Andy Card's appetite for punishment

Former Bush chief of staff considers seeking federal office in Massachusetts. Is it a cry for help?

By Gabriel Winant
Published September 10, 2009 4:25PM (EDT)

Andy Card, who served as White House chief of staff during President George W. Bush’s first term, has worked as a garbage collector, and at a McDonald’s. Even when he was ostensibly the manager of the Bush administration, he thought of himself as a service worker; in one infamous story, the president once supposedly sent him for a cheeseburger. A former colleague anonymously told the Washington Post, "[T]he president can walk on Andy a little bit. The president talks to him like he's hired help more than he would someone like Cheney or Rumsfeld.”

But that’s okay, Card would reply. He expects the work. That’s why he signed up for the job, he'd say. “The president has every right to be selfish with my time. That means there are sacrifices I need to make for the president to have what he needs. And those sacrifices usually impact my wife or my kids or my grandkids, or my siblings or my friends. And that is a burden I carry.”

This guy, he lives to take one for the team. Which is, perhaps, why he’s considering a run for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's open Senate seat. Card was, decades ago, a Massachusetts state legislator and acandidate for governor. Now that there’s an open seat in the state for the first time in forever, he may take a stab at it. “I would very much like to run,” he said recently.

Card would bring one strength to the table -- he can raise a lot of money thanks to his connections in Washington. But frankly, it’s hard to imagine a supposedly viable, mainstream candidate as downright unelectable as Card would be in this race. He’d be seeking federal, rather than state office, so he’d have to run on his record and stances on national, partisan issues, rather than his technocratic abilities. (Because his record there is excellent.) And who would be easier to link the unpopularity and excesses of the Bush administration -- especially the pre-2006, totally unreconstructed Bush administration -- than the man who was literally in charge of it?

“I'm not George W. Bush. I respect him. I respect how he made his tough decisions. I was greatly honored to serve at the White House," he says. "But if I run, I would be running as Andy Card."

He can repeat that all he wants, but this would all be happening, in case you’ve forgotten, in the most Democratic state in the country, in the long shadow of one of the most iconic liberals of the past 50 years. Imagine if Rahm Emanuel decided to run for Sarah Palin’s old job and you get close to grasping the odds of Card's victory.

Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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