These are not exactly salad days for the men and women whose fate it is to work for the United States government. The total number of “RIFs” may be small—only a few percent of the federal work force face layoffs—but that doesn’t make it any harder to imagine you’ll be one of those victimized by the Reagan era. This queasy feeling— some might call it a siege mentality—has had the effect of concentrating the mind more than ever on that most elemental and most cherished of all Washington values: survival.

Of course, lifeboats come in different shapes and sizes. If you’re already protected by civil service, just hanging on in some government job or another isn’t too taxing, particularly if you are willing to drop a civil service grade or two and bump someone with less seniority out of a job. Similarly, surviving as an in-and-out type—a Joe Califano or Caspar Weinberger—doesn’t prove so tough once you reach a certain stature.

What’s hard, at the political level, is staying in— figuring out how to avoid those four-year dry spells when all you can do is write op-ed pieces, agonize over lunch dates, and decide which boring law firm or think tank to bide your time in while waiting for a chance to get back to the action. The real survivors don’t have to worry that they’re not so terrific at picking which obscure former governor will win the Iowa caucuses. Why sweat it? They’re still in.

How does this group of high-wire performers do it? Well, most of the survivors themselves aren’t of much help beyond a grunt or two and the startling revelations that they “worked hard” or “just outlived ’em.” Like other great con men, they can’t ever admit their secrets, for if they do— confessing to “gambits” and “techniques”—it’s a good bet they’ve just taken the first step toward permanent retirement. That’s because success in this slippery game is determined by whether they have come to believe their own cons, and whether they’ve so adroitly melded their personalities, instincts, and accomplishments that they fool everybody, even themselves.

But taking that as a given, there are basically two ways of surviving in the government: call them “ring-kissing” and “empire-building.” Ring-kissing is based on the model practiced by low-level civil servants and other prostrate subordinates throughout American society, but at the high levels we’re talking about, it must be perfected to an art form. This requires that the aspiring survivor perform all sorts of tasks that convince his superiors (and potential future superiors) that he is indispensable. By making the boss look good, or by simply doing the boss’s bidding, the imaginative ring-kisser can collect a government check practically forever.

Empire-building, by contrast, doesn’t require the help of superiors at all. In fact, the best empirebuilders have prevailed over active opposition from presidents, cabinet secretaries, and others who would prefer they hang up their spikes. They survive by carving out independent power bases that are stronger than normal lines of authority, and by developing constituencies on Capitol Hill and in the press that help them to pursue their own goals. Because these goals are their own and not simply a divining of what the boss wants, the empires often take on a momentum that translates into longevity for the people who build them.

Ring-kissers, you may have guessed, are by far the more common breed. In fact, most government officials planning a career in survival are only dimly aware that another model exists. This is their loss, for the very greatest of Washington players—the sultans of survival—have rejected supplication as a technique. The career of Hyman Rickover certainly testifies to that. He served in the navy for more than 60 years, at least half of them under chiefs of naval operations who would have preferred he stay submerged for good after one of his sea trials. Or consider J. Edgar Hoover. Almost every president and attorney general he served under during his 48-year career as director of the FBI disliked him, but when he left the bureau, it was on his back. These masters may have been exceptions, but the skills they plied contain some useful lessons about how to complete lengthy service in the U.S. government—and how to do it without acting like a toady.

Shanghai Log Cabins

To get a sense of the real difference between the two kinds of survival, let’s look at a few examples of people who fall into the ring-kissing category, who fit the conventional image of how a “Washington survivor” is supposed to behave.

The man believed by himself and some others to be Washington’s “ultimate survivor” is Joseph Laitin, a public affairs officer who survived at a high level from Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon to Ford to Carter. Laitin’s aim was to serve his “client,” as he put it, the point being that clients tend to appreciate good service and respond with job security. His biggest client was LyndonJohnson, and his idea of serving him—in fact the principal Joe Laitin accomplishment of the years he spent as deputy White House press secretary— was to feed the president gossip. When LBJ went to the ranch, he’d call Laitin frequently at about 11 to hear scuttlebutt on reporters traveling to Texas. Johnson felt particularly unfriendly toward one reporter for the old New York Herald Tribune, and Laitin was only too happy to regale the boss with tales of the reporter’s after-hours activities. “At first I told true stories about him,” Laitin has proudly recounted on several occasions, “but then I began making them up. I think the president knew I was making them up, but he loved it just the same.”

That story, pathetic as it is, has been trotted out for years as testimony to Laitin’s uncanny ability to survive. Of course, “serving the client” can also take the form of genuinely helping the boss, and Laitin was good at that, too. So good, in fact, that the Ford and Carter White Houses got angry at him because he made his clients, James Schlesinger under Ford and Michael Blumenthal under Carter, look good in the press at the expense of the president.

Take the time Treasury Secretary Blumenthal flew out to the Far East for meetings. As assistant secretary for public affairs, Laitin went, too, fulfilling the classic survivalist dictum that you should always travel with the boss. (The logic, now a bit dated, being that if you and the chief happen upon certain naughty diversions, it makes it hard for him ever to fire you.) Anyway, Laitin, employing his gift, suddenly insisted that Blumenthal visit Shanghai, where the new treasury secretary had lived as a boy after escaping Nazism. “That’s your log cabin,” Laitin told him. Blumenthal made the trip and came away with enormous publicity, not to mention respect for Laitin. Was Laitin providing good information to the public about economic issues? That didn’t matter to Blumenthal. Was the large section of the department for which he was responsible well-run? That didn’t matter either

So Laitin, like countless other ring-kissers, could hardly be blamed for sensing that all that really matters in surviving is pleasing those above you. As for subordinates, according to this model of survival they aren’t especially relevant. That explains why reporters tend to like Laitin as a person and as a professional (in part because he leaked a lot), while a number of former subordinates show a decided lack of enthusiasm on the subject of their old chief. If Laitin was known around press haunts as a guy who never forgot the name of an important reporter or government official, at Treasury he spent so much time on the phone and out to lunch that he is said not to have known even the names of two of the secretaries in his own office. A few years earlier, while at the FAA, he walked into the office of one of his top staffers one day and the secretaries remarked that they had never even seen him before. But why should they have? Laitin wasn’t building an empire; he was building a reputation—for service to superiors.

As you can imagine, such reputations don’t often depend heavily on a person’s beliefs. Like most public affairs officers—indeed, like most ring-kissers who bounce from agency to agency Laitin was not much of a policy man. To come across as one is considered bad form for survivors choosing this mode, the obvious reason being that the more closely associated you are with a particular policy, the worse off you’ll be when administrations change. (The new guard can usually tell the difference between those who make policy and those who just mouth it.) On the other hand, if you don’t identify with the administration at least partially, you could be out before the next election. So there’s a balance to be struck.

A man who has spent the better part of a lifetime striking that balance is Dwight Ink, who for 30 years was a top manager at a half-dozen different agencies. Ink was a competent manager as managers go, but his greatest skill, according to several people who worked with him, was appearing neither too partisan nor too facelessly neutral. The latter is the way most career civil servants play it, and that’s why few rise to be superbureaucrats at a political level. Ink was different. Whether he was at the AEC, or HUD, or OMB he could subtly— and without really saying anything—convey a sympathy with the prevailing political ideology, then just as effortlessly shed those few calculated ounces of conviction when bosses or administrations changed.

“If he knew what the secretary wanted, he’d help you get it,” recalls Charles Haar, a Harvard law professor who was an assistant secretary of HUD in the late 1960s when Ink was assistant secretary for administration. “But he’d never move anything too fast; the instinct was for more paper, more copies, more dotted i’s and crossed t’s rather than for getting something done.” The reason for that, as Haar and others have noted, is that getting something done too fast might have put him in a vulnerable position, and that kind of vulnerability is what the ring-kissing survivalist fears most.

Like many other administrators who endure for years, Ink is smart, hard-working, and competent; that’s his reputation, and it’s one reason he gets tapped so frequently. The problem with thedefinition lies with that word “competence.” More often that not, the word has come to mean a peculiarly calibrated type of bureaucratic performance that doesn’t have much to do with commitment to goals. While sometimes sharing and acting upon the boss’s goals, subordinates too often substitute for genuine aims the kind of “managerial” efficiencies that so many administrators mistakenly believe can be separated from issues of policy.

Ink would convey a sympathy with the prevailing ideology, then just as effortlessly shed those few calculated ounces of conviction when bosses or administrations changed.

Thus, just as Joe Laitin never cared much about the politics of his clients as long as they sold briskly and reflected well on the salesman, so Dwight Ink never cared much about the prevailing philosophy of government as long as it allowed him to “do the job,” whatever that meant. Given that, it was no big surprise when Ink accepted Reagan’s offer last year to come out of retirement and coordinate the dismantling of the Community Services Administration, snuffing out some of the very same programs he once helped create while working at HUD. It wasn’t that Ink had decided on long reflection that the programs didn’t work. He simply did what good ring-kissers believe they are supposed to do. He did what he was told.


Now, in some ways it’s a little unfair to single out Laitin and Ink. After all, they simply responded to the same ground rules for survival that most other upper-level bureaucrats, including many still in the government, subscribe to. Take William Heffelfinger of the Department of Energy. Reagan is planning to put DOE out of its misery, and Heffelfinger, as assistant secretary for management and administration, will do the bulk of the honors (the secretary, James Edwards, is a deferential sort of tooth-puller). The fact that Heffelfinger held a similar job under Carter when the department was created passes in Washington without notice. After all, the standard response goes, these are bureaucrats we’re talking about, and they’re supposed to be “professionals.”

Heffelfinger’s hard-nosed—many call it brutal—style of management is said to be the only reason he survives at all. A congressional subcommittee learned in 1978 that during his many earlier government incarnations he had falsified his resume by adding degrees and awards he never received, and had destroyed public documents, among other vices. When a man can undergo a full-scale congressional investigation and still get reappointed—and the reason he can get the new job is that he has a reputation for cracking the whip and otherwise pleasing whoever is boss—the legend of this route to survival grows stronger. This is true despite the fact that Heffelfinger does not appear to act like a timid ring-kisser. He yells and screams and tries to be a “tough” manager who gets things done. Depending on whom you talk to, that may even be true. The point, though, is that he furthers the impression that the best strategy for getting ahead in the government is to do others’ bidding rather than your own. Heffelfinger may have missed out on other survivalist secrets— a clean nose, for instance—but he remembered the one about sniffing the wind to catch the drift of one’s superiors.

The current master of that art is Frank Carlucci, a hard-working, bright, former foreign service officer, ambassador, deputy director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, deputy director of OMB, deputy CIA director, and now deputy secretary of defense. Carlucci’s legendary budgetcutting abilities, like those of his current boss, Cap (nee “the Knife”) Weinberger, were dulled considerably once it became clear what Weinberger‘s boss—the president—really thought about defense spending. The quickness of Carlucci’s response to Reagan’s concerns about leaks testifies to this uncanny meteorological ability that is so often believed to be essential for ringkissing survival. Carlucci embraced and implemented the order that lie detector tests be administered to senior defense officials. And like the good soldier he is, went first.

Ultimately, the lie detectors may prove far more destructive to Reagan than the leaks. As high ranking Carter administration officials can attest, nothing so quickly breaks down basic loyalty to a president as this particular brand of faith in one’s trustworthiness. But more to the point, the lie detectors prove once and for all that Carlucci belongs among the ring-kissers. He apparently considers it a productive day’s work to have humiliated colleagues and subordinates in order to keep the boss happy.

Persuasion by Polar Water

Of course in his heart of hearts, Frank Carlucci probably doesn’t like ring-kissing very much. In his line of work, ambition is not easily sublimated, and people who know him say that his will to survive is developing into a will to conquer. What Carlucci may be learning is that conquering can assure surviving, and that it makes some sense to develop empire-building skills, which in Washington means contacts in the press and on the Hill. These contacts are not meant to make your boss look good (the survival technique of a Laitin) but to make you look good, and to hell with your boss.

The greatest empire-builder of recent years is Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, who as a captain after World War II came up with an idea—nuclear submarines—and in the next 35 years proceeded to shape almost every aspect of the U.S. navy: training, technology, surface ships, and so forth. The way he did it is a fascinating story, but equally interesting is the way he got away with it without losing his job.

Joe Laitin, like thousands of other ring-kissers, could hardly be blamed for believing that all that matters in government is pleasing the boss.

It was in 1952 that Rickover first realized the classic ring-kissing route wouln’t work for him. He had already beaten the odds and made great progress on the development of the first nuclear submarine (it was eventually finished many years ahead of schedule), but that year a navy selection board passed him over for promotion from captain to rear admiral forthe second time. Whether it was because of his Jewish background or simply that he already nettled navy brass, his career appeared over. Up to then, two rejections meant automatic retirement.

But Rickover was smart enough to know that if he could create enough interest outside the navy, he might have a fighting chance after all. In part because he had a sexy project (though it really wasn’t much more newsworthy that year than a lot of what goes on in government today), he caught the attention of the press, particularly a young Pentagon correspondent for Time named Clay Blair. Blair knew a good story when he saw one, and Rickover knew how to be cooperative—he even lent the use of his office and his wife’s editing skills for the book Blair eventually wrote about him. In later years, once safely ensconced, Rickover shunned reporters. But when it counted he played them masterfully, especially those journalists like Edward R. Murrow whom he knew could endow him with some of their own respectability.

Meanwhile, he wasted no time meeting the right people on the Hill. The year before the promotion controversy he happened to have been seated on an airplane next to a young politician named Henry Jackson. They became friends, and along with Rep. Sidney Yates, Jackson led the charge that forced the navy to make Rickover a rear admiral, notwithstanding the selection board’s decision. Rickover reached the mandatory retirement age for all navy personnel in 1963, but until last year (when at age 81 he almost sank a submarine while at the controls) he continually had been granted special two-year extensions, a biennial event that caused untold teeth-gnashing among his superiors.

Why did Congress admire Rickover so much? Part was clever flattery. He rook members on submarine rides, wrote them hundreds of handwritten notes while on historic sea trials (who wouldn’t save a letter with the dateline, “At Sea, Submerged”?), and brought back “polar water” as gifts for their offices. But most important, according to his recent biographers, Norman Polmarand Thomas B. Allen, was a peculiar “chemistry” he developed with many congressmen that made them believe they actually were involved with the building of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine and, later, with the creation of a nuclear navy. That chemistry—a critical element in any kind of empire-building—is really just the reflection of an ability to accomplish goals.

The fact that Congress and the press respond best to tangible achievement—as opposed to loyal ring kissing—has not always been a positive thing for the country. Just because reporters and congressmen can see it, touch it, and report it back home, doesn’t mean the rest of us need it, as Rickover’s success in winning support for a poorly conceived weapon like the Trident submarine suggests. But if this kind of congressional behavior can bring us bad weapons and wasteful pork barrel projects, it can also bring out the best in government employees—the desire to create and produce, and the understanding that if you do a good enough job in those areas, forces outside the bureaucracy will help you survive.

Rickover should be particularly inspirational to budding empire-builders because he proves that rank plays no role in such survival. He was a fourth-echelon officer (as deputy commander for nuclear propulsion, Naval Ships System Command, he reported to the chief of naval materiel, who reported to the chief of naval operations, who reported to the president). That’s not to say he didn’t use what position he did have, but in Rickover’s case this meant an additional position outside of the navy, at the Atomic Energy Commission (and later at the Department of Energy).

Many powerful survivors have donned two hats before—Richard J. Daley was both mayor of Chicago and chairman of the powerful party committee that slated candidates for mayor of Chicago—but Rickover elevated it into an art form. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who despised Rickover for upstaging him when Zumwalt was chief of naval operations, recalls that when a navy request irked Rickover, his standard practice was to reply on AEC stationery, which allowed him to distribute copies of his position to congressional friends without going through the navy chain of command.

It was that chain of command that drove Rickover to distraction. Acting solicitous toward Congress and the press was one thing, the point being that it helped you accrue more autonomy for yourself. But performing like that every day for your boss was quite another (although Rickover expected it of his much-abused staff). “What was fatal to [General Wilhelm] Keitel [chief of Hitler’s combined general staff] was not his weaknesses,” Rickover lectured a congressional committee during one of his more than 150 formal appearances on the Hill, “but his virtues—the virtues of a subordinate.” Among such regrettable virtues, Rickover believed, was a conception of the chain of command as something that entitled a bureaucrat to someday win perquisites. As far as he was concerned, such niceties had nothing at all to do with power and survival.

So where Frank Carlucci tends to want the best office space available, Rickover worked for 30 years out of a converted ladies room with no rug and flaking yellow plasterboard; where William Heffelfinger dines most afternoons at the likes of Le Provencal, Rickover had canned soup, cottage cheese, and skimmed milk at his desk; and where Joe Laitin, while assistant secretary of defense, bragged that he sat ahead of the generals in a motorcade, Rickover rarely wore a uniform and was indifferent to the idea of a fourth star. After all, he reasoned, what did organization charts have to do with building and keeping an empire?

Passport to Perpetuation

Now, not everybody in the government can, or should, think like Hyman Rickover. If they did, we’d have a country of anarchists and ulcers. But the fact remains that in almost any realm—military or civilian—chain of command tends to impede action. The best empire-builders recognize this and risk angering others in the hierarchy who believe individual initiative is a threat. Their power and their survival depend on a base outside the normal line of authority.

The greatest practitioner of this art was J. Edgar Hoover. When Hoover took over the FBI in 1924, it was a weak, corrupt, politicized, highly ineffective agency. When he died in 1972, the same thing might have been said. But in between, the FBI was, in the words of Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation and hardly a Hoover admirer, the “least corruptible, most sophisticated investigative agency in the world.” Hoover revolutionized the science of crime detection—legitimate crime detection—by sponsoring innovation in lab work and training and by creating a high standard of performance for his agents.

The point is not to absolve this racist red baiter of his crimes—against Martin Luther King, Jean Seberg, and the Constitution in general—but simply to make it clear that Hoover could not rely solely on his survivalist wits. If his cagey bureaucratic abilities had not been underlain by a strong conviction on the part of outsiders that he was doing something good, he wouldn’t have made it.

Rickover didn’t care about perquisites. As a fourth-echelon officer, he built his empire while eating lunch at his desk every day and working out of a converted ladies’ room.

But accomplishment, as any government official should know, takes you only so far. Like Rickover, Hoover undertook a major effort to cultivate the press, particularly columnist Walter Winchell, and the Congress, particularly Rep. John J. Rooney, who for 25 years oversaw the FBI’s budget. Equally important, he cultivated a public image, by using gimmicks like the Ten Most Wanted List and a long-running television series. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., may be reluctant to star in the TV version of “The FDA” (co-starring special agent James Beard?), but that doesn’t mean heads of government agencies less dramatic than the FBI cannot borrow some of the imagination Hoover used to create a public constituency for his programs.

You don’t have to be as famous as Rick over or Hoover in order to use such skills. Consider the case of a woman named Frances Knight, who ran the passport office at the state department for more than 20 years, largely over the objections of most of the secretaries of state she saw come and go. These men resented her fiefdom but were essentially powerless to do anything about it. (Finally, in 1977, the state department succeeded in turning the passport office into what the career people always wanted—a place to let foreign service officers punch their tickets while waiting for another overseas assignment.)

Knight was controversial, but she realized that controversy, because it keeps the press interested, can be the stuff of survival, even for those in seemingly modest positions. She also understood that the press and Congress respond best if they are fed and cared for. When Drew Pearson called one Christmas Eve to say he needed 15 passports right away, she hustled down to the office. Whena congressman had a problem with a constituent’s passport, she took care of it within hours, an ability that members of Congress still recall with awe.

These survival skills, applied on the Hill and in the press, should not necessarily make us feel more cynical about the way the government works. As it happens, Knight often would extend the same service to anyone (airline clerks at international terminals across the country had her home phone number). But even if she hadn’t, such cultivation of outside sources of power isn’t objectionable in itself. What is objectionable is the use of such networks solely for the purpose of surviving. When the aim instead is survival as a way of accomplishing admirable goals—even if the goal is simply running an efficient passport office— well, then even the most dubious survival techniques can be put to good use.

To demonstrate the point, let’s look at the most base and contemptible of those techniques, namely Hoover’s use of blackmail. The conversation with a congressman usually went something like this:

“Hello, congressman. Edgar Hoover here. Terribly sorry to hear about this unfortunate matter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we’ve had some reports that have come into our field office in your district. Frankly, I personally find them very difficult to believe. The whole thing just doesn’t sound like you. But I just wanted to alert you to the fact that some reports have indeed been filtering into the Bureau.”

“What reports?”

“Believe me, congressman, this matter will be kept in strictest confidence between us. I’ve instructed the field office to route all the details of your case straight to the Director.”

Whatever the congressman’s little embarrassment—a drunken visit to a whorehouse, a son who happened to be a homosexual—Hoover knew how to use it to his advantage. The strategy, which didn’t have to be employed too often to be effective, worked equally well with presidents. Hoover’s reappointment was John Kennedy’s first order of business after his election, and even after a feud broke out between Hoover and his nominal boss, Robert Kennedy (during which the director instructed tour guides at the FBI building to point out that he had become head of the bureau the year before the attorney general was born), JFK never even considered his removal. How could he? Hoover knew certain, uh, details about Kennedy’s personal life. If William Sullivan, long-time number three man at the bureau, is to be believed, Hoover used this strategy even on Nixon of all people, after he and Bebe Rebozo were spotted in the company of a particular Chinese woman during trips to Hong Kong in the mid-1960s. By the early 1970s, Nixon, once a big Hoover booster, wanted him fired too, but like other presidents, he subscribed to Lyndon Johnson’s memorable judgment that given the permeability of the administration’s tent, it made more sense to have Hoover inside pissing out.

Honorable Blackmail

It doesn’t require a deep sensitivity to fine moral distinctions to see that Hoover’s form of persuasion constitutes the most reprehensible form of survivalism imaginable. But if you think about it a moment, you might realize that Hoover’s blackmail, sans the prurient details, can be surprisingly instructive, especially to people who, unbelievable as it sounds, want to do good with their government service.

Suppose you hope to improve your program or agency, and that such improvement demands a certain level of performance from your boss. To the extent that you let the boss know that you are cognizant of what is wrong in this program or agency, and to the extent that he knows you care enough to do something about it, you have created in him a dependency not unlike that felt by presidents toward Hoover. This assumes, of course, that the boss is aware that you have attended to the fundamental empire-building duties of making contacts on the Hill and in the press that might allow you to make good on the implied threat of revelation, and it assumes that you have the guts to use those contacts. If the boss believes that you really are willing and able to go public, then he’s more likely to want you inside his tent. That means you now have a powerful ability to pursue your own vision of how your agency or program should be run. Your boss, respecting this new power, will provide you more autonomy, which, assuming you maintain those essential outside contacts, could be the beginning of your own empire.

Hoover’s blackmail, sans the prurient details, can be surprisingly instructive for people who want to do good with their government service.

But what’s remarkable is that even if you have no designs on an empire—even if you like your boss so much that you might be characterized as a ring-kisser—you still can play a form of this game. In fact, the most effective user of constructive blackmail is the person who admires his superior, who wants to believe the best about him, who hopes that the boss soon realizes that his subordinates and all of the people who believe in his program will be disappointed if he doesn’t shape. up. What this really involves is a genuine, sincere version of what Hoover was disingenuously saying on the telephone to that congressman. It is an unconscious, unspoken way of playing not on the boss’s fear of being exposed, but on his sense of guilt—guilt that he will disillusion those who share his goals.

Naturally, the only way the ring-kisser can inspire that very positive form of guilt is if he does indeed share those goals. And if he does share them, he might not be such an objectionable ringkisser after all. Harry Hopkins (FDR’s aide)and D. B. Hardeman (Sam Rayburn’s aide—see sidebar) are examples of this better breed. Because they believed in what their bosses were trying to do, they shared in their bosses’ accomplishments. Conversely, when ring-kissers do not believe in what their superiors are trying to do—when they are simply determined to outlast them—then they do not share in their major accomplishments, except in the sense that they feel a little battered for having endured the long ride. Joe Laitin showed a keen sensitivity to this point when he admitted to the Los Angeles Times last year after his luck finally ran out that “I can’t point to one thing I’ve accomplished, but my blood is all over this town for fighting for what I believe is right.” What was “right,” of course, was simply survival itself.

So the determining factor is not which strategy you choose to employ, but what you want to employ those survivalist techniques for. If survival is an end in itself, then none of the gambits are worthy of our respect. On the other hand, if survival is used as the means to genuine accomplishment, then ring-kissing, currying favor with Congress and the press, even blackmail have their place when done constructively. That doesn’t make all survival techniques equal in moralilty or even in plain tastefulness, but it can hook them to some larger purpose. The best survivors—the ones we all should learn something from—have made this essential connection.

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Jonathan Alter, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is a former senior editor and columnist at Newsweek, a filmmaker, journalist, political analyst, and the publisher of the Substack Old Goats with Jonathan Alter. His most recent book is His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life.