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Author on the 'Mayberry Machiavellis'

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Former head of the Bush office of faith-based initiatives, John DiIulio Jr., described the White House as short on policy, long on politics.
Former head of the Bush office of faith-based initiatives, John DiIulio Jr., described the White House as short on policy, long on politics.

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The host of CNN's Inside Politics, Judy Woodruff, talked with Ron Suskind, author of an article in January's Esquire magazine that quotes John J. DiIulio Jr., University of Pennsylvania professor and former head of the president's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, suggesting the White House is driven far more by politics than policy.

WOODRUFF: All right. The week begins. [Esquire] quotes John J. DiIulio Jr., who's the former head of he president's faith-based initiatives, as saying "What you got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

According to Esquire, DiIulio goes on to describe and lament the unprecedented political power of Bush adviser Karl Rove, but in a statement, DiIulio says, we quote, "... In my opinion, the article is unjustly hard on Mr. Rove and over-the-top complimentary to me, thereby creating a too-pat contrast that is, I fell, most unfair to Mr. Rove."

DiIulio said he answered author Ron Suskind's questions in a long memo after an off-the-record chat.

With us now, Ron Suskind

Wow. I mean, this article is pretty extraordinary in that there's almost a vacuum of policy making in the White House?

SUSKIND: An extraordinary process of dealing with John DiIulio, the first person to stand up and be counted in this White House. The first person who is credible to give testimony. What John said in that first conversation, which was not off-the-record -- what I attempted to do was to replace it with other things he said later -- was that this White House is unprecedented in the lack of considered policy analysis as well as the extraordinary power of the political arm.

WOODRUFF: Well, how was it that Mr. DiIulio ... who left the White House, we should say, almost a year ago ... was prepared to be so candid about all this?

SUSKIND: I think John DiIulio speaks for other people who are in the White House now. Many of whom talked, for not for attribution, that there's a kind of a sense of regret that this administration never embraced the idea that we will provide best remedies, that we will be a place from which ideas emerge. Ultimately a presidency tends to be judged on that. What good ideas were executed and what were the results?

What happened here was that from the start, there was almost no serious policy discussion, according to not only John DiIulio but many folks I talked to within the White House. Instead, it was all about rather short-term political calculation. Which is why, as John and others say, at this point, two years in to this presidency, there's almost no policy that one can point to as a success for this president.

WOODRUFF: There is a remarkable line in here. Again, from John DiIulio, he says, quote, "There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis..." That's very tough.

SUSKIND: You know, the thing is, John stood tall and spoke the truth. This is a difficult thing to do in this White House. They are not one that engages in public dialogues. There are penalties for those who break those codes, but what was fascinating as well is that inside the White House, there is not meaningful dialogue ... either.

That was the thing that was actually stunning to me when John and I first talked, and certainly his letter which is 2,000-3,000 words, most of which appears in Esquire, is a stunning appraisal, very sober and reasoned by an academician, about what was hoped for here and what went wrong. And also, you know he is a supporter of the president, he loves the president. In a sense, sending a letter to say, it doesn't need to be like this, especially now with one-party government. Be serious about policy and there might be results that eventually you'll point to with pride.

WOODRUFF: Of course, so much of the article is a profile, or a look at Karl Rove and the way he runs the White House. There is another quote in here with an unnamed White House aide saying: "After the midterm elections, Karl jumped from being prime minister to king."

SUSKIND: Prime minister to king, well, Karl exerted a kind of self-censorship that DiIulio and others talked about, as Karl's powers began to grow almost from the beginning of this administration. No one could stand up to Karl other than [former top aide to President Bush] Karen Hughes. When she departed, there was literally no one left. And because of that, especially now, after Karl's extraordinary midterm coup, folks are simply not challenging him in any way as to the serious issues of policy.

I mean, Judy, every White House is determined by both policy and politics. These are two, you know, sort of left-hand, right-hand entities.

What is really quite different about this White House is that policy side seems to be a place of placidity and the political side has grown so much. I mean, any administration can describe how this tends to work. The policy guys talk about best remedies. The protocol guys listen to get smart, and then say how must we best execute this? How should we present it? Who might be natural allies? In this case though, the political side basically is handling almost every.

WOODRUFF: Ron Suskind, Esquire magazine. Thanks very much.

Fascinating article. We should say among other things, the White House said in reaction to this, good politics is good government. We are attempting to get some other comments on the White House and we'll try to bring that to you as the week goes on.

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