Lyndon Johnson, the last Texan in the job, was never the same after three years as second banana to a glamor boy who disdained him. They mocked him, all those Kennedy guys. It ate at him like a worm inside, and it left him embittered. But when George Bush took the job, he decided Ronald Reagan was going to be his friend. George and Bar decided without even talking: they were going to like the Reagans. And they did, right away. They loved the Reagans. The only surprise, Bush told his old friends, was how easy it was. Reagan turned out to be a great guy! The way he told those funny stories! You had to like the guy. But it wouldn’t have mattered if there had been no charming jokes, if Reagan had been a vicious drooler; just as it did not matter that Reagan had no talent for friendship, no personal connections apart from Nancy. In fact, Reagan couldn’t remember his grandchildren’s names, and he had no friends, only the husbands of Nancy’s friends. It didn’t matter! Bush had the talent, a genius for friendship. And like every genius, he worked at it: if Ronald Reagan connected with others solely by means of funny stories, George Bush would bring him funny stories.
[Bob Dole] had his right arm bent in front of his midriff, as he always carried it before him in the world. A lot of people knew that arm was useless, almost paralyzed, but even those who’d watched him for twenty-five years thought all the operations must have cocked the arm in front of him, fused the bones so the arm bent from the elbow to look almost like a working arm. In fact, it was Bob Dole who made it look like a working arm. If Dole ever let himself rest, that arm would hang straight down, like the arm of a quadriplegic. It would fall, visibly shorter than his left arm, with the palm of his bent right hand twisted toward the back. But Dole never let anyone see that—his problem. No matter how many hours he’d been up, or how long he stayed out, no matter how it ached, for hours, or a whole day, without rest, he kept that arm hiked up in front of him. He kept a rolled-up memo, or a plastic pen, in the crooked right fist to round its shape. If he ever let that memo go, or the pen, the hand would splay, with the forefinger pointing and the others cramped in toward the palm, the back of the hand painfully hollow where doctors had failed to graft in tendons. But Dole never let anybody see that.
The point was that everything, all fruit of this furious gathering, wound up in Dole’s head. And furthermore, the complete set of facts was nowhere else. That’s why the desk was clean, why Dole had no briefcase, and Dean carried only a slim leather folder. Sure, there was a blizzard of paper around Dole, but somehow, the written version always caught up with him after the fact. The schedule: they’d still be typing it Saturday morning, an hour before the car went for Dole at the Watergate; he kept adjusting it, fine-tuning, up to Friday night. And he’d keep changing it on the plane, if he wanted. There was no bible, except in Dole’s head. Most of the speeches were still being typed as Dole made his way to the head table. Then there was the furious dash to the Xerox, for press copies; anyway, it didn’t matter: Dole would keep his own copy in his pocket and say what he wanted, any way he chose. There wasn’t any speech, except in Bob Dole’s head. This was an article of pride with Dole. He didn’t have to read from a card in his pocket to have a talk about politics, the budget, or the tax law, dairy prices, the Russians, or anything else. It was in his head.
The funny thing was, everybody heard Bush use that word, “friend,” a hundred times a day, but they never could see what it meant to him. By what extravagance of need and will did a man try to make thirty thousand friends? By what steely discipline did he strive to keep them—with notes, cards, letters, gifts, invitations, visits, calls, and silent kindnesses, hundreds every week, every one demanding some measure of his energy and attention? And by what catholicity (or absence) of taste could he think well of every one of them? He could not. But they would never know that. The funny thing was, the friendship depended not on what Bush thought of them, but what they thought of him, or what he wanted them to think. If they thought well of him, then, they were friends.
For men, he’d send Dean out to buy twenty-five ties. Dole wouldn’t pick them out himself, he was color-blind. (For his own ties, Tito, his Brooks Brothers salesman, sewed numbers on the back so Dole could match them. One time, at dinner in Kansas City, Dole’s tie flopped over to reveal a big 4. Max Klein, the drawly old Southwestern Bell lobbyist, remarked: “Senator, you ought have ’em number it 104 or something, so people’ll think you have more ties.”)
And Joseph was going to get back, see: he never liked that used-car job, never—it was only a start. And the house, well ... there’d be a better house. After a year, he moved Jean and the kids to a real house in Arden, a rental place, but better ... and after another year, they moved to the house on Wilson Road. For nineteen years, they lived on Wilson, but to Joseph, it was always temporary. He was going to get back to a really good house, he was going to make it again, every day ... he’d get up, and he’d say: Today, I’m going to turn that corner, get the big break, today. ... That was the great thing about him: he would never, never quit. And to Joey, who watched this ... every day ... that was the difference between balls and courage. That was better than daring ... that was guts. And Joey meant to have guts. He would never, never quit.
And in class, he read about Demosthenes, who made himself the greatest orator of his day by putting pebbles in his mouth and declaiming to the sea, above the roar of the waves. So Joey Biden, of Wilson Road, would stand outside at the wall of his house, the blank wall that looked out toward the fence and Mom-Mom’s roses, and with stones in his mouth, he’d try to read aloud, until he could read that page without a miss, and then he’d go to the next page, and the next ... until it was the book in one hand and a flashlight in the other.
In Washington, in the life he knew, Joe had a vent for his steam—the Senate gym ... you could find him there for hours each day. Well, actually, you couldn’t find him—that was the point. No staff, no outsiders allowed. Joe’s schedule would say “staff time” at least once a day, usually twice, and what that meant was gym time. Somehow, he had to blow it off. ... But on the road, there was nowhere to vent, save public events. If he got through talking and wouldn’t leave, if he kept working harder till the whole room was sweaty, if he had them all ... and then lost them because he couldn’t stop ... well, you had to understand that these were his workouts.
The one who didn’t cry was George Bush. He went around the suite, telling everyone what a great job they’d done. Then he was on the phone. “Well,” he’d say, “back to the drawing board.” Downstairs, in the ballroom, he conceded, then stayed for an hour, answering anything the press had to ask. Then he was back on the phone ... all night. At 5:00 A.M., he pulled out a list—hundreds of people he wanted to thank, and he started from the top. He’d be on the phone for sixteen hours straight.
And as usual, when he was lying, Bush felt the need to prove he believed ... in terms ever stronger ... to the point of an aggrieved shriek. When word leaked that Bush advisers considered Ed Meese a drag on their campaign—and that Bush, privately, thought so, too—Bush was at such pains to knock down the story, he said: “I deny that I have ever given my opinion to anybody on anything.”
[Joe Biden] ran because people told him he should—their expectations ... he’d tried to do it by the numbers, so much money, so many consultants, positions, speeches, state directors ... but he couldn’t picture himself there, so he never could take control of how people saw him. He never had seen the why now, and why it had to be him. So how could he make others see? He would never do that—never do anything big again—without that certainty of obligation. And that’s what he told people, after he was well, when they came to him in the Age of Bush and told him he had to run next time. He said he was exactly where he belonged, for this time in his life; he was doing exactly what he should. He was doing good work in the Senate. He was taking care of his wife and his children, enjoying them, and enjoying them having him.
It was strange—a man like Biden, he’d had his face rubbed in mortality so hard, you’d think he would hear, for evermore, his earthly clock ticking ... but no. He thought, there would be time. If there came a time when he should run for the White House, he’d know ... but more than that. And this was at the bottom. This was what gave him his blessed absence of fever. There would be time, in his life, to establish in everyone’s mind, that he was of good character. If he lived long enough, that, too, would come. People would know, he never cheated in law school.