Episode 52, with guests Ned Martel of the Washington Post, Ashley Parker of the New York Times, and Stephen Goodin, former personal aide to President Bill Clinton

Ned Martel, Ashley Parker and Stephen Goodin are our guests this week
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: April 14, 2012 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6:00 am, 12 noon and 6:00 pm. Follow us on Twitter @Polioptics
Listen to the show by clicking on the bar above. Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here.

This was a week in which “the narrative” of Campaign 2012, which Adam Belmar and I so enjoy tracking, lost the last compelling thing it had left to narrate. At least for a while. Rick Santorum bowed out of the race after a noble but Quixotic battle against Mitt Romney, clearing the way for the former Massachusetts Governor to assume his long sought mantle of presumptive nominee.

A campaign that was thus in danger of entering a quadrennial lull as the Romney and Obama organizations, and their respective super-PACs, began to husband and then regenerate their funds for their fall offensives, suddenly found a new narrative in the form of the presumptive nominee’s spouse, Ann Romney, and Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist well known within the Beltway, but with a low Q rating beyond it.

Here’s how Rosen’s comments went down with Anderson Cooper, in case you missed it:


The ensuing drama enveloped the DC and cable news chattering class for several days. It was all a bit silly. Even those opinionators who used the lengths of their columns to declare it silly were a bit silly. It has ended, for now, with Rosen at first accepting, and then contritely canceling, an appearance on Meet the Press scheduled for April 15. But with the Romney/Santorum opus taking its final curtain, it set up a really fun episode of Polioptics that pondered the existential question — who is Ann Romney — with one of her shrewdest observers, Ned Martel of the Washington Post.

Ned is an old friend who accepted with good humor and perseverance the task of reigning me in when Men’s Vogue gave me the assignment of going to Iowa analyzing the stagecraft of the 2008 campaign and he was the magazine’s Deputy Editor. As a person who relishes the chance to wax on about the finer points of hay bales for use in rural political rallies, my initial 7,000-word draft for a 3,500 word article put Ned’s editing skills to the test, but I always appreciated how he nursed the piece to a respectable final outcome.

So we begin our consideration of Mrs. Romney with this odd pre-interview conversation between Governor Romney and Sean Hannity of Fox News in which the Governor is pressed, somewhat uncomfortably, to my eye, to discuss some of the finer points of dressage — an equestrian sport in which he and his wife are involved — and horse ownership before his interview is officially set to begin.


This is one of those mic-should-have-been-killed moments that’s not nearly as memorable as Ronald Reagan’s “we begin bombing in five minutes” quip before his radio address taping or John Edwards extended self-coiffing session, but it’s nevertheless another one of those awkward pieces of Romney video that Jim Margolis may have a field day with in the fall.

In the seemingly off-camera conversation with Hannity, Romney reveals in a subtle and, to my ear, tender way as he can, his wife’s intense interest in, and reliance on, dressage horses as a way of balancing some of the effects on her body from her multiple sclerosis, now in remission. In fact, Ned Martel explored this issue in great detail about a month ago in the Post. Here’s a quick excerpt from the article:

She had loved horses as a girl in Michigan, and she didn’t return to them until she turned 50. “It’s when I was diagnosed with M.S.,” she said. “And I was losing most of the function of my right side. And I decided I needed to go back and do what I loved, before I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Martel’s more recent piece for the Post “Cable talkers’ latest status symbol: A studio at home” — is what connects his profile of Ann Romney the equestrienne with the woman who, Hilary Rosen asserted, “hasn’t worked a day in her life.”

Ned noticed that some members of the punditocracy were appearing more frequently from locations whose backdrops reflected their own lives rather than the generic newsroom backdrop of a local network affiliate in their hometown. When James Carville and Mary Matalin, husband-and-wife uber-pundits, show up on CNN, for example, they appear most frequently from their own custom-installed video uplink redoubt rather than, say, WDSU in New Orleans. He’s one passage from Martel’s piece that lays out how it all works:

In the Carville-Matalin house, CNN’s team of techies mounted a smallish camera — called a Cisco link — that gets steered and focused by engineers in D.C. or Atlanta or Hong Kong or whichever CNN nerve center has booked either half of the power couple.

