Forget what you think about the fellow who wrote the book, whether you regard David Stockman as Benedict Arnold, Paul Revere or Sammy Glick with a word processor. Here is a great success story: young Michigan farm boy develops personal success formula that enables him to vault to Harvard Yard, Capitol Hill and the cover of Time.
That Stockman success formula -- two parts cerebral heavy lifting and one part calculated intellectual flattery of his superiors -- made him, first, the prote'ge' of the influential and helped make him, as a still young man, the first American baby-boomer to acquire and to wield national power, the first Yuppie to forge national policy.
For his generation, the best educated generation our nation has produced and the one in which the nation has invested so heavily its hopes and resources, David Stockman is the Imperfect Prototype. Think about him: an ambitious, indefatigable accumulator of facts and information who appears to know the price, while skeptically questioning the value, of nearly everything.
But his is much more than a generational tale. Stockman's saga could be The Ultimate Washington Story; his spectacular success is moving testimony to the admirable strength and the grievous weakness of the capital city and our values here.
Stockman has written a how-to-get- ahead book. Every time there was a social or professional opening, our young man carried the day by doggedly reading more, learning more and making himself the smartest boy in the room. Eventually the rooms kept getting bigger and more powerful. First it was a bedroom, as grad-school baby sitter in the Cambridge home of Harvard Prof. and Mrs. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. To prepare for the baby-sitting interview, Stockman writes, "I entombed myself in the library where I read every book, every article, every monograph, pamphlet, letter, memo . . . Moynihan had written." He got the job.
His having read 10 years of the Congressional Quarterly cover to cover was undoubtedly helpful in Stockman's winning a Capitol Hill staff job with Illinois Republican Rep. John Anderson. Once there, according to Stockman, he and the Anderson family "would go out for pizza together."
"I became a kind of adopted son to him," Stockman writes. But neither Stockman nor Washington raised doubts or questions about the appropriateness of this "adopted son's" committing political treachery, if not parricide, by playing the part of John Anderson to prepare Ronald Reagan for his 1980 debate. No, it was too good an opening to turn down, it was another "new mentor, a rabbi who could show me the way."
David Stockman and Ronald Reagan could not have been more different. Stockman was a curious, insecure workaholic. Reagan is manifestly secure and incurious. "Laid back" is the gentle way of describing the president's work habits. But as Stockman writes of the president, "He had a sense of ultimate values . . . but no blueprint for radical governance." To David Stockman, the architect of a new order, blueprints are awfully important.
Now we're in the spring of 1986. The Architect writes that by the summer of 1981 he knew to be true what he had suspected in the fall of 1980: the Reagan Revolution was not going to work; it would produce huge deficits in perpetuity, threatening the nation's economic future. His book came out in the same week that a special prosecutor was appointed to determine whether a former Justice Department official had deliberately misled a House subcommittee on an environmental policy. Simple justice would not dictate that Stockman be summoned to Capitol Hill to explain, in public and under oath, when and why he misled Congress and the nation about what he believed the Reagan economic policies would do.
As Stockman's deserved success proved, ideas do matter a lot in American politics. Washington at its best is a meritocracy where product and performance count for much more than old school ties. But character matters in political leadership. Stockman, the political thinker, was long on ideas; Stockman, the political leader, was short on integrity. And Washington, sadly, never seemed to notice that shortage much until the book came out. That doesn't say much good about some of our Washington values.