During the latter years of President George W. Bush’s presidency, I remember watching a petite wisp of a woman step to the podium of the White House briefing room and answer the pointed barbs and hostile questions of a profoundly belligerent press corps. I admired her poise as she faced the daily barrage — and the deep loyalty she so obviously felt for her boss. As one who had worked with an equally reviled former president, Richard Nixon, I felt an affinity with Dana Perino, so I am delighted to now call her a colleague at Fox News — and a friend.
Dana’s new book, “And the Good News Is : Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side,” is part memoir, part guide to life. I spoke with her about her own journey from a corner of the West to the White House.
Question: You were born in Wyoming and grew up in Colorado. How did the Western experience shape your values and character?
Answer: We were taught from a very young age that we were blessed to be Americans and that our freedom should be cherished and protected. We also knew we were not better than anyone else, to care for the innocent, and to be grateful for our blessings.
Q: Most people have a seminal moment early in their lives, whether good or bad, that inspires them to go in a certain direction. What was yours?
A: It was making a decision to choose to be loved. I’d met my husband on an airplane. He lived in England and was 18 years older than me. There were a million reasons I could have talked myself out of following my heart, but a good family friend advised me to choose love. I write in the book that choosing to be loved is not a career-limiting decision.
Q: In many ways, you’ve lived the American dream, going from the rural West to the confidence of the president of the United States. How did that happen?
A: Well, it started with a job as an overnight country music DJ in southern Colorado. The truth is, there’s no clear path. Everything I did — taking lots of risks, getting over my fears — led me to be the right press secretary at the right time.
Q: Any moments of self-doubt along the way?
A: Always, constant. I think it’s human nature to doubt yourself. But learning to overcome that doubt, to be stronger than those fears, is key.
Q: You and I have both had the life-changing opportunity of having an American president as our mentor. It is quite the out-of-body experience. What is your most colorful memory of your time working with President Bush?
A: When I was the deputy, I got to travel with him in Marine One for the Boy Scout Jamboree. I was new to the job. It was a beautiful summer evening and on the way home he shared his peanut butter sandwiches with me and asked me all about my upbringing, husband, family pets and more. The orange and pink sunset was our view for the entire flight. And it was on that chopper that we formed a lifelong bond.
Q: I’ve always said that I could never be the presidential press secretary because I wouldn’t be able to contain my impatience with the blatant hostility and regular dishonesty of the White House press corps. How did you so calmly deal with them?
A: I would imagine President Bush was watching me, and if I thought he wouldn’t like something I was about to say then I didn’t say it. I tried to carry myself with dignity and grace, just as he’d want his press secretary to do.
Q: What was the most important piece of advice you received from President Bush?
A: To not be afraid. He [had] told me to ask myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” And now when I’m faced with a challenge or opportunity and I worry about failing, I ask myself that question. It calms me, keeps me focused and gives me courage.
Q: What was the most important piece of advice you gave to him?
A: This is a great question. I don’t know. I think he’d say he knew he could count on me for sound judgment. I kept a positive attitude, and we worked very well together.
Q: How did you maintain a healthy work-life balance when you were working in the White House?
A: I didn’t. I ate little, slept terribly and was susceptible to migraines. But I got through it. I think it helped that there was an end date, so I could give my all for those days, knowing the best opportunity of my life wasn’t going to last forever.
Q: Does your natural optimism extend to the future of America? If so, why?
A: I learned from President Bush: “Don’t ever count America out.” His optimism, even on the darkest days, was infectious. We have talent and resources unmatched anywhere in the world. I believe that the future policy discussions about the big issues we face will be won by conservative principles.
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