Nicer than normal

When my youngest daughter was assigned the task of writing a biography as a fourth grader last year, she picked Karen Hughes. She emailed Hughes to ask her such important questions as what her favorite food is and, even more important, what her favorite color is.
Hughes responded in the nick of time, saying she would have responded earlier but that she had had to help the president with “a little speech” later that night. The speech was that year’s State of the Union. We haven’t forgotten her kindness, and neither has my daughter’s teacher, who quoted the email back to us when we ran into her last weekend.
Tomorrow’s Washington Post Book World runs a brief note on Hughes’s new book on her work for President Bush, Ten Minutes From Normal. Here it is:

As a former news reporter, campaign coach and communications honcho, Karen Hughes knows how to feed readers’ hunger for inside information. In Ten Minutes from Normal (Viking, $25.95), her memoir of advising George W. Bush, she recounts, among other charged moments, the heads-of-states’-names flap. During the 2000 campaign, a Boston TV reporter tossed what Hughes calls a “cheap shot” into an interview with Bush: Could he name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, Pakistan and India? Hughes doesn’t blame her boss for not knowing the answers but herself for not having learned that the reporter in question “apparently had a reputation for pulling stunts.” In the aftermath comes the telling detail: Throughout the rest of the campaign, Hughes carried around a handy list of names, “and we would read them over periodically, trying to memorize them.” Hughes portrays herself as so reluctant to play “the Washington game” after the election that old Republican hand Margaret Tutwiler badgered her to wake up and agitate for an office near the Oval one. But Hughes refused, reminding herself that the president would ask for her views no matter where she was. “The fact that I had to . . . force myself not to care,” she recalls, “made me realize what a struggle it would be to maintain my balance in the status-conscious world of Washington.” Hughes had always kept her family uppermost in mind, especially her young son Robert, who accompanied her on the 2000 campaign and whose comments are interspersed in this book. After maintaining her balance for several months, Hughes turned her back on Washington in the spring of 2002 and went back home to Texas — where the president still knows where to find her.


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