Richard Darman (1943 – 2008)


By: Wall Street Journal

His Budget Plan Trimmed the Deficit But Put Him on the Outs in Washington
By ALAN MURRAY

As budget director in the cabinet of President George H.W. Bush, Richard Darman was the chief architect of the landmark 1990 deficit-reduction plan.

Because it included tax increases, that plan earned Mr. Darman the lasting enmity of Republican conservatives, and effectively banished him from government for the remainder of his career. Yet the budget agreement also laid the groundwork for fiscal balance in the U.S. later in the decade.

Mr. Darman died Friday at age 64 of acute myelogenous leukemia. While his first love was government service, he carved out a successful and lucrative second career as a partner at the Carlyle Group, the private-equity firm. At the time of his death, he was also chairman of the power company AES Corp.

Frequently described as both brilliant and brash, Mr. Darman had a career in Washington that spanned two and a half decades, five presidents and six cabinet departments. In a city full of clever people, he stood out, reveling in the twists and turns of government policy making. Political scientist Richard Neustadt once said he was “about as sharp a strategic thinker as I’ve seen, but he can’t resist the temptation to say, ‘Look Ma, no hands!’ ”

His name eventually became an adjective — Darmanesque — to describe any Washington maneuver that was too clever by half. Mr. Darman prospered under the protection of powerful mentors. He was a protégé of Nixon Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and resigned with Mr. Richardson in the “Saturday Night Massacre,” when President Nixon ordered the firing of Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. During the Ford administration, Mr. Darman became close to James A. Baker, under whom he served in the Reagan White House and Treasury.

Mr. Darman “could direct traffic through the intersection of policy and politics as well as anybody I have ever known,” Mr. Baker recalled. “He was absolutely brilliant at boiling down complex issues to their simplest forms.”

In the early days of the Reagan administration, Mr. Darman secured a position as the assistant to the president who controlled the flow of paper into the Oval Office — a position of relatively low stature that he turned into one of significant power. While at the White House, he also was instrumental in the negotiations that led to a 1983 agreement to extend the solvency of the Social Security system.

Mr. Darman moved with Mr. Baker to the Treasury Department in 1985, becoming deputy secretary. He was a key strategist behind the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which is still studied as a rare example of a legislative triumph over an army of powerful special interests. He also was critical in negotiating two international financial agreements in the 1980s, known as the “Plaza” and the “Louvre” accords.

Mr. Darman always aspired to be a cabinet officer, and he got that opportunity when President Bush named him budget director in 1989 and gave his post cabinet status.

Following a decade of large budget deficits, Mr. Darman worked tirelessly to negotiate a 1990 deficit-reduction accord. Mr. Bush had to swallow his words from the 1988 campaign, “Read my lips — no new taxes.”

Among the Darmanesque innovations in the accord were new “pay as you go” rules, which made it difficult for Congress to adopt new tax cuts or spending increases without offsetting the cost, and a ceiling on annual spending appropriations. Those rules lasted for more than a decade and played an important role in the fiscal balance of the late 1990s.

The deal between the Republican White House and a Democratic-controlled Congress was a high point of bipartisan cooperation on deficit reduction that hasn’t been seen since. But the tax increases were controversial from the start. Some of President Bush’s closest supporters — including his oldest son, George W. Bush — blamed Mr. Darman and the budget agreement for the president’s 1992 re-election defeat. While Mr. Darman had once been viewed as a future secretary of Treasury or State, the younger Mr. Bush made clear even before he became president that Dick Darman wouldn’t serve in his administration.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan described Mr. Darman in his recent autobiography as “a major-league policy intellectual and a believer in sound fiscal management” who was “often less than direct with people and more driven by political expediency.”

A graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Mr. Darman nurtured his ties to the university throughout his career, holding a variety of advisory, honorary and oversight positions. He was a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government from 1998 to 2002 and received an award for outstanding teaching. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the board of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
* * *

James LeVoy Sorenson (1921-2008)

He Made a Fortune in Medical Devices and Real Estate, Then Pursued a Passion for DNA Research

James LeVoy Sorenson broke away from a safe but stifling career as a pharmaceuticals salesman in the 1950s, becoming renowned as a medical-device inventor whose wealth eventually let him pursue a deep interest in ancestral DNA research.

