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Authors: Richard Ben Cramer

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BOOK: What It Takes
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In three years of reporting, there were dozens of institutions, more than a thousand individuals, who helped with information, advice, access, and interviews, and though I do not name them here (probably to their vast relief) I remember their help with gratitude and fondness. I do want to thank by name the members of one special subset of friends and family who lent their effort or advice, time, money, food, phones, guest bedrooms or living room couches in an effort to help the author keep body and soul together. My thanks, then, to Joe Bargmann, A. Robert and Blossom Cramer, Lina Cramer, Sara Crichton, Marguerite Del Giudice, Reid Detchon, Richard Dunning, Bill Eddins, Judy and Earl Fendelman, Neil Fitelson, Steve Friedman, Ken Fuson, Gerri Hirshey, Professor Christopher Janney, Elizabeth Kaplan, Sophie Lackritz, Terrell Lamb, Jeff Leen, Sarah Leen, Simon Li, Nancy McKeon, Patricia McLaughlin, Gloria Mansfield, David Maraniss, Bill Marr, Guy Martin, Joanie Miller, Jim Naughton, Michael Pakenham, Bob Peck, Chuck Powers, Gene Roberts, Mike and Jennie Roman, John Ryan, Stu Seidel, Steve and Sheila Seplow, Steven Tarshis, and Doran Twer.

Al Silverman, Robert Riger, and especially Brigitte Weeks supported this book in its formative stage, and I thank them for their interest and their faith.

did me aid and honor by purchasing three excerpts of this book to run in the magazine. I am grateful for years of support from my friend and editor there, David Hirshey; from the departed boss of bosses, Lee Eisenberg; and especially from the editor in chief, Terry McDonell.

Philippa Brophy, my agent, has been a friend to this book and to me in more ways, more ably, more constantly, and more avidly than I could ever have hoped. I have relied on, and I thank her for, her faith, good humor, and wisdom.

Mark Zwonitzer, my researcher, who stuck with this project for more than five years, was the best help and the best companion I could have had. Without him, this book would have been a poor porridge. Without him, a thousand times, its author would have been in the soup. This project had many hands on its back, but Mark’s were the strong ones bearing the weight from below.

Finally, I thank the woman who bore with me, through all. Carolyn White was my partner in this book’s first dreaming, my guide and my spur through all its doing. For her every line was written. And to her this book is dedicated.


Cambridge, Maryland

March 5, 1992

The Price of Being Poppy

as good as it gets, as close as American politics offers to a mortal lock. On this night, October 8, 1986, the Vice President is coming to the Astrodome, to Game One of the National League Championship Series, and the nation will be watching from its La-Z-Boys as George Bush stands front and center, glistening with America’s holy water: play-off juice. Oh, and here’s the beauty part: he doesn’t have to say a thing! He’s just got to throw out the first ball. He’ll be hosted by the Astros’ owner, Dr. John McMullen; he’ll be honored by the National League and the Great Old Game; he’ll be cheered by 44,131 fans—and it’s not even a risky crowd, the kind that might get testy because oil isn’t worth a damn, Houston’s economy is down the crapper, and no one’s buying aluminum siding (they’d move, if they could sell their houses). No, those guys can’t get tickets tonight. This is a play-off crowd, a corporate-perks crowd, the kind of fellows who were transferred in a few years ago from Stamford-Conn., you know, for that new marketing thing (and were, frankly,
by the price of housing), a solid GOP crowd, tax-conscious, white and polite—they’re wearing sport coats, and golf shirts with emblems—vice presidents all, but anyway, they’re just backdrop.

