Episode 36, with guests David Rubenstein, co-founder of The Carlyle Group, and Diana Walker, legendary photojournalist

David Rubenstein and Diana Walker are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton
Original Air Date: November 26, 2011 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124
Listen to the show by clicking on the bar above.
Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all. I could try to offer a unique take on our national day of gratitude, but POLITICO’s Mike Allen — to whom we are grateful every morning — did us all a great service by summing it up smartly in the lead of his Thursday issue.

And Mike did a further service to his regular readers (and temporarily lapsed WSJ subscribers due to a move between neighborhoods in New York) by highlighting the Wall Street Journal’s 32 Rules of Thanksgiving Day Football, 28 of which were deadly accurate, a damned fine QB rating.  The piece brought back many fine memories of the famous Turkey Bowl of Waban, Mass. Queue the John Facenda voice. The frozen tundra of Jacobson Stadium. The bullet strikes of Adam Rosman.  The immaculate receiving of Mark Leibovich.  The field goals over-the-chicken-wire of Billy Bracken. The on-field heroics of many others ‘who played the game.’

Now that the game is over, settle in with a hot mulled apple cider for an excellent conversation with David Rubenstein and Diana Walker. Our 36th Episode is a very special one.

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David Rubenstein

Don’t listen to this episode with David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, if you’re looking to unlock the secrets of the global private equity firm of which he is managing director.  James K. Glassman, writing for Washingtonian Magazine in 2006, offers up a fairly timeless behind-the-scenes look at Carlyle, its enduring partnership and the workings of private equity in general. Thanks for saving us a few hours, Jim.

And don’t listen to this episode if you’re looking for Rubenstein, a former domestic policy advisor to Jimmy Carter (he worked umpteen hours a day as Stu Eisenstadt’s deputy from the day Carter took office to the day he returned to Plaines), to opine on the current occupant of the White House, Barack Obama. For that kind of commentary, go back to David’s 2010 conversation with Charlie Rose, noted in Businessweek here. You can also watch David’s full conversation with Charlie here.

Instead, imagine a man that Forbes this year estimated has a net worth of $2.6 billion (good for 148th on the list of the wealthiest Americans) wearing the signature Stetson of a Ranger of the U.S. National Park Service and offering a gaggle of fascinated tourists a full nook-and-cranny tour of the 18 Acres of the White House, which has been one of the Park Service’s premier properties since 1933.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

And if you listen closely, you can also hear David make news. In his conversation with Adam and me, David announces, for the first time publicly, that he has purchased a rare copy of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864 and signed by President Abraham Lincoln to abolish and prohibit slavery (read here how the news was reported at the time). David doesn’t signal exactly where this piece of history is headed, but hints that he’ll provide it to a public institution just as he has with other momentous documents given to the White House, the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

David Rubenstein in a NPS Park Ranger uniform, walking you through the East Wing, the Executive Mansion, the West Wing and the grounds of the White House, talking every step of the way — that’s the image to keep in mind as you listen to this episode.

You’ll be amazed, as Adam Belmar and I were, of David’s encyclopedic knowledge of the President’s House. And you’ll certainly be impressed by his love and devotion to a place where he worked the maximum length of service for the 39th President of the United States.

So why have David Rubinstein, the founder of the Carlyle Group, on Polioptics?

Sometime in the summer and fall of 2012, as the Presidential Election is contested around the country, construction crews will seal off a section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Under the auspices of the National Park Service, the Joint Committee on the Presidential Inaugural and the Military District of Washington, a reviewing stand will begin to be erected as the first sign of the impending Inauguration of the next President of the United States in January 2013.

The Presidential Inaugural Reviewing Stand

Whether that President will be Barack Obama or the nominee of the Republican Party remains to be seen. Whoever it is, the show must go on, and the 44th President will then either commence his second term in office or the 45th President will begin his (or her) first.

Continuity of Government then gets its quadrennial polioptic moment: after the Inaugural Parade concludes, the President and accompanying entourage then leave the reviewing stand and walk over a constructed walkway into the White House to begin the work of the nation for the next four years. At the end of that day in January, 14 months from now, the President will retire from a day at work in the West Wing to what’s known as the Executive Mansion, probably riding a small, wood-paneled elevator to the Second Floor residence, America’s most revered public housing development in the 235 year history of the Republic.

