Friday, July 6, 2007

Masters of disaster

Wonder how former President Clinton has remained so popular despite being impeached?

He refused to apologize.

Washington crisis-control guru Eric Dezenhall and colleague John Weber agree in their new book, “Damage Control: Why Everything You Think You Know About Crisis Management Is Wrong,” that when crises strike, reputations suffer or crumble. Just ask President Bush and Dan Rather.

Then there are those whose reputations endure crises, such as Mr. Clinton and Martha Stewart. The authors explain that old rules of crisis management are too naive, and propose new survival skills more attuned to the ugly truths of human nature. In other words, don’t always make nice, admit fault or take immediate corrective action.

Refusing to apologize, the pair say, is a strategy that worked best for Mr. Clinton, Mrs. Stewart and other individuals and companies.

Pause for terror

Democrats and Republicans and those adhering to neither party are flocking this week to the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival, including chief Bush strategist Karl Rove and former President Bill Clinton.

Blogging daily on the proceedings is James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, who spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for President Carter. In one of his postings from Colorado, Mr. Fallows relays a terrorism-related anecdote from former Sen. Gary Hart, a Democrat who served as co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, aka the Hart-Rudman Commission.

Mr. Hart recalled that in 2001, the evenly split (seven Republicans, seven Democrats) commission issued a report warning the new Bush administration that terrorism was not only a genuine threat, but that terrorists were about to further infiltrate U.S. borders. (Don’t forget, Arab terrorists first tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993.) The rest, of course, is not-so-pleasant history.

As Mr. Hart tells the story, at the very first meeting “one Republican woman on the commission said that the overwhelming threat was from China. Sooner or later the United States would end up in a military showdown with the Chinese Communists. There was no avoiding it, and we would only make ourselves weaker by waiting. No one else spoke up in support,” Mr. Fallows wrote.

“The same thing happened at the second meeting — discussion from other commissioners about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, anarchy of failed states, etc., and then this one woman warning about the looming Chinese menace. And the third meeting, too. Perhaps more. Finally, in frustration, this woman left the commission.”

“Her name was Lynne Cheney,” Mr. Hart told Mr. Fallows. “I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today.”

Hill and skinny

As the newly announced chairwoman of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California says she has every intention of nominating “the next president” of the United States. The only remaining question is who that nominee will be.

“Be a Hillraiser” is one of the more popular new slogans for the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, though her leading Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, responded Wednesday that “change can’t just be a slogan.”

And earlier this week he said, “I’m skinny, but I’m tough. … If I win the nomination against Hillary Clinton, then I must be pretty tough. They don’t play. They’re very serious about winning.”

No matter who wins, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean says he will nominate Mrs. Pelosi as convention chairwoman during the opening session of the Denver convention. He’s nominating as co-chairwomen Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (she’s chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association), Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (she’s president of the National Conference of State Legislatures), and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin (she’s president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors).

Going black

Thanks to the ambiguous ending to the popular HBO series “The Sopranos,” nobody knows whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead.

But if he were alive — as in really alive — U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox says, Tony’s life would be a living hell.

Addressing the New York Society of Security Analysts, Mr. Cox pointed out: “Think about what it must be like to be Tony Soprano or one of his pals. While we’re enjoying the fine fare at the Sheraton tonight, Tony and the other fictional Sopranos — and for that matter the real-world characters upon whom their roles are loosely based — might instead be pondering an uneasy and uncertain life of munching onion rings in a Jersey diner.

“They might appear to be enjoying the company of their families, but in truth they’ll always have to cock an ear toward that scooted chair, or watch out of the corner of their eye as that stranger walks by their booth. For someone who’s led a life of compromised ethics, it can all go black in a moment’s notice.”

c John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmc

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