Ten Minutes from Normalby Karen Hughes
"The rule of thumb in any White House is that nobody is indispensable except the president," said The New York Times, "but Karen Hughes has come as close to that description as any recent presidential aide." Karen Hughes has worked beside President George W. Bush since, as she says, "the motorcade was only one car and he was sometimes the one driving it." As
"The rule of thumb in any White House is that nobody is indispensable except the president," said The New York Times, "but Karen Hughes has come as close to that description as any recent presidential aide." Karen Hughes has worked beside President George W. Bush since, as she says, "the motorcade was only one car and he was sometimes the one driving it." As counselor to the president, she brought the working mom’s perspective to the White House, often asking of President Bush’s policies, "What does this mean for the average person?"
Yet the move from Texas to Washington was hard on her family, and in a controversial, headline-making decision that reverberated across America, she summoned the courage to say, "Mr. President, I love you, but I need to move my family home to Texas." There, Hughes continues to advise the president, where the kitchen wall calendar marks the State of the Union message side by side with her son’s orthodontist appointments.
Reading Ten Minutes from Normal - the title comes from the campaign trail - one is instantly absorbed in what it’s like to be a "normal" person who goes to work at the White House as a part of the president’s inner circle. Told in Karen Hughes’s disarmingly down-to-earth, warm, often funny, and frank voice, the book is a remarkable blend of an ordinary woman’s life, with all its compromises and everyday decisions, and a keenly insightful look at American politics and America’s forty-third president.
This is a book for the legions of women and men everywhere who are seeking new inspiration for how to reorder their priorities and achieve balance in their lives. Most important, in a post-9/11 world, Hughes redefines the very notion of what is "normal" as something special and precious, never to be taken for granted in America again.
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Read an Excerpt
The rhythmic rocking of the train felt unnatural, slow and lethargic, a marked contrast to the hyperactivity of the just-finished Republican National Convention. A convention is a riot of balloons, speeches, people and parties. But suddenly, the noise had stopped: someone had slammed on the brakes and we were on a slow roll across the Midwest, seeing only the occasional cow. The convention had been a great success, the moment we had all been working toward, when we nominated my boss as the Republican candidate for president of the United States of America: a culmination, a celebration—yet like so many big events in a presidential campaign, oddly unsatisfying.
The planning and organizing that had led to that moment had been years in the making. The past several months had been devoted almost entirely to building toward the convention, writing the speech, organizing the themes, planning every scripted moment of national television coverage. But then, before we were able to truly savor or absorb it all, it was over, and we were back on the trail, or in this case, the train track, always on to the next thing.
A presidential campaign is relentless. You win a straw poll, or a primary, or a debate, or the daily news headline, and wake up to people already talking and asking about the next one. You win in Iowa, lose in New Hampshire, and get back on track in South Carolina, only to lose in Michigan three days later and wonder yet again, “Are we missing something?” But you’re on a plane to California, where there’s a debate coming up, then flying cross-country for next week’s critical primary in Virginia. Once you start, the only way to stop is to lose—and that, of course, is not the way you want to get off this train.
The reporters on board were all restless. Through long stretches of rural Pennsylvania and across Ohio, their cell phones hadn’t worked much of the time.
“Al Gore could have dropped out of the race and we wouldn’t even know it,” one complained to me.
“We should be so lucky,” I countered.
The biggest excitement came when a woman mooned the train, causing a great stir and endless speculation about what, exactly, she was trying to say with her show.
By the second day, the sleepy routine had begun to feel a little more natural: long hours of rocking along the track, punctuated by brief rallies in small towns and waves off the back to small groups of people who gathered at crossings, bringing their children to witness a little piece of American political history. We were approaching a town in Illinois when the conductor came over the loudspeaker and proudly announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are ten minutes from Normal; ten minutes from Normal.”
“If I ever write a book, that’s the title,” I told my colleagues in the staff car. “Ten minutes from normal is exactly how I feel about this whole bizarre experience.”
