things to say about the person as well."
The book overall, Kudlow said, is accurate and fair, including the portrayal of the president. "I made several presentations before 'the Gipper' and the president was not in command of the details on many issues. I am wary of saying it is necessary to have command of the details. Reagan is a 'big picture' man, and he leaves it to others to carve up the trees."
John F. Cogan, another policy associate director, said, "David Stockman sees the glass as half empty. He had very high expectations for himself -- far, far too high. But when you step back from all the heat and all the fury, an awful lot has changed."
Some of Stockman's closest associates -- David B. Gerson, Donald W. Moran and Frederick N. Khedouri -- read the book in draft and promised not to comment until publication. The Wall Street Journal reported that Khedouri, now deputy chief of staff to Vice President Bush, was so appalled that he asked that his name be deleted -- a story confirmed by a source close to Stockman.
The White House issued a "no comment" when the Newsweek excerpts were released on Sunday, and OMB spokesman Edwin L. Dale Jr., the only one of the Stockman crowd still at OMB, said he considered the White House position "entirely appropriate."
One of Stockman's closest friends said, "When I started reading the book I was concerned about the excerpts. As I read further, I stopped worrying. I think the president has been a great leader and, on balance, I think Dave has that view as well."
The career staff at OMB seem most troubled by the loyalty question. "I could probably make a one-day story about some of the things David Stockman did," said a former budget official. "I wouldn't do it. He trusted me and gave me a lot of responsibility. The president did the same for him," this former official said. "The book is damn indiscreet."