TCS Daily


The Better Part of Life

By Ken Adelman - May 21, 2004 12:00 AM

"The better part of one's life consists of friendship."

This adage comes from Rumsfeld's Rules, which the man currently under fire attributes to that other Illinois politico - who was once under even more fire -- Abraham Lincoln.

Don Rumsfeld is seldom portrayed as a friend. He's had so many roles in public life -- and been so public in that life -- that little ink is left for personal pieces on the man, up-close-and-personal.

I've been lucky that "the better part" of my life has included friendship with Don Rumsfeld.

It goes back to 1970, when we first met at the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), which he then headed. His special assistant was a 28 year old Dick Cheney. A galaxy of other talent was carefully selected and recruited by Rumsfeld -- Frank Carlucci, Christie Todd Whitman, Bill Bradley, Jim Leach, and (certainly not least) my future wife.

Notice that even this abbreviated list encompasses staunch conservatives, moderate Republicans, liberal Republicans, and a centrist Democrat. Rumsfeld back then was good friends with Allard Lowenstein, a far-leftist Democrat.

Obviously, the man was open to different viewpoints and quite eager to hear -- even to befriend -- smart folks from any perspective.

Three times I've been lucky to work for him. Untold hours we've spent together, traveling 35,000 miles around the world in 1982, whirling around Vietnam for a week in 1995, and during family weddings and sundry celebrations.

On such occasions I've seen how Rumsfeld soaks up information from everyone, and nearly every publication, around him. While other folks collect things, he collects ideas and thoughts. Even with his crushing official load, and the personal devastation of the Iraq prison scandal, he still reads outside material. It was thus no surprise that, during his one-day trip to Iraq last week, he mentioned a biography on General U.S. Grant he's been reading.

Rumsfeld still flies through newspapers and magazines before tackling the stacks of official memos awaiting his decision. Those around him are considered sources of knowledge -- yes, even Congressmen and Senators. While pundits may snicker at the notion of learning anything from the likes of them, Rumsfeld -- in his Rules, assembled over the years -- reminds us that each "managed to get" in Congress "for some reason." What special feature the politician has reveals something "important about them, about our country, and about the American people."

Moreover, Rumsfeld has an operational bent. While he likes to know something, he prefers doing something with that knowledge.

Hence, his willingness to return to Washington in 2001 as the once-again U.S. Secretary of Defense. At 69 years old, with more money that he could ever imagine, who needed it? (I imagine that's the operational question in his mind about now).

But Rumsfeld needed it. He believes in public service, and feels a compulsion to join an Administration when asked.

During a constantly bustling life, Rumsfeld pauses long enough to ask about family and mutual friends. When our daughter attended a summer music camp outside of Taos, New Mexico, the Rumsfelds drove out to fetch her for weekends, and make her part of their close family.

And when that daughter won a seat at a major symphony last year -- around the time the Iraq war was launched -- Joyce and Don Rumsfeld came over for dinner to celebrate. Though Iraq was the sole topic around Washington then, it was not mentioned around our table. Only the music audition was.

Over the years, when our former colleagues have passed away, or been wounded (like Jim Brady), Rumsfeld has swiftly organized efforts to assure that their families were secure, and memories of them remained vivid.

I could go on for pages with stories over these 34 years. But I fear sounding like someone giving a eulogy, and Don Rumsfeld is still very much alive. He is not only lively in himself, but brings out liveliness in others.

Throughout my adult life, I've not only learned so much from Rumsfeld, but I've felt better being around him -- livelier, smarter, funnier, even more patriotic than I really am.

Rumsfeld's personality, and especially his character, somehow enhances the best qualities of those gathered around him. While I've gained a lot of insights from him, I've become better being around him -- as a friend, luckily for me, over ah-these many years.


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