Dana Perino — the first woman to serve as White House press secretary under a Republican president, and now a co-host of Fox News’s “The Five” — is among the more prominent female conservatives in American media today. But as she explains in her new memoir, identifying as a Republican woman was not preordained for her — and not always easy. It took a book, authored by another female presidential aide, to make her comfortable in that role. As Perino puts it:
Identifying myself as a Republican was more of a gradual awakening than a lightning bolt. The values of limited government, personal responsibility, and a strong national defense were ideas that fit my thinking and instincts. . . . I gravitated more toward Reagan and Bush, not Dukakis and Clinton.
But I still didn’t really understand why I was a Republican. That changed with what else — a book. Soon after I moved to Washington, a friend gave me a copy of What I Saw at the Revolution, by one of Reagan’s best speechwriters, Peggy Noonan. I loved her clear thinking and storytelling, the way she framed an argument, and how she used self-deprecating humor to describe working in the Old Executive Office Building with the worst furniture consigned to her office. From that office she helped craft Reagan’s speeches that inspired America and fully embraced our national exceptionalism.
As I read, I started to realize what it meant to be a conservative. To me, conservatism was harder — there are no easy answers, reality and logic weigh heavy, and there is a definite core set of principles. Peggy helped me understand that it was okay to be a Republican and be a woman — the two weren’t mutually exclusive. That sounds strange to say now, but think of all the messages sent to young American women, from every angle — Republicans are depicted as evil, mean, and the enemy. Almost every book, magazine, movie, and TV show depicts conservatives negatively — it’s rare to read something positive about a Republican woman, and when you do, then it’s couched as how they’re the rare exception to the rule.
In The Washington Post’s review on Feb. 4, 1990, Reid Beddow described “What I Saw at the Revolution” as “an engaging book, the story of how a plucky and talented young person literally wrote her way into a previously all-male domain.” Noonan, who wrote for George H.W. Bush as well as Reagan, “clearly is a romantic,” Beddow wrote. “Not all the disillusionment that goes along with government service can stifle her romanticism, which is the romanticism of a person who has read widely and deeply as a defense against life.”
Perino’s “And the Good News Is: Lessons and Advice From the Bright Side” spans her upbringing in Colorado and Wyoming, her years working for President George W. Bush and her current work with Fox News. It will be published by Twelve on April 21. And yes, Noonan has written one of the book jacket blurbs: “This book is a gem — modest and moving, clear and unpretentious. It gives the kind of practical and even ethical advice everyone starting out needs, but it’s also funny and full of great stories. Dana is a true role model.”
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