Magazine article The American Prospect

Build an "A" Team: And Fight like Hell against the Right

Magazine article The American Prospect

Build an "A" Team: And Fight like Hell against the Right

Article excerpt

MY ADVICE, PRESIDENT KERRY, IS THAT YOU ASSEMBLE A political "A" team, install it in the West Wing, and fight like hell against the right over the next four years.

"We ought to have two real parties," President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told speechwriter and adviser Sam Rosenman in 1942, "one liberal and the other conservative." Now we have two parties. Less like the blue and the red than like the blue and the gray. You won the election by realizing this and defeating the GOP attack machine.

But being a successful candidate and being a successful president are two different things. Look at Jimmy Carter, or at Bill Clinton (first term). Excellent men, fine Democrats, smart campaigners, who, as president, had a lot of bad luck they didn't deserve. But politically, they mainly kept "B" teams around them after they'd won. (Carter did bring in some aces like Hendrik Hertzberg, but they weren't enough. And Clinton wised up around the time he got around to running for his second term. Yes, I actually have nice things to say about Dick Morris, but that's for another conversation.)

As a result of the Carter and Clinton "B" teams, we got Ronald Reagan and then Newt Gingrich. Lord knows what rough beast is, as we speak, slouching towards Bethlehem.

You have great advantages over your predecessors. You're in touch with Washington. You've already learned how vicious and unrelenting the other party is. But knowing that is not enough. You have to keep fighting as if you'd never won a thing.

Fighting hard means staying fast on your feet, not plowing straight ahead. You need a team that combines fearlessness, flexibility, and class, beyond anything you've known before. Few individuals have all of these qualities; that's why you have a team. But everyone should have two out of three of these qualities. (Idealism, smarts, and commitment to your basic values are assumed.)

Think about FDR's main man, Louis Howe. Not exactly classy, but superb in everything else, enough so to win over even Eleanor before he died (too young). FDR knew how to use Howe with others--Rosenman, Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, James Farley--by leaning this way and that, and look at all that he and they accomplished.

Stay away from backstabbers and narcissists, who can be very hard to identify. …

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