The White House, designed by irish-born James Hoban and built between 1792 and 1800, has been home to every U.S. President since John Adams. As an antique, it has undergone continual upkeep and sometimes dramatic renovations ever since.  An the White House been home to millions of stories — known and unknown — that together comprise the American narrative.

But how can that narrative remain vibrant and relevant to today’s citizens and students? The organization embracing this mission is the White House Historical Association, a charitable nonprofit institution whose purpose is to enhance the understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the WHite House. This year, the Association celebrates its 50th Anniversary. It was begun in 1961 at the behest of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and launched with the Association’s first publication — The White House, An Historic Guide — which is now in it’s 23rd  edition with over 4.5 million copies in print.

One of those copies is in my possession in what my friends refer to (yes, mockingly) as The King Museum of Presidential Arcana and Ephemera. My copy is a circa 1972 edition that my parents bought for me on my first field trip to Washington and the White House. It’s not a stretch to say that that book began a lifelong fascination with, and love of, the White House and all that it represents.

Listen to our show and see if you agree that it’s one of the things that drives our guest, too. Whatever it is, those who seek to preserve, teach and learn from history are indebted to David Rubenstein for building a legacy that shares those goals. His latest expression of philanthropy, and the reason we were so pleased to have him on our show, is a $10 million donation to the White House Historical Association to amplify its ability to accomplish its mission well into the Association’s second 50 years.

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As we’ve often said on Polioptics, especially with prior guests including David Hume Kennerly and Doug Mills, that the role of preserving the history of the presidency often falls on the shoulders of the photojournalists who constantly keep the the Leader of the Free World in focus through the viewfinder of their camera.

Diana Walker with Ronald Reagan

One of the greatest contributors to this form of history, going back to the Presidency of  Gerald Ford, is Diana Walker, the longtime shooter assigned to the White House by Time Magazine. I had the privilege of accompanying Diana, and watching her work, on dozens of trips during the Clinton years and have been looking forward to having her on the show for a long time.

Diana’s work, through the end of the Clinton administration, has helped to illustrate thousands of copies of the magazine, from the cover to postage-stamp sized images for which she flew across the globe to capture on film.

Along the periphery of her work at the White House, Diana also chronicled the life of Steve Jobs. Her photographs were found throughout Time’s remembrance issue at the time of Jobs’s death and also illustrate Walter Issacson’s biography of the Apple founder.

Diana has published a number of books, including The Bigger Picture and Public and Private: Twenty Years Photographing the Presidency. Both volumes are very worthy additions to the coffee table, and the conversation that Diana had with Adam and me serves as a sort of audio companion to the images.

Bill Clinton in Red Square, by Diana Walker

We talk about Bill Clinton making his first trip back to Moscow since his days visiting there as a student — the trip came just after the President’s mother, Virginia Kelley, had passed away, and the President’s raw emotions were visible through Walker’s lens.

We also talked about George H.W. Bush and many of his overseas trips, especially one to visit U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia preparing to launch Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

And, of course, we talked about Ronald Reagan and his unique ability to connect with voters through the lens, whether through videotape or still photography.

In the show, Diana tells a great story of being allowed into a presidential holding room and capturing a moment with President Clinton, Defense Secretary William Cohen, Secretary of State Madeline Albright and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger posing in a “See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil moment” — an enduring shot in the Diana Walker archive.

Diana Walker’s recent cover shot for Time

While Diana ‘retired’ from Time at the end of the Clinton Years, her photos have returned regularly to the pages of the magazine. Most recently, you can see Diana’s work on the cover and in a large spread with 29 pictures on the Web version for a feature on the current U.S. Secretary of State: “Hillary Clinton and the Rise of Smart Power.” Walker made the shots during a recent trip with Secretary Clinton to Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The work of Diana Walker, filling the inside pages of the national bestseller on Steve Jobs or spreading across the cover of the current Time Magazine — it feels like the 1980s all over again. If only my bones weren’t still so weary from the Thanksgiving Day football game…

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