Tonight, George Bush will shine for the nation as a whole—ABC, coast to coast, and it’s perfect: the Astros against the Mets, Scott v. Gooden, the K kings, the best against the best, the showdown America’s been waiting for, and to cut the ribbon, to Let the Games Begin ...
George Bush.
Spectacular! Reagan’s guys couldn’t have done better. It’s Houston, Bush’s hometown. They love him. Guaranteed standing O. Meanwhile, ABC will have to mention he was captain of the Yale team, the College World Series—maybe show the picture of him meeting Babe Ruth. You couldn’t
better airtime. Just wave to the crowd, throw the ball. A no-brainer. There he’ll be, his trim form bisecting every TV screen in the blessed Western Hemisphere, for a few telegenic moments, the brightest star in this grand tableau: the red carpet on the Astroturf; the electronic light-board shooting patterns of stars and smoke from a bull’s nose, like it does when an Astro hits a home run; the Diamond Vision in riveting close-up, his image to the tenth power for the fans in the cheap seats; and then the languorous walk to the mound, the wave to the grandstand, the cheers of the throng, the windup ... that gorgeous one-minute nexus with the national anthem, the national pastime, the national past, and better still ... with the honest manly combat of the diamond, a thousand freeze-frames, a million words worth, of George Bush at play in the world of spikes and dirt, all scalded into the beery brainpans of fifty million prime-time fans ... mostly men. God knows, he needs help with men.

So George Bush is coming to the Astrodome.

Disaster in the making.

The thing is, it couldn’t just happen. George Bush couldn’t just fly in, catch a cab to the ballpark, get his ticket torn, and grab a beer on the way to his seat. No, he’d come too far for that.

Weeks before the trip, the Director of Advance in the Office of the Vice President (OVP) had to tell the White House Military Office (WHMO) to lay on a plane,
Air Force Two
, and the backup
Air Force Two
. That meant coordination with the squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, for a Special Air Mission (SAM). Luckily, the trip was to Houston, where Bush went all the time, so the Air Force didn’t have to fly in his cars. The Secret Service kept a Vice Presidential limousine, a black, armored, stretch Cadillac, with a discreet seal on the door, parked and secured twenty-four hours a day in the basement of the Houston Civic Center. They wouldn’t even fly in a backup limo, they’d just use a regular sedan.

Of course, the Vice President would stay where he always did, the Houstonian Hotel (which he listed as his voting residence), and that would save effort, too. The White House Communications Agency (WHCA, pronounced “Wocka” by the cognoscenti) already had the Houstonian wired for secure phones, direct to the White House on land lines, so satellites couldn’t listen in. Still, the Astrodome would have to be wired, so that meant an Air Force transport plane to fly in the new communications gear and extra Secret Service matériel. That, in turn, required an alert for the CVAM at the Pentagon, the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff in charge of Special Air Missions, who would task the Military Airlift Command (MAC) with this Vice Presidential support mission, or in Pentagon parlance, a Volant Silver. (Presidential missions are Volant Banner.)

Meanwhile, in Houston, the local office of the Secret Service started looking over the Astrodome, picking out the holding rooms, secure hallways, choke points, command posts, and pathways for the Vice President. This information was bumped up the ladder to the Secret Service VPPD, the Vice Presidential Protective Detail in Washington, which in ten days would have its own Advance team on scene. When that team arrived, the Lead Advance man would convene his own staff of three Site Advance and a Press Advance, along with the four Secret Service Advance, the chief of the local office of the Secret Service, two Wocka Advance men and the captain of the Houston Police Department’s Dignitary Protection Division, to sit down for a meeting with the host of the affair, the Astros’ owner, Dr. John McMullen. The critical question: What
kind of event
did McMullen want the Vice President for? Sure, it’s the first-ball thing, but where would he make the throw?

McMullen said, Well, there’s a pitcher’s mound ...

? The Service didn’t want him exposed on the field like a baited goose. Did McMullen want his 44,000 fans held at the gates and frisked for metal?

Absolutely not.

Still, the Lead Advance said, the political people might
him on the mound. You know, taller ... heh heh.

Well, said the Service, you got your choice: you want him on the mound, we put him in a vest. You might ask if he can throw in a flak vest. Heh heh.

The Lead Advance said this was a matter for Washington. He bumped it up the ladder to the Office of the Vice President—Washington HQ. Meanwhile, the Secret Service Advance bumped it up to
Washington HQ.

“Now, what about the cocktail party?”

These things had to be decided! If the Lead Advance changed the pregame cocktail reception from a simple Mix and Mingle to a ten-minute Brief Remarks, well then, this would have operational consequence.

“Do you want him to talk?”

he talk?”

“He talks, there’s press ...”

“No press.”

“Well, he doesn’t have to talk ...”

“Okay, Mix and Mingle.... Who’s got the motorcade?”

