Main Man Has a Man of His Own

By Safire, William | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 25, 2001 | Go to article overview

Main Man Has a Man of His Own


Safire, William, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The political lexicon is suddenly being enriched. For years, the man has been the president, perhaps associated with main man, from black English. Now the man has a man of his own with an official job title.

"Here's a new entry," says Eric Schmitt, the New York Times reporter who covers Vice President Dick Cheney (sometimes referred to as "the PM," or prime minister, or less reverently by President Bush as Big Time, recalling Cheney's famous response to a joshing derogation of another of our journalistic colleagues). "It's body man."

Cheney's body man, reports Schmitt, is Brian McCormack, an earnest young guy from New Jersey who considers himself a jack of all trades. He carries Big Time's coat, passes him messages, "keeps him up to date and on time" and generally sticks close by to do whatever errand or task Cheney needs.

A New York Times reporter who covers the president, Frank Bruni, says that George W. Bush's body man is Logan Walters, retained in that key post from the campaign. Walters jots down addresses for thank-you notes, declines gifts worth more than $50 and holds the cell phone that keeps his boss reachable by his inner circle. (Sign of intimacy: a cow on the Bush ranch, born on the aide's birthday, is named Logan.)

The informal job title is not be confused with the man with the briefcase, the ever-present carrier of the codes needed by the president to respond to a hostile missile launch. It is more specific and intimate than gofer, a term applied to any aide ready to "go fer" coffee or do other menial tasks.

Earliest citation I can find after a quick rattling of the cages is from a 1988 article by Susan Trausch of The Boston Globe: "Every candidate has a body man, someone who fulfills a kind of mothering role on the trail. The body man makes sure the candidate's tie is straight for the TV debate, keeps his mood up and makes sure he gets his favorite cereal for breakfast."

The phrase suggests that the aide does not deal with the president's mind. However, the title was given more dignity recently by Mary McGrory in The Washington Post. "Thanks to 'The West Wing,' the classy television series," she wrote, "everyone knows what a 'body man' is. He's the one who hovers over the Big Man, making sure his suit is pressed, his shoes are shined and his speech is stapled in order."

Then the columnist, aware of the power of access, gave the job a prestigious boost: "He's also a press secretary without portfolio, a policy adviser and a diplomat who keeps the locals from pestering the boss. …

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