I’ve always considered myself a very normal person who had led, at least until recently, a very normal life, with a normal family and normal friends, except, of course, I have a boss and friend who became the president. And though this is often thrilling and even sometimes still surprising, it is most definitely not normal.
At times, it still feels surreal when I’m standing backstage or out in the crowd and the band plays “Hail to the Chief.” I don’t hear the music that often because the president is a humble person, and tries to balance the grandeur and stature of the office with his desire not to inflate his own sense of self-importance. So when the trumpets sound, it’s a special occasion when he walks on stage, and I am amazed: that is the president of the United States, and I know him, and he knows me.
I know his wife and daughters; he knows my husband and son. We have had dinners together; I’ve even cooked some of them, and so has he. I know how he takes his coffee. He knows that I am tall—not big—because we have had that conversation. Women who are five foot ten and a half and wear size 12 shoes do not like to be called big. We prefer the statelier tall. My friend Condi Rice says it’s like sweating. Ladies do not sweat, especially if you grew up, as she did, in Birmingham, Alabama. Southern women only perspire. “Tall people in back,” the president says to me during the group photograph at last year’s senior staff Christmas dinner, winking to show he got it, he remembers.
I have a very normal family: a teenage son who thinks that I am totally annoying, especially when I ask intrusive questions like “How was your day?” or even try to talk to him when he gets in the car after school, because he’s “tired.” (Tired of talking? I wonder. How is that possible, since he doesn’t?) I have a husband who puts up with us all and only occasionally gets irritated when I ask him for the third time in a day whether he loves me, then refuse to be satisfied when he tells me yes, but it’s hard.
“It’s not that hard,” I protest.
“Not too hard,” he replies, agreeably, which of course is not the answer I want to hear.
I have a grown daughter, Leigh, who is a licensed vocational nurse. For the sake of complete accuracy, I should say Leigh is my stepdaughter—but my husband had custody of her, and we met when she was seven, and married when she was nine. She lived with us and I nursed her through chicken pox; besides, creating categories of children in a family always struck me as wrong, so I call her my daughter. And we have a daring and darling eight-year-old granddaughter, Lauren, who has inherited a strong will and streak of independence from all sides of our family.
We have an orange-and-white cat, Griffey, the only cat our family has ever had that actually comes when he is called. He would be an almost perfect pet, which my husband defines as not requiring much in the way of service, except for a terrible habit of getting sick only on the carpet instead of the tile floor, even if the tile floor is closer and he has to go to another room in midcough to find some soft, lovely, hard-to-clean carpet on which to deposit his most recent hairball.
I also live with an exuberant golden retriever, Breeze, a rambunctious, bouncy and eager dog that never has learned to keep all four feet on the ground or her tongue in and nose out of unwelcome places. She’s quite lovable, if a bit enthusiastic. That’s what I think, at least.
My husband and the dog have a strained relationship. Part of it dates to the time I let the dog spend the night in the house because it was cold outside in Washington. The first night, she was perfect, but the second night she chewed up a ballpoint pen, leaving a trail of blue ink all over the light beige carpet. But the tensions between my husband and my dog are deeper than that; Jerry didn’t want the dog in the first place. He only relented after I appealed to his sense of fairness: “Every child should have a dog. Leigh had a dog; it’s not right not to get one for Robert.”
“Robert won’t take care of it,” my husband had sighed, but finally acquiesced. Jerry ended up taking care of the last dog, Leigh’s dog, a ditzy cocker spaniel named Fritzi, who was sweet but kind of stupid. While I was fond of her, I never really bonded in the way that you bond with a real dog, a large and intelligent one.
“Your dog gets in the cat litter, how intelligent is that?” Jerry asks. Notice the pronoun. Not “our” dog, as in the family pet, but “your” dog, as in all mine. Jerry used to laugh when the media described me as a control freak or the person who “controlled” the White House message.
“Anyone who thinks she’s in control ought to come and meet our animals,” he would say.