In the course of the next two days, this dozen men would walk over every foot of ground that the Vice President would tread, scouting this bit of his future life. They were seeing it as his eyes might, then improving the view, imagining and removing every let or hindrance. They were determined that nothing would be unforeseen. And, of course, they were timing every movement. Then, for all the following days, and most of the nights, they would fan out to their respective turfs: the Site Advance to each location the Vice President would visit; the Press Advance to local papers, TV and radio stations, then to the sites to inspect for sound cables, platforms, camera angles, and backdrops; the Service to all the sites, for inch-by-inch security checks; the Houston PD to its command post; the WHCA to its phones, cables, switch-boxes, walkie-talkies, cellulars, and other wondrous gizmos the Vice President might require; the head of the VP’s Houston operation and the Lead Advance to the three-room office created for the occasion, fully equipped and volunteer-staffed, in a wing of the Houstonian.

From this office, day by day, the Lead Advance faxed to the Director of Advance and the Schedulers in Washington the minute-by-minute breakdown of the visit. With every transmission this was refined, by two minutes here, ten minutes there; a holding room added, an extra car in the motorcade ... And each day, by return fax, the Washington OVP sent out a new version, with its additions and refinements: Lee Atwater would be a guest aboard
Air Force Two
(need a guest car in the motorcade); approval on the interview with ABC in the broadcast booth (third inning) ... Then, each night in Houston, the Advance team reconvened for another Countdown Meeting, preliving the trip anew.

The ultimate product of this process was a sheaf of papers detailing not only the schedule, but a description (with diagram) of each event, the staffing (on the plane, on the ground), assignments for every car in every motorcade, and phone numbers (hardwire and cellular) for every division of the traveling party at every site. In Washington, the night before the trip, all this data would be printed in a booklet, four and a quarter inches wide by five and a half high, just the size of a suit pocket, with baby-blue stiff paper covers, the front one printed with a handsome black Vice Presidential seal. This booklet was called “the bible,” and in a sense, the making of the bible was the making of the trip: little that was not on its pages was going to happen in the life of the man. And with the bible’s completion, a certain psychic line was crossed: the trip to the ball game was no longer a plan. It was an Event of the Vice Presidency. It was at this point, with the final retype, that the first letters of words began to jump up and salute: in the bible, that is, in the life of George Bush, every noun he touched became a proper noun. So the pregame reception had to become the Reception; or that cheap molded plastic across a steel frame would become, with the brush of his backside, the Box Seat; even as his person, the locus of Veephood, the Big Gulp of this institutional juice, became, had to become, in the bible, a black-type-all-caps monolith that began every schedule item:

6:10 P.M. THE VICE PRESIDENT and Mrs. Bush arrive Astrodome and proceed to Astrohall to attend Reception.

Met by: Dr. and Mrs. John McMullen (Jacqueline)

Now, in the Countdown Meeting, the Lead Advance was reading from the latest bible-fax from Washington. “Okay, we move him straight to the cocktail thing. Any other greeters?” There were negative shakes of heads at the table. “Okay, event ...”





6:15 P.M. THE VICE PRESIDENT and Mrs. Bush arrive Reception.

6:50 P.M. THE VICE PRESIDENT and Mrs. Bush conclude Reception and depart Astrohall en route Astrodome.

Again, the Secret Service wanted to know: “Is he gonna throw from the seats or the mound? We gotta know. It’s a different route. If it’s from the mound, we got a bathroom to put on the vest. ... It’s a different route! If ...”

The Lead Advance cut him off with a glare: “No word yet from Washington. ... Now, how’s he getting to the Dome?”

“We can walk him.”

“From the hall? How long?”

“Five minutes.”

“Give him ten. There’ll be people.”

“We can close the sidewalk.”

“What if it rains?”



The Site Advance for the Astrodome bent to his legal pad and wrote:
Walk to Dome: Umbrellas.

Of course, no storm could moisten or muss the Vice Presidential person in the Dome, where giant air conditioners maintained a dry and steady seventy-two degrees. It was the Secret Service Advance—specifically, the man from TSD, the Technical Security Division—who first divined that the Vice President might have to pass three of those air conditioners in his progress through stadium halls. Of course it was the later TSD team, the fellows who swept the whole Dome with dogs, just before arrival, who actually disassembled the machines’ steel covers, checked the works inside for untoward signs, and posted a man to guard each unit.

BOOK: What It Takes
12.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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