The shifting narrative

Howard Fineman, current Newsweek:

At Harvard Business School, George W. Bush was what they called a “skydecker”—a guy who sat in the top back row of the lecture hall to minimize the risk of being called on. I asked Mitt Romney, another HBS alum, if he had been one, too. “Oh, no,” he assured me, sounding only barely amused by the question. “I wasn’t one of those.” He was the kind of focused fellow who sat down front, well prepared, hand raised. No one was surprised that he became spectacularly successful as a consultant and hedge-fund manager. He loves “wallowing in the data,” as he puts it, applying quantitative methods and a deft managerial touch to knotty problems of business, nonprofit enterprises (the Olympics) and, as former governor of Massachusetts, government. Since when did a taste for data become something to brag about in a race for the Republican presidential nomination? The answer: ever since it became clear, even to most Republicans, that the term “Bush administration” was an oxymoron. A concatenation of crises convinced most of the country that the skydecker in the White House doesn’t know—or much care—about the actual operation of the federal government.

Howard Fineman, Newsweek, Dec. 25, 2000:

Bush is a quick-enough study, and in fact there is a method to his preppy casualness. At Harvard he was what is still known as a sky decker—a student who chooses to sit in the top row of the horseshoe-shaped classroom amphitheater. Sky deckers sat back and listened, taking in the scene, contributing consensus-building observation from on high. Sky deckers also had a better shot at surviving the professors’ legendary “cold calls”—demands for impromptu class presentations…. It suited his methods, and even now he’d much rather learn through briefings than paper.”