Rumsfeld: The Making of an American Icon

Rumsfeld: The Making of an American Icon

by Midge Decter

The ultimate, behind–the–scenes look at the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as he prosecutes the sprawling war on terror and emerges as a figure second only to the President in his ability to capture the country's attention and confidence.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has become the leading spokesman for the Bush administration on


The ultimate, behind–the–scenes look at the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as he prosecutes the sprawling war on terror and emerges as a figure second only to the President in his ability to capture the country's attention and confidence.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has become the leading spokesman for the Bush administration on all matters related to the military and its prosecution of the war on terror. Midge Decter, an accomplished political jounalist who has enjoyed over two decades of personal friendship with Rumsfeld, will answer the question of why and how he has come to play such a critical role at this obviously critical moment. Partly biographical and partly analytical, the book will focus on Rumsfeld's past and current activities as well as what he represents: an ethos of sturdiness, frankness, and resilience that has clearly resonated with the American public in a post–Clinton wartime era. Decter has gained Rumsfeld's full cooperation, and she will trail him through the Pentagon and beyond as he prosecutes the war on terror, including any impending military campaign against Iraq. The daily stresses of advising the president, handling the media, crafting military policy, and dealing with issues of life and death will be examined from the inside––as it is happening.

This book will offer a dynamic, intimate, behind–the–scenes look at the biggest political star (apart from the president himself) of the Bush administration.

Editorial Reviews
Noted conservative journalist and Rumsfeld confidante Midge Decter casts an admiring eye on the controversial secretary of defense, George W. Bush's primary point man in the "war on terrorism."
The New York Times
Paper boy, Eagle Scout, high school wrestling champ, Navy flier, Republican congressman, White House chief of staff, business executive, secretary of defense -- in this biography, the stages of Donald Rumsfeld's career fit together seamlessly, each offered to illustrate the same earnestness and energy. The book has a campaign biography's relentless pace and upbeat tone. — Allen D. Boyer
Publishers Weekly
With his dry wit and deliberate demeanor, Bush defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld became a television personality through his daily press briefings following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, Rumsfeld gets an adoring biopic from an adoring writer. In breathless, reverential prose, conservative essayist Decter (Liberal Parents, Radical Children; etc.) offers a personal, thoroughly uncritical profile of the defense secretary, whom she has known and admired for years. From modest Chicago roots, Rumsfeld went on to Princeton University, achieved success in business, served three terms in Congress and, at age 43, became the youngest secretary of defense in the nation's history and a close adviser to President Gerald Ford. More than two decades later, Rumsfeld is reprising his role as defense secretary under President George W. Bush, and while, true-to-form, ruffling feathers at the Pentagon, has been suddenly thrust to prominence under extraordinary circumstances. Clearly, Rumsfeld, one of the first and foremost proponents of using technology to remake the U.S. military, owns a career worth examining. Decter's doting paean, however, so exceedingly praises its subject that it is nearly impossible to take seriously. The book's tone is set in an almost surreal prelude where an elegant, anonymous New York socialite confesses to Decter that she has Rumsfeld's picture hanging in her dressing room. From there, Decter attacks Rumseld's critics with sycophantic zeal and attempts to build events in the secretary's life and career into the stuff of legend. Even fans of Rumsfeld's will find that this overwrought hagiography trivializes the secretary's impressive, if at times controversial, career. (Oct. 14) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Personal Portrait

Chapter One

A Star Is Born

Donald rumsfeld is a Chicagoan. His life has carried him to many places, primary among them, of course, Washington. Nor, though he was born in Chicago on July 9, 1932, did he grow up there, but rather in Winnetka, one of the suburbs located north of the city along the shore of Lake Michigan. Moreover, by the time he left for Washington to serve in the Bush cabinet he had been living within Chicago proper for only sixteen years. Nevertheless, a child of that great, energetic, hard-driving, open-faced, middle western American city is what Rumsfeld most recognizably is.

"One of the two shaping experiences of my life," he says, "was the Depression. I still stop to pick up a penny. The other, of course, was World War II."

On the day he was born the average annual income in the United States was $1,652. A pound of butter cost 28 cents, a gallon of gas cost a dime, and the average price of a new home was $6,500.Herbert Hoover was in the White House but would not be there for long: Earlier in that same week the Democratic party had nominated a New Yorker named Franklin D. Roosevelt to be its candidate for president. As for Chicago, now a lively center of finance and commerce, it was at that moment the city best known in American legend for the crime in its streets, crime that would for the most part be stilled after 1933 by the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment and the end of Prohibition. It was also the city that had not that many years earlier been eulogized by Carl Sandburg, its informally recognized poet laureate, as the "hog-butcher for the world."

When their son Donald was two and their daughter Joan four and a half, George and Jeanette Rumsfeld moved the family northward, first briefly to Evanston and then a bit farther on to Winnetka. (Indeed, briefly is a word that would continue to apply, by most people's standards rather dramatically, to virtually all Rumsfeld domiciles, whether those of Don's parents or later those in which he himself was to live as an adult. For by his own not necessarily complete listing of them, he has in the course of his life so far had some thirty-four different addresses in more than twenty different towns and cities.)

George Rumsfeld, the infant Don's father, had been working for Baird and Warner, a real-estate firm operating in the region. He had worked his way up from office boy to agent, and he calculated that the places where real-estate values would be both highest and most stable were communities whose populations were most committed to the idea of providing their children with a superior education.

George Rumsfeld's perception would turn out not only to be sound but positively fateful -- the word does not seem too strong -- as far as his children were concerned. For as it would turn out, by 1964 the Illinois 13th Congressional District, for a long time made up completely of Chicago's northern lakeside suburbs, would vie with only two other districts in the United States (one in California and one in Virginia) for having the highest median level of education (12.6 years). And this, in turn, suggests that the residents of those suburbs had for some time also been enjoying an unusually high degree of affluence -- wealth, after all, being a significant factor in the rate of high school graduation and college attendance. Indeed, in that same census the Illinois 13th was found to be first in the nation for having both the highest median income and the lowest rate of unemployment. Thus the move northward, where -- though the Depression would for some time continue to mean that even in the northern suburbs there would be a number of people struggling to make a living -- prospects for the future were nevertheless brighter.

So the idea about where the Rumsfelds should live after Chicago had been borne out, and then some. To visit Wilmette, Winnetka, Evanston, et al., today is to be offered visible confirmation of how long-standing and deeply rooted their present-day affluence has proved to be. The area boasts street after street of large, handsome, unself-consciously costly houses built in an older, non-chic, more settled and stable, more self-confident, middle-western style than is nowadays so frequently to be found in the suburbs of the well-to-do.

The Rumsfelds, however, were not fated to join in Winnetka's inevitable affluence. Their own income would prove at best to be modest and hard-earned. Moreover, when the United States went to war against Germany and Japan -- Don now nine and a half and Joan going on twelve -- George decided that he had to serve in the military and opted to volunteer for the navy: whatever else you can say about it, not, to put it mildly, a move likely to result in any enhancement of the family coffers.

As it happened, George Rumsfeld was a slight man and extremely thin. In addition, he was quite a bit older than the recruits then being taken into service. Thus when he first volunteered, the navy turned him down. But he was determined to take part in the war and spent the year trying to build himself up, copiously drinking milk shakes, his son says, and eating bananas. (Determination may not be a heritable trait, but to judge from George's son, it was surely one on marked display during young Rumsfeld's formative years.) Meanwhile, the war was going badly, and in 1942 the armed forces decided that they were going to have to expand the pool of potential manpower and upped the age of eligibility for recruitment. So it was that in 1943 the navy relented toward George Rumsfeld and inducted him. He had by then passed his thirty-eighth birthday ...

A Personal Portrait
. Copyright © by Midge Decter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Midge Decter is an author and editor whose essays and reviews have appeared in Harper's, The Atlantic, National Review, The New Republic, and The Weekly Standard. A regular contributor to Commentary, she is also the author of several books, the most recent being An Old Wife's Tale. She is a member of the board of the Heritage Foundation, the Center for Security Policy, First Things magazine of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, and the Clare Boothe Luce Fund, and she lectures widely on a variety of subjects, from the family to foreign policy. She lives in New York City with her husband, author Norman Podhoretz.

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