Writing about the pets is oddly personal, and I realize that this story will involve the people close to me more than I initially understood, or wanted. “I’m going to have to write about you in my book,” I inform my husband, in between commercials for ER, one of the few shows we watch on television.
“I didn’t agree to that,” he protests, ever the lawyer.
“You agreed I should write this book,” I answer. “I can’t write a book about my life without writing about our family: it wouldn’t be true, it wouldn’t be honest,” I counter.
Jerry looks unconvinced. “This is supposed to be a book about your political life, your life at the White House,” he says.
“No, remember, it’s a book about a lot of things, how a normal person like me ended up working at the White House, what it was like. It’s not a typical political gossip book,” I sputter. “This book is about life and family and faith—important things—and I can’t write about what is important without writing about you and Robert and Leigh and our family.”
“You can mention us, but keep it brief,” he replies.
I still remember the moment I first said it out loud. My husband and I were standing at the sink in the kitchen of the beautiful house that wasn’t ours, talking as we cleaned up the dinner dishes.
“Maybe we should just move back home this summer,” I said, and the look of relief that immediately crossed his face confirmed what I had suspected, what my husband still denies, but that all our friends believe—that he deeply missed Texas and was ready to go home.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, cautiously, much more cautiously than in the usual after- dinner, after-eighteen-years-of-marriage conversation. This was uncharted territory, and only I - could venture there first.
“Robert’s unhappy; I’m not even relevant in his life anymore. He misses his friends; we miss Leigh and Lauren and all our friends. Everyone said it would take a year to adjust, but it’s been more than a year, and I don’t see signs that we’re making any progress,” I said, the months of frustration and worry about my family spilling out into the open yet again. “Robert doesn’t go out or have fun or have friends over or do anything except sit downstairs and watch TV and study. He’s never even had a single kid come to our house except for the ones we invited with their parents,” I said, my voice getting louder as I recited the litany that had played too many times in my head. The subject of our greatest concern, my teenage son, was away on a school baseball trip, so my husband and I didn’t have to worry about his overhearing.
“I go to work when you all are asleep and I come home long after Robert’s home from school and he’s downstairs studying and he doesn’t even want to talk to me. He never asks me to do anything for him anymore because he knows I probably can’t. And if he did, I would probably be too tired, as I was last week when he wanted to make brownies. Too tired to make brownies— what does that say about our life?”
“We’ve been talking about reevaluating after next year, after tenth grade,” my husband replied calmly. He had been saying this every time I raised concerns, which was becoming more and more frequent: It was his holding pattern, a quick way to quell the questions.
It reminded me of another pat answer, years before, which had also proved wrong—this one not from my husband, but from my boss. Back in 1997, when reporters had first started asking Governor Bush whether he would run for president, he had put them off with a quick, “I’ll talk about that when I announce my campaign for reelection.”
Something about the timing was wrong, and it had nagged at me. I walked into the governor’s office early one morning after it had finally hit me: “If you wait until your reelection announcement to answer whether you might run for president, all the news coverage will focus on that,” I said. “Don’t you want to start your reelection campaign by talking about what you still want to accomplish as governor, not by refusing to rule out that you might run for president? That will be the lead of every story, and what you want to do for Texas will get lost in speculation about the presidency.”
“You’re right,” he said, nodding thoughtfully. “So what’s the alternative?” Governor Bush asked. “I don’t know whether I’m going to run for president or not, and I’m not going to be one of these politicians who says he won’t run and then changes his mind later when it’s convenient. As long as it’s a possibility, Texans need to know that and take it into account when they vote.”
“Then we need to find a way for you to say that before you announce your reelection campaign,” I responded, which led to our scheduling a news conference in late October 1997 to deal with what I called the P question. “P question” was the inscription I had written in black Sharpie marker on the thin but growing green file I carried in my car to keep anything related to a possible presidential campaign separated from my official work at the state capitol. If only separating the P question from the rest of my life had been so easy!