It’s also awesome, and “inexpressibly gratifying,” Matalin said in an e-mail. Then she found some words to express it: “For us personally, the system allows us to be available when CNN needs us without having to miss out on our kid’s many happenings.” On that day, for example, she had her daughter Matty’s induction into the National Honor Society to attend. And on that weekend, she had a school dance to chaperone. The ­work-family balance, thus, can finally teeter in the family direction.

So what happened on April 12 when Hilary Rosen filled a pundit box on Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN and touched off a firestorm? She did a segment on AC 360 — the kind of segment you see played out in every daypart on every cable news network each and every day. The segment was put together by a booker and a producer working to fill airtime with conversation manufactured to match the temperament of the viewing niche on that station at that hour. Booking guests and firing up remote cameras of the type about which Martel wrote is a lot easier and faster to produce than reported, shot, written, edited and packaged news.

And that’s how this transitional week on the campaign — when Rick Santorum bowed out and the narrative pivoted to the ‘war on women’ —  became instead an extended conversation about who is Ann Romney? A few things I conclude, having watched the Rosen-fueled chatter, and reading Martel’s piece, is that she’s an excellent mother of five boys, devoted wife one polioptically-challenged former governor, and an intensely competitive sportswoman. And for now, I don’t feel a driving need to know much more than that.

* * *

If you want to read one other excellent piece by Martel, take a look at his August 2001 story on the family of Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell, who fought off gun-wielding robbers in a fatality-free reboot of Truman Capote’s classic, In Cold Blood.

* * *

When we asked Stephen Goodin, a close friend from the Clinton years, to join us in an extended conversation about the role of the personal aide to the President, we couldn’t resist inviting the New York Times’ Ashley R. Parker back to our air to offer a curtain-raiser.

A.R. Parker of The Times, back for her second visit to Polioptics

In the months since she started covering the Romney campaign, we’ve enjoyed Ashley’s stories, blog posts, Tweets and Instagrams, and especially her videos. In the past week, she wrote a story and posted a video interview with the newest member of the Body Man fraternity, Garrett Jackson of the Romney Campaign, at the New York Times Website. If that’s note enough multi-media for you, there’s also an 11-shot slide show of Jackson at work.

Combined with her memorable 2008 story on Obama body man (and Duke NCAA hoopster) Reggie Love, Parker’s reboot with the focus on Mississippian Jackson now gives her the monicker of unofficial chronicler of this sometimes-over-hyped-but-always-under-appreciated position on presidential campaigns and in the White House.

(To add to the canon on Times writing about the body man, Jodi Wilgoren did 2004 piece on John Kerry body man Marvin Nicholson. Nicholson later served as Trip Director for candidate and then President Obama)

Once the presidential candidate’s “body man” gets to the White House and receives his first set of engraved business cards, his title assumes the loftier rank of “Personal Aide to the President.” But some of the more jaded observers of the presidency (and a few insider friends) will still refer to the job as being “the butt boy,” as in ‘the person who stay’s closest to the President’s butt at all times.’ It’s a pejorative descriptor that never did justice to supreme endurance, rarefied judgment, diplomatic skill and round-the-clock sense of humor that the job required.

Stephen Goodin

I worked with with, and maintain friendships with, the four Clinton personal aides — Andrew Friendly, Goodin, Kris Engskov and Doug Band — each of whom continue to do great things since leaving the White House. Staying close on Bill Clinton’s heels throughout the day was just the first job requirement. To truly succeed in the role requires a whole lot more, in particular a calm under pressure in classified situations when you’re the only one in earshot of the President’s voice.

Stephen Goodin, now president of DC-based Red River Strategies, proved his mettle many times. He was on post at his small desk outside the Oval Office during some of the most pressure-filled moments of the Clinton Presidency.  As he says to Adam and me in this week’s episode, all of the other support roles around the President — Secret Service, President’s physician, Military Aide, Chief of Staff, National Security Adviser — have build-in redundancy and relief pitchers. There is only one personal aide.

To get a sense of what Garrett Jackson may be in for should Mitt Romney become the 45th President of the United States, listen to our conversation with Stephen on the 52nd episode of Polioptics.

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