Young Bush crew driven by passion for politics

February 12, 2001|By Jennifer Skalka, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — While many Bush administration players are reliable Republican standbys or veterans of previous administrations, there are others for whom toiling in the White House trenches is a brand-new experience.

A gaggle of 20-somethings has descended on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and they're working seven days a week from dawn 'til way past dusk. They're interacting regularly with the legends of Washington's political and media intelligentsia.

Hobbies? They don't remember what they used to do when they had free time.

But many said they love every minute of their exhausting new gigs.

‘‘I wake up in the morning and I am excited to come into work,'' said Matt Smith, 26, a special assistant in the White House Office of Public Liaison. ‘‘(I am) eager to take on new responsibilities and eager to serve this president and this country.''

For the Bush administration's youngest henchmen and women — members of a generation weaned on what their new boss has called ‘‘the politics of personal destruction" — their jobs at the hub of national politics have made them unabashedly optimistic about the promise of government.


‘‘I've always just found it really interesting, the whole interaction between the different branches of government,'' said 25-year-old Assistant Press Secretary Anne Womack, a Nashville, Tenn., native. ‘‘You see all the work and all the time that goes into making these very important decisions. And you see how incredibly intelligent and competent the staff is, as well as President Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney.''

There are young staffers in almost every department in the White House.

‘‘I think we are very well-represented here,'' Womack said.

They are unified by their passion for politics, referring to high school history classes and members of Congress as inspiration for their work.

Smith, a Muncie, Ind., native, worked on Gary Bauer's presidential bid until the Christian right leader withdrew from the race, then moved to Austin, Texas, to work for the Bush campaign.

In the White House, Smith mainly works with interest groups and constituents to ‘‘inform the American people about and generate support for the president's agenda.''

Like many of his White House counterparts, he said he still is awed by his new place of business and has a renewed sense of the ‘‘efficacy'' of each individual, no matter his age, to make a difference in politics.

‘‘A vote makes a difference, work makes a difference, by contributing to the larger community and country as a whole, (that) makes a difference,'' Smith said.

In an administration where adherence to message seems a key Bush team strategy, the young staffers are — not surprisingly — in sync when they discuss the issues most important to them from the president's agenda. Lower taxes, funding for faith-based social service organizations and Social Security reform headed their lists.

‘‘Even as a poor White House staffer, I still pay more than I should (in taxes),'' said Taylor Griffin, 25, of Wilson, N.C. ‘‘The surplus belongs to me and you and the other people who pay taxes in this country.''

Griffin, who serves in the administration's media affairs office, has always wanted to find work that combined his interests in politics and media. He joined the Bush campaign in August after a stint as deputy press secretary with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Appalachian State University graduate was part of the campaign's ground war in Florida, assisting with media coordination in the disputed state. Although Florida was an ‘‘emotional roller coaster,'' Griffin said his campaign experience was well worth it, as are his long hours in the White House.

The young White House workers said they not only identify with Bush's policies, but they genuinely like and admire the president.

He is a new kind of Republican, they said, one who is personalizing politics for people to better understand how government affects their lives, pointing to Bush's proclivity for showcasing average Americans who would benefit from his policy proposals.

‘‘I think he's going to be a bold leader,'' Smith said. ‘‘I think he connects with people. … He listens to people. He understands their concerns.''

Griffin hopes people will watch how the administration operates, bringing to Washington what he calls a ‘‘renewed sense of purpose in public life.'' And echoing the president's campaign speech tag line, he said Americans will see a new civility in Washington with Bush at the helm, a tone he hopes other young people will find appealing.

That civility extends to the work atmosphere in the White House. Gone is the feverish campaign frenzy some of the young staffers had grown accustomed to in Austin. The footballs and fast food have been replaced by the formalities of national tradition and White House dress and decorum. Order is in place, these young people said, and governance is their agenda. And they added they bring lots to the administration that their older, more experienced bosses do not.

‘‘I think we bring a new energy, relentless energy for the long hours that working in the White House requires,'' Griffin said. ‘‘I think young people are sometimes a clean slate. We are not poisoned by cynicism and partisanship.''

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