The mere existence of the question was already changing our lives, a fact underscored by the scene at the governor’s mansion that fall morning. A huge crowd of reporters, including some national ones who didn’t usually cover much state news in Texas, waited in the garden, and satellite television trucks lined the streets surrounding the stately white house. Governor Bush stepped up to a small podium and delivered the statement we had worked on: “I hope Texans have come to know that I’m a straightforward person, and I want to deal with the question in as straight a way as I know how. I have not made a decision to run or not to run for President. I do not know, and I cannot possibly know at this time whether I would ever run for President . . . I can promise I will always do what is best for Texas . . .”
“You mean you called a news conference to say he might or might not run?” Mike Holmes, the bureau chief for the Associated Press and thus the dean of the Texas Capitol press corps, asked me incredulously.
“That’s right; he thinks people deserve to know before he asks for their votes to reelect him,” I replied.
Mike walked off, shaking his head. What was the news here? He might or might not run? We all know that, Mike’s body language seemed to say disapprovingly.
Yet from our perspective, it was news, news that underscored our view that our boss was different. Politicians from both parties had previously promised home-state voters they would not seek the presidency, and then changed their minds later. Governor Bill Clinton had done so in Arkansas; so had Governor Pete Wilson in California. By choosing a different course, Governor Bush was doing a rare thing in politics: letting people know something that might not serve his own best interests. Our staff in the Texas governor’s office had seen him do it many times: when he spoke out against California’s proposition 187 and said Texas would educate children whether their parents were here legally or not; when he took on a massive tax restructuring that one of our savviest friends described as politically suicidal but otherwise exactly the right thing to do; when he commuted the death penalty to a life prison sentence for a despicable murderer who had killed many women but probably had not killed the one for which he had been sentenced to death. It was one of the things I most admired about Governor Bush, one of the things that had earned the trust and loyalty of all of us on his senior staff: he was too astute to ignore the political risks of any situation, but they didn’t govern him. He listened to all the arguments and opinions, but the final compass was his own conviction.
In the case of a possible presidential campaign, the risk was not great. Most Texans are proud when their fellow Texans seek national office. But Governor Bush’s refusal to rule out seeking the presidency could cost him votes in his reelection, reducing his margin of victory and the appearance of strong home-state support. And it would hand his opponents an easy issue. We - could all imagine the television commercials: “He’s asking you to hire him,” the announcer would intone, “but he won’t even promise he’ll finish the job.”
And as we expected, the chairman of the Democratic Party immediately criticized him: “The people of Texas deserve to know whether Governor Bush will be a full-time Governor,” he said. Some of the cynics thought Governor Bush had already decided to run for president, and was therefore misleading Texans by not acknowledging that fact, but I knew better. This son of a president had seen firsthand how seeking the presidency would change his life, especially if he won. He was thinking it through, calculating its impact on the rest of his life. Many times, I thought he just might decide the cost was too high, though it had nothing to do with money.
“I’ll never again be able to just walk into Wal-Mart and buy fishing lures,” he said to me once, a telling little picture of the normal, often unappreciated things our nation’s presidents give up when they succeed at their ambition. Mostly, though, Governor Bush was worried about the impact a presidential race would have on his family, especially his teenage daughters, who were in high school and would have his presidency hanging over their college years if he won. He knew the scrutiny he and his brothers and sister had endured during the years his father was president, and remembered the pain of watching his father criticized in the glare of the harshest spotlight in the world. “I was forty and it was hard,” he said one day, thinking out loud as he did often during the next year, debating with himself. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in college with your dad as president.”
I understood how torn he felt. My own feelings were mixed, and partly selfish. I thought George Bush would be a wonderful president—I also thought he was too decent a person to wish the presidency on him. National politics seemed cutthroat, meaner, more venal and self-serving than politics at the state level, even in the rough and tumble of Texas. “The process doesn’t seem very Christian,” I said to him once, worried about entering an environment whose values were so different from mine.
