Related Topics
white house

President Bush Job Approval

RCP Average
Send to a Friend | Print Article

Tony's New Job? That's Snow Biz

By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON - A lot of naysayers are picking apart President Bush's choice of conservative TV host and commentator Tony Snow to be his new press secretary. Depending on whom you read or listen to, Tony's either too conservative, too anti-Bush, too loyal, too independent, outspoken or maybe just too darn good-looking for the job.

Not me. I think his selection is smart public relations, which is what the job is all about.

In this era of relentless news cycles, the press secretary is an administration's most visible day-to-day connection with the public. As Bush enters his last 1,000 days in office with approval ratings barely above 30 percent, Snow replaces the tight-lipped, constantly uncomfortable-looking Scott McClellan with a smiley face so convivial, quick-witted and camera-worthy as to require the invention of TV, were it not around already.

And he has a brain. Even while hosting for the rightward-tilted Fox News Channel and on radio, his pointed jabs at the Bush administration's ineffectiveness show he's more than a megaphone for the administration. That Bush stands by Snow despite such criticisms, pointing out that Snow fired bigger shots at "the other guys," makes Bush sound like a broad-minded man, even if it doesn't say much about whether he actually listens to such criticism.

Yet, even before Bush confirmed reports of Snow's appointment, liberal critics flooded the Internet with evidence that Snow is, of all things, a conservative!

And, as if that wasn't objectionable enough, he's an outspoken conservative!

Well, guess what, folks? A conservative like Bush is not going to appoint Michael Moore.

But, Tony is no refugee from the goofy wing of conservatism. In the 15 years I have known him professionally, he has repeatedly impressed me as a man of conscience, who genuinely cares about solving the tough problems of poverty, bad schools and sour race relations, when some of his fellow Republicans don't. When he's not trying to adopt the Rush-Limbaugh/ Bill O'Reilly demagogue pose, he's a guy who sheds more light than heat. His critics do themselves a disservice when they blur that distinction.

I was particularly disappointed to find one of the controversial quotes that have come back to haunt him, since it was unfairly ripped out of the context of one of my columns.

A press release from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, for example, recounted the quote like this:

"In 1991, then-White House speechwriter Tony Snow defended former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, saying, 'Duke is talking about things people really care about: high taxes, crummy schools, crime-ridden streets, welfare dependency, equal opportunity. A lot of politicians aren't talking about these things'."

In fact, as his original quote appeared in my Nov. 20, 1991, column in the Chicago Tribune, Tony was not defending Duke. Rather, he was trying to explain why the former Klansman had just won an estimated 55 percent of the white vote in Louisiana's governor's race. Tony wanted me to know that, just as those of us who attended Minister Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March were not all acting out of black supremacy or anti-Semitism, neither were all Duke voters motivated by racism.

"You can't write off Duke's voters as racists," he said. "Duke is talking about things people really care about: high taxes, crummy schools, crime-ridden streets, welfare dependency, equal opportunity. A lot of politicians aren't talking about these things." If mainstream politicians don't listen to the frustrations of ordinary people, and address them in some constructive way, Tony was saying, the loony extremists inevitably will move in.

Time magazine columnist Joe Klein's new book, "Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid," is an instructive example. In 1968, he recounts, numerous white voters in the South supported both the liberal Robert F. Kennedy and the archconservative George Wallace for president, because they both projected concern for "the little guy."

Today conservative cable TV and radio talk show hosts make big bucks projecting that same concern, genuine or not. Meanwhile, the fact that Democrats have lost all but three presidential races since 1968 can be traced in part back to their losing those ordinary white folks who for decades had been the party's natural constituency.

Tony Snow understands why Democrats lost touch and how Republicans capitalized on it. Now in his final 1,000 days as president, it is Bush who seems to have lost touch. He's saddled with a quagmire in Iraq, soaring fuel prices at home and subterranean approval ratings. He has a lot to learn from people like Tony Snow who know how to win the public's confidence. So do the Democrats.

Page is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist specializing in urban issues. He is based in Washington, D.C. E-mail:

(c) By The Chicago Tribune | Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Email Friend | Print | RSS | Add to | Add to Digg
Sponsored Links
 Clarence Page
Clarence Page
Author Archive