Born in Rexburg, Idaho, Mr. Sorenson spent most of his career in Salt Lake City. Forbes magazine last year valued his fortune at $4.5 billion, making him one of the 100 richest people in the United States. He died Jan. 19, at age 86, of cancer.

One of Mr. Sorenson’s best-known inventions was also the simplest: the disposable paper surgical mask. In a family memoir written in 1993, he recalled visiting hospitals in the 1950s and being alarmed to see doctors rummaging through collections of supposedly sterile masks, sniffing to see which ones smelled clean.

Surgeons told him they would pay 10 cents for a disposable mask that worked. Mr. Sorenson paired up with engineers and microbiologists to create such a product. Soon he and his partners were running an assembly line that made more than 3,000 masks an hour.

“Jim Sorenson improved the life of almost anyone who has had serious health-care problems,” said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a longtime friend. Mr. Sorenson also played a major role in the creation of real-time heart monitors and the plastic catheters that make intravenous injections safer and more comfortable. In total, he amassed more than 40 medical patents.

Mr. Sorenson interviewed with Upjohn Co. in 1946 for a job as a drug salesman. In his memoir, he recalled being bashful about his limited medical training but proud of his work earlier as a Mormon missionary, helping convert 19 people in Maine. An Upjohn recruiter declared, “He can sell almost anything” and hired Mr. Sorenson on the spot.

By his own account, Mr. Sorenson quickly grew restless in his sales job. He made morning calls on doctors and then spent the afternoons hunting for land parcels to buy, on the belief that property in thinly populated Utah would soon become more valuable. He was right.

“Jim had a gift for seeing in the 1950s and 1960s what Utah would look like in the year 2000,” said Jack Brittain, dean of the University of Utah’s business school. People familiar with Mr. Sorenson’s holdings say that while his medical businesses created his biggest profits, his Utah land investments may have accounted for as much as one-third of his wealth.

In 1957, Mr. Sorenson’s disdain for a corporate job was so transparent that Upjohn told him to leave. Being jobless shook him briefly, but he quickly rebounded and built up various medical-equipment businesses. Not all of them sailed smoothly, but Mr. Sorenson showed great tenacity in turning ideas into prototypes and then into marketable products, friends said.

“He was one of those people who never gave up,” Sen. Hatch recalled. “It may go all the way back to his childhood. He was diagnosed as dyslexic. People said he would never learn to read. But he taught himself to read, anyway.”

In 1980, Mr. Sorenson sold his main company to Abbott Laboratories and took stock as payment. Abbott stock soared in value and Mr. Sorensen held on, greatly increasing his wealth.

In recent years, Mr. Sorenson continued to create companies, including Sorenson Media, a venture with his oldest son, James Lee Sorenson, specializing in video-compression technology. The company’s software is used with Apple Inc.’s QuickTime application.

In 1999, Mr. Sorenson traveled to Norway, eager to visit the country where many of his ancestors were born. When he returned, he met with geneticist Scott Woodward and proposed that they embark on DNA analysis for all of Norway’s population.

That idea didn’t fly, but before long, Mr. Woodward was leading a project funded by Mr. Sorenson to gather human genetic data from around the world. That information could help people learn more about their ancestors.

“Mr. Sorenson never had small ideas,” Mr. Woodward recalls. “He was always looking for the bigger picture. When we had 100,000 people in our database, he asked us, ‘Why don’t you have one million? What’s holding you back?’ So now we’re working on it.”

Details about the disposition of Mr. Sorenson’s fortune haven’t been announced. During his lifetime, he created the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, which has been an active donor in recent years to medical, education and child-related causes. People familiar with Mr. Sorenson’s plans say it is likely that the vast majority of his assets will be left for philanthropic purposes.

–George Anders
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