“The process isn’t Christian, but it’s important for Christians to be involved in the process,” he retorted, making it clear he had thought about this, too, and concluded it was important for - people to get involved in the political process to serve their community or country. But the cost of the presidency, in the loss of any private life, in the strain on your family, in the punishing criticism that would inevitably come, seemed to me so high that many times, I secretly hoped he would decide not to run.
Yet my reluctance was born not just of my concern for him and his family. I was worried about my own family, and myself. I liked my life in Texas. Throughout his years as governor, I had been able to balance my roles at the office and at home. I had an interesting, challenging job, yet I took my son to school most mornings and made it home for dinner most nights. We lived in a community where we knew other families, coached youth sports and had great friends we enjoyed. Jerry loved the courses he was taking at the Presbyterian seminary; I swam laps at a neighborhood pool and taught Sunday school at church. My nice routines would be upended, and how could I possibly be a good wife and mother to Robert while traveling the country on something as intense as a presidential campaign?
You love him more than anything, don’t you?” George W. Bush had asked me on that day in the fall of 1993, as he looked at Robert’s picture on the credenza behind my desk at the state headquarters of the Republican Party of Texas where I was the executive director. George W. Bush had come to my office to file the formal papers to become a Republican candidate for governor of Texas. I knew quite a bit about him, but didn’t really know him then. We had met a few times at Republican events, and I had worked with him briefly at the state convention several years before, but I had seen him primarily on television and in the newspaper promoting Texas Rangers baseball and the team’s new ballpark.
“I do,” I said, meaning that I love my son more than anything, somewhat taken aback by the sudden intimacy of the question from a relative stranger. Most people would have said something far more generic: “Is that your son? How old is he? What a good-looking boy.” Not George Bush. He went straight to the heart.
“He’s more important than anything else in this world,” he said.
“He is,” I said, nodding, feeling strangely tongue-tied, wondering if this man could read my mind or whether he was talking about his own children as much as mine.
My longtime boss, the party chairman, invited everyone to sit for a few minutes, and we talked about the campaign ahead. George W. Bush felt the way to beat then-governor Ann Richards was by articulating their profound differences on issues and philosophy.
“I will treat her with respect,” he said, “but on issues from schools to welfare to juvenile crime, she is stuck in a status quo that isn’t working. Too many kids are trapped in schools where they aren’t learning; we’re sending juveniles the wrong signal by giving them a slap on the wrist when they commit serious crimes; we’re creating a culture of dependency with welfare, but she - hasn’t said a thing about it even though some national Democrats are beginning to admit the need for reform. The way to win is to talk about the issues, not about her,” he said.
I couldn’t have agreed more. For the previous two years at the Republican Party, I had been trying to build a case with the media that although Ann Richards was personally popular, her philosophy and policies were ineffective and out of step with the views of most Texans.
I had joined George W. Bush’s campaign for governor later that year, and had stayed with him for all six years in the Texas governor’s office, some of the best years of my life and career. But my satisfying routines changed abruptly during the presidential campaign and at the White House. I was away from home most of the time; when I was there, I was often worn out from the incredible intensity, long hours and grueling travel. Despite the privilege and challenge of serving the president and my country, my once-vague unease about how busy I would be, and how my family might react to being uprooted from Texas, had now become a piercing, daily anguish. My colleague Mary Matalin and I talked about it almost every day, the agonizing tug-of-war between career and family. I felt trapped between what was best for my family and what was best for my boss, who now had the most difficult and demanding job in the world.
The Sunday before I first broached the possibility of moving home with my husband, our minister at National Presbyterian Church, Craig Barnes, had preached a sermon on freedom: “Our goals are good, but in the reckless pursuit of them we don’t see how many people we hurt along the way. Some of us just wanted to climb up the ladder at work, but our families paid for our success with hurt.” I didn’t think I had recklessly pushed my way up the ladder, but I had found myself on a pretty high rung, and I knew it had put my family in a difficult place. I had been praying for guidance, and now Craig Barnes seemed to offer it: “We keep asking God to tell us His will,” he said. “Should I turn left or right in life? Take this job or that job? Stay single or marry? Move or stay put? I wonder if sometimes when the risen Christ hears those prayers He - doesn’t shrug His shoulders and say, ‘You know, we have the big stuff taken care of now. You are forgiven and freed. So take responsibility for your freedom, make a choice, and surprise Me.’” Maybe I didn’t need to be in a place where I felt trapped between my responsibilities to my job and my family, the sermon reminded me. I didn’t have to feel guilty, or obligated. I was free to make a different choice.
After months of accepting my husband’s reassurance that we would reassess after next year, after Robert finished tenth grade, I questioned the logic that waiting another year would somehow change our circumstances. “If we stay here for another whole school year, we will have been gone for two and a half years. Robert will be totally disconnected from his life in Texas. His friends will have changed and moved on. He won’t really know anybody anymore, so he’ll have a hard time fitting in back there, and I don’t see much prospect of things getting better here. Maybe we should just move home this summer.”
Surprise, and relief, competed for space on my husband’s face. “What about the president? Can you really leave the White House this soon?” Jerry asked skeptically.
“A lot of people do,” I said, my words far more certain than my emotions. Mary Matalin remembers that I had been shocked when months before in the White House gym she had first talked about leaving her job. “You mean you don’t have to stay all four years?” I had asked her that day.
“I’m not going to; most people don’t,” she had said.
Our chief of staff, Andy Card, reinforced that observation—and caused unfounded speculation that he was perhaps leaving—when he said the same thing in an interview at about the same time.
“Remember that interview Andy Card did?” I reminded my husband. “He said the average time people serve at the White House is eighteen months. If we leave this summer, I will have been there eighteen months.”
“That wasn’t senior people, though, was it?” Jerry asked.
“I don’t know; I think it was an average—everybody,” I replied. “And Mary said she had never planned to stay the whole time.”
The words, and questions, started coming faster then, my willingness to talk about walking away from my job the can opener that released the pent-up pressure into the air with a sudden rush. Was it really possible? How would the president react? Who could do my job? How could I leave while we were in the midst of a war? I reminded my husband that the president himself had said we were going to be at war against terror for the foreseeable future, throughout his presidency and probably for the next several administrations. “By that time, Robert will be gone, graduated from college, living on his own, and I will have missed his last years at home because I spent most of my time at the office.”
“What about Margaret’s house?” We had rented the house we were living in from my friend Margaret Tutwiler when she had moved to Morocco to serve as our ambassador there. How could we leave her stuck without a tenant when she was thousands of miles away?
Jerry, always objective, even argued the positive. “Another year at this school and Robert will have the foundation to go to any college he wants to,” he said, referring to St. Albans, the top Episcopal all-boys school our son had chosen to attend in Washington. “I would really like him to have another year of these academics, and then he would have a foundation for life,” he said. Jerry is a former school board member who worries that the public schools too often direct more effort toward creating an inflated sense of self-esteem than they do requiring genuine academic achievement from their students.
“But at the price of being happy?” I asked. “Robert is a good student; he’ll succeed anywhere. His school in Texas was pretty good. We both went to public schools; we didn’t go to Ivy League colleges. Remember what you always say: you went to Texas; I went to SMU; and we’ve done all right in life. We know he isn’t happy, and I don’t think another year will make it any better. Maybe we should just move home this summer,” I said, becoming more and more convinced each time I said it out loud.
I was, of course, the only one who could really make the decision to leave. We had moved to Washington because of me, or more accurately, because my boss had been elected president of the United States. As my son had so plaintively put it on one of the rare occasions when he expressed his unhappiness in words: “I don’t like it here; Dad doesn’t like it here; even the dog - doesn’t like it here . . . and it’s all because of you.”
