That's what he said Sunday at the Adult Forum at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.
Andrew Card, 67, chief of staff for George W. Bush, was the guest speaker at St. John's, where he held the 150 or so audience members fascinated with his "behind-the-scenes" look at what it takes to be the president's COS.
He also served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and just today began a new job as president of Franklin Pierce University. He was the person in the "iconic" photograph of September 11, 2001 who told President Bush in a classroom of second graders in Sarasota, Florida, that the U.S. had been attacked.
In-between flights and trips advising George W. Bush on his 2000 presidential race, Card said Bush called and told him to go to Houston to visit Bush's parents who were longtime friends of Card. ("I was much closer to his parents" than he was to George W. Bush, Card said.)
He followed George W.'s directive and went to Houston, arriving at the Bush home before George H.W. and Barbara got there (out campaigning). When they rolled in at 11:30 p.m. (Barbara) and midnight (George H.W.), peanut butter and honey sandwiches were on the late-night menu.
The next morning, Card got up and got dressed and soon heard a knock on the bedroom door. There stood the former first lady who expressed surprise that Card was already up and dressed.
"'Come and have coffee,'" she said, and invited Card into the first couple's bedroom. "'Join us,'" she said, and Card did. The Bushes invited Card to "'lay down with us'" in the bed which Card did. (!)
Card said the television was on, and the couple was "chattering away."
In a few minutes, the former president got up, and Card got up, too, but the former president told Card:"'No, stay there with Barb.'" And Card did as he was instructed: "I got in bed with the first lady." (What do you say when a former president gives orders?)
The Bushes told Card to "'take good care of our son.'" Card was still unaware "the son" was tapping Card to become his chief of staff.
For the 2000 presidential debates, Card was sought as a negotiator for the particulars of the debates which took him from his job at General Motors far longer than the expected several afternoons. Arrangements took two and a half weeks.
Describing the debates, he said Al Gore violated terms of the third debate in St. Louis when he left his podium and walked into George W. Bush's "space," and Bush just looked at him and won it.
When Card eventually got home after seven weeks on the campaign trail, his wife, Kathy, a United Methodist minister whom he met in fifth grade, asked if he was married to her or to George W. Bush.
At that moment at the Card household, the telephone rang, and it was the candidate calling again. (The Cards are still married.)
Card compared being the chief of staff for the president to a marriage, but working for the president is a lot more demanding since the COS is on call 24 hours a day/seven days a week.
It's a job "designed by the needs of the president," and "you also serve the first lady" and her staff.
Schedules, motorcades, gardening, laundry, the "care and feeding of the president" all fall under the jurisdiction of the COS.
"Can the president find time to eat, sleep, and be married?"
"It's a great privilege and honor" to be the chief of staff, Card said. "It's an ultimate experience" which can't be called a job since it's not 9 to 5.
Card said he did not agree with every decision George W. Bush made. "The president should never make an easy decision," and "if so, the chief of staff is not doing his or her job." (Throughout his talk Card was always quick to use masculine and feminine pronouns and correct himself when he forgot.)
Every decision should be "brutally" tough to make, and the president needs to obtain lots of opinions. Being COS is "a management challenge."
The time passed quickly at St. John's where Card never once took position behind the podium which was brought out for him, and no one (save the moderator) seemed to notice the hour was ending, leaving time for only one question: How do you maintain your enthusiasm?
Earlier in his talk, Card talked about his ceaseless optimism. "I start every day with faith," welcoming the new dawn at 4:08 a.m. and Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.He also quoted a passage from Ecclesiastes about God's time which may have been 3:11:
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.
To be a chief of staff, "you have to be an optimist....I wanted the president to realize the privilege that was given to him....Optimism is critically important." If a leader is not optimistic, he or she is hard pressed to get "followers" to go along with the program.
"Every day was a good day. You can't have a bad day when you're the president."
Card said St. John's is "a very special place," a place where he has worshipped many times. He grew up Roman Catholic, he said.
Wikipedia says "the average term of service for a White House Chief of Staff is a little under 2.5 years," and the person who has served that position the longest is John R. Steelman who held the position for the entire administration of Harry S Truman (six years, one month). Andrew Card is the third-longest serving COS (five years, three months) after Steelman and Sherman Adams, who was Dwight Eisenhower's COS (five years, nine months).
Card was born in Holbrook or Brockton (two reports), Massachusetts and graduated with an engineering degree from the University of South Carolina. He attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and was first elected to public office in 1975 when voters sent him to the Massachusetts legislature.
I wanted to ask him if he is writing a book.
Next up at St. John's Adult Forum: Mack McLarty, President Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff, January 18, 10 a.m.