Bob Squier – in memory

Bob Squier  was a notable — yes, even notorious — co-worker in his years at WGBH.

Intensely competitive, always bigger than life, Bob saw what he saw, said what he said, and believed in what he believed in. He was not afraid to cut against the grain, risk making others uncomfortable, or take an unpopular stand.

It was clear, even then, that he was either going to crash and burn in spectacular style, or soar upward into rarer elevations. He did the latter — and in spectacular style. He went where most of us would not care to go, and appears to have had a hellacious good time doing it.

God speed, Bob. And sincerest condolences to Prudence Bergman, Mark Ralph Squier and Robert McNeely Squier.

Robert D. Squier, 65, a leading political analyst and campaign consultant who advised Presidents Clinton and Carter on election strategy and who also helped put Democratic senators and governors in office, died of colon cancer Jan. 24 at his home in Millwood, Va.

Mr. Squier was a longtime friend and confidant of Vice President Gore and had played a pivotal role in helping Gore win two elections as senator from Tennessee. He traveled frequently with the vice president, whom he had counseled before speeches and debates. Until shortly before his death, he was a member of Gore’s media team in the vice president’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. But in recent months his influence in the Gore hierarchy had been reduced.

As a charter member of the fraternity of professional political consultants, Mr. Squier was an inNOVAtor in the use of the filmed 30-second television commercial. His firm — Squier, Knapp & Dunn Communications — was said to have been among the top Democratic political advertising agencies in the nation.

In a statement from the White House, Clinton said: “Bob was not only a valued adviser, but more importantly, he was our friend. His loyalty, talent, and above all, his perseverance helped Vice President Gore and me craft a winning re-election campaign when many had counted us out.”

Clinton added that “Bob was a pioneer in the art of political communications. With his documentary films, his path-breaking political commentary and his work for progressive candidates, Bob helped make policy and politics understandable and exciting for millions of Americans.”

In 1968, Mr. Squier got his start in politics when President Lyndon B. Johnson invited him to the White House and asked him to be his television adviser. He had barely accepted the position when Johnson withdrew from the presidential race.

But Mr. Squier stayed around to help in the campaign of then-Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. He discovered that he preferred partisan filmmaking to the work he had been doing previously with public television and the United States Information Agency.

Four years later, he signed on with Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (Maine) in Muskie’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, then consulted with the Carter campaign in 1976. He helped elect Democrats Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (W.Va.) Dale Bumpers (Ark.) Tom Harkin (Iowa), Paul Simon (Ill.), Gary Hart (Colo.), Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), Bob Graham (Fla.) and Charles S. Robb (Va.). He also helped elect Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who later became a Republican.

“I came to politics out of the frustration that a lot of people felt who were filmmakers in the ‘60s,” Mr. Squier told The Washington Post in 1985. “You were sent out to do a show on civil rights, and it wouldn’t take you 15 minutes to figure out what the story was. But you had to come back with, quote, ‘both sides.’ You found yourself interviewing segregationists about why their arm hurt so much after beating up on blacks. To work in politics is a chance to work for people you really care about and take what you know about television and put it right at someone’s service.”

In the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Mr. Squier was arguably the dominating figure in the field of political consulting, known for creative, imaginative and effective advertising. He was a campaign adviser to Maryland governor Marvin Mandel (D), and he helped Robb win the Virginia governorship with an advertisement that projected a tough-guy image by showing him firing a pistol and emphasizing his Marine Corps service during the war in Vietnam.

To get Graham elected governor of Florida, Mr. Squier devised a plan that had the candidate doing a workingman’s “workday” in 100 different jobs, including chicken plucker, herder of dairy cows and bellhop. “Bob Graham — working for governor” was the campaign slogan. There were complaints that this was pure political gimmickry, but it worked, Graham was elected, and Mr. Squier repeated the tactic elsewhere in other campaigns.

“In this business, you’re kind of really judged by the number of wins you have by your name, and no one had more than him,” said fellow consultant and Clinton adviser James Carville. “He was to political consulting what Hank Aaron was to home runs.”

During the last decade, Mr. Squier’s luster was said to have dimmed, but friends and aides bristled at suggestions that he might have lost his touch. His candidates lost some key races, including the 1994 Texas governorship in which he advised the Democratic incumbent, Ann Richards, in her contest with George W. Bush. A Bush consultant in that campaign told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper that Richards’s ads were “tired, worn, hackneyed overreaching. Bob Squier has failed to portray her at her natural best — thank God.”

There were times when he was accused of crossing the lines of ethical propriety.

In 1990, one of Mr. Squier’s spots charged that a gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts was “plagued by questions about his corruption record” — the questions were about the candidate’s record in prosecuting official wrongdoing. Another of Mr. Squier’s spots accused a Michigan candidate of voting “to let dangerous criminals out of state prisons early,” even though Mr. Squier’s client had put the same early-release program into effect.

Last July, Mr. Squier’s influence in the Gore presidential campaign was reduced when Carter Eskew, an estranged former business partner and protégé of Mr. Squier’s, joined the vice president’s circle as a media strategist. Eskew and Mr. Squier had a bitter falling out over issues related to their shared consultancy a half-dozen years earlier, and the bad blood generated headlines when they were brought back together.

Mr. Squier was born in Brainerd, Minn., and graduated from the University of Minnesota. As a college student, he did his first television commercial for Democrat Orville Freeman, the Minnesota governor who later became secretary of agriculture.

After college, he worked in public television in Texas and New York, then came to Washington as a film specialist with USIA and later as an executive producer with National Educational Television. Throughout his career as a political consultant, he continued to work on documentaries, and he won awards for films on William Faulkner and Herman Melville. At his death, he was working on a piece about Ernest Hemingway.

Glib, perpetually tanned and engaging, Mr. Squier was known on the campaign trail as a master of the one-liner who always knew how to find the finest restaurants with the best wine lists. In the early 1980s, he moved from his town house on Capitol Hill to the Virginia countryside, where he grew grapes and tended a wine press.

When Bill Clinton picked Al Gore as his vice presidential candidate in 1992, Mr. Squier is said to have told the Arