How To Thrive On The Hot Seat

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So you got a presidential appointment. (Hey, it could happen--George W. Bush will hand out 1,500 of them over the next few months.) Maybe Dick Cheney called you, maybe even Dubya himself: "You never worked for my dad or Gerald Ford, but you're a good person, got a good heart. I want you on my team."

But what now? How do you run the gauntlet of Senate confirmation? You can worry about ranchwear when the time comes. In the meantime, here's some advice:

--Suck up to your chairman
The old maxim goes that a man never stands so tall as when he bends over to kiss an a__. This holds especially true with the Senators who must confirm you. So meet with the Great Men. Flatter them. Bring a fruit basket.

--Shun the press
Your phone will be ringing. The reporters will seem friendly. They are not--and besides, the Senators want first crack at you. So don't flap your gums to Tim Russert. Remember the Kennebunkport ethic of not leaking and not bragging.

--Know thyself
Don't let the Washington Post inform the world that you once regurgitated on your classics professor--get the bad news out before Bob Woodward does. Spin it your way. "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."

--Find a rabbi
It helps to have your nomination shepherded by someone the Senators know from the Palm restaurant or the links at Burning Tree. If Bob Dole or Bob Strauss isn't available, hire a p.r. outfit like Hill & Knowlton. It shows you're a player.

--Learn to duck
You've said some things you'd like to take back. Too late. So practice backpedaling. "Senator, you have to understand the context in which I referred to women as geishas..."

--Be patriotic
When you hire someone, you want him to be enthusiastic. The same holds true for Senators looking over appointees like you. Tell the Senators how honored you'll be to serve your country alongside the distinguished career professionals at your department. Later you can always pack the staff with your own political hacks.

--Play the victim
The last resort is to act as though you're being persecuted. "Have you no decency?" might be a bit much, and "high-tech lynching" has already been taken. So try something more appropriate to the Age of Dubya. "Senator, I want to end the season of cynicism in Washington. And frankly, sir, what I did wrong as a young man is, sir, part of the old politics. I'm a good person, got a good heart."