We had talked about it in advance, of course. After the nightmare of the Florida recount, after it was finally, painstakingly clear that George W. Bush was going to become the president, Jerry, Robert and I had had a family discussion and agreed to move to Washington. But the conversation had been perfunctory. We had all realized long before that if the campaign was successful, our life would change dramatically, and I would have to go to Washington. After traveling around the country with him for two years, after being an instrumental part of his team, I couldn’t just wish the president well and send him off with a “So long; it’s been fun. Good luck.” I could have left my family in Texas and commuted, but I didn’t think I could stand seeing them only every other weekend.
Jerry had been unequivocal: commuting was not an option. “We’ve been apart enough during the campaign,” he said, “we’re all going.” Robert was cautious. I knew he didn’t want to leave his friends, but he didn’t really protest the move. It was exciting for a teenager to know the man who was about to become the president, and Robert had become a part of the team, too, after traveling all fall on the campaign airplane with us. He loved President and Mrs. Bush; we all did. Our friend had been elected to the hardest job in the world, and we could not conceive that our family would not do everything possible to support him.
It was hard to think about my family in a totally separate context from President and Mrs. Bush. I could trace much of our family’s life and my son’s growth through pictures of various special occasions with them. There’s Robert, only five years old, a shy smile on his face, in front of the spring flowers at the governor’s mansion after the annual Capitol 10,000 run/walk. There’s Robert and a friend dressed up for Halloween—Robert in a baseball uniform, his friend Kemper wearing a President Clinton mask his mother had thought was a great joke—sitting on the front porch with Governor Bush. There’s Robert with Jenna and Barbara Bush in front of the lighthouse on Matagorda Island, during the trip we took with the Bush family to encourage Texas families to visit Texas parks. Robert’s changing height is measured in the annual family pictures in front of the Christmas tree in the living room of the governor’s mansion. And the thoughtful invitations continued when we moved to Washington, as President and Mrs. Bush included their staff and cabinet members and all our families in so many special occasions. Robert, Jerry and I had been to private movie screenings at the White House. We had had Thanksgiving dinner with President and Mrs. Bush and Karl, Darby and Andrew Rove and Condi Rice at Camp David. We had flown to Texas after Christmas and for Easter weekend on Air Force One with President and Mrs. Bush. Yet after being so closely intertwined for so long, after fifteen months in Washington, the best interests of my family and my boss were clearly colliding.
I could no longer drive Robert to school in the mornings, as I had enjoyed doing for years, because I would miss the senior staff meeting at the White House. Jerry had to do almost all of the grocery shopping, a fate from which I had rescued him years before. When Jerry and I first met, the chore he hated most was going to the grocery store at the end of a long day, after picking up Leigh from day care. I actually enjoy shopping, but I was so busy in Washington that I only made it to the grocery store about three times. Once, I had been interrupted by a conference call. I couldn’t help but wonder what my fellow shoppers would think if they knew the woman squeezing tomatoes in the produce section was on the phone with Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice, helping them prepare for the Sunday talk shows.
My work at the White House was challenging, fascinating. I was exploring a whole new world. Working for state government in Texas, I had dealt with education and criminal justice and health care and the environment, a wide range of domestic issues. But the only foreign policy we dealt with was Mexico—and Oklahoma, I used to joke. Thanks to Condi Rice, who had included me on the U.S. delegations for our foreign trips, I was meeting foreign leaders, visiting their countries, learning the nuances of American foreign policy. I had watched in Slovenia as the president of the United States met the president of Russia for the first time. I had walked on the Great Wall of China, stood at the DMZ in South Korea, and visited the palace of Their Majesties, Empress Michiko and Emperor Akihito, the 125th in an unbroken line of rulers of Japan. I had watched from inside the Kremlin as President Bush and President Putin signed an agreement dramatically reducing nuclear weapons. I had met the pope at his summer residence and had lunch with the queen at Buckingham Palace. I had worked on historic speeches about some of the most complex issues of our time, from the moral ramifications of stem cell research to advancing peace in the Middle East.
And the attacks of September 11 had given me a vast new communications challenge. Before that day, I was primarily concerned with communicating the president’s policies to the American people. Now I was in charge of helping the president communicate during a global war against a diffuse and dramatically different enemy to people both at home and across the globe, many of whom clearly didn’t seem to like us very much. We dispatched members of my staff to Islamabad and London to set up new information centers. I was increasingly convinced that our country would never win the war against terror as long as little boys and girls across the world grew up hating America. And the plight of the women and little girls of Afghanistan had touched me. I wanted to do everything I could to help them regain the dignity and the opportunities that had been stolen from them during the years of the Taliban. Yet as important as I thought the work ahead was to our country and our future, I also found myself longing to pick my son up from school, to make sure I was there when he needed me, which I was learning was even harder with a teenager than it had been with a toddler. I found myself longing to be rested enough to want to go out to dinner with my husband or get together with friends.
I didn’t make a decision the night Jerry and I first talked about moving home; I agonized for weeks. And when I finally made up my mind, I realized the seeds had been planted long before, by parents who had taught me that faith and family matter most in life. Once again, as I had when I had left reporting for my first political campaign almost twenty years earlier, I found myself yearning for a life that was a little more normal.
Meet the Author
Karen Hughes served as counselor to the president, was one of three people who ran his presidential campaign and worked as his communications director during his six years as governor of Texas. She is an elder and longtime Sunday-school teacher in the Presbyterian church. Mrs. Hughes lives with her husband and son in Austin, Texas, where she continues to advise President Bush from her home.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Fabulous!! A truly remarkable woman who sets the highest standard for all of us to follow. I read the book in 1 day; I couldn't put it down. I laughed; I cried; and I came away inspired to do better in my own life. She validated my opinion of President George W. Bush as a warm, caring, intelligent man who truly has the best interests of 'we the people' in his heart and the tremendous sacrifices that he makes to keep America safe and strong. This is the definitive book on what it is to be the President of the United States and what life is like in the most powerful job in the world.
This book was written so that i felt I was sitting and talking to Ms. Hughes. She gives a wonderful glimpse of what it is like to work in politics, state and national. I was never bored, even though I rarely read and enjoy non-fiction. I came away from this book with renewed respect for President Bush and admiration for Ms. Hughes and the tough decision she made.
What a refreshing story about politics inside. Karen Hughes is to be commended for seperating family from politics. It is nice to know that there are some 'humans' in the whitehouse once again. She gave some insights to the whitehouse that were not expected , but very refreshing. For once a political book that wasn't so depressing. Thank you Karen.
Enjoyed this book very much. Was always impressed by Karen Hughes-- even more so now. So accomplished- such a tough decision. Thank you to your husband for his support to you. Best wishes to your son. By the way, need a bible at work, go to www.bible.com
Karen Hughes rights an insightful account of her close interactions with President Bush. It is obvious Bush has a lot of faith in her advice, and after reading her book I can see why. Just another very intelligent person working by his side.
Enjoyable reading about leadership people and successfully balancing family and work. Also, refreshing that it was written without name calling.
This book is excellent! Very smooth reading! You feel like your on the campaign plane and going through the daily grind with Bush and Hughes. Takes you inside the White House and into some of the personalities the media doesn't portray of senior staff. GET IT & READ IT!
IN THIS STUNNING AND RUNAWAY BEST SELLER KAREN HUGHES (WHO IS ONE OF BUSHS ADVISORS) HAS WRITTION THIS REALLY WONDERFUL BIO ABOUT HER LIFE WITH GEORGE W. BUSH, THE CAMPAIGN TRAILS FROM GOVERNOR OF TEXAS TO THE WHITE HOUSE WHILE AT THE SAME TIME BALANCING HER FAMILY LIFE.SHE IS A VERY AMAZING LADY SHE WAS THERE FROM THE BEGAINGING AND SHE HAS SOME VERY MOVING THOUGHTS ON 9\11 . YOU WILL BE TRULY TOUCHED BY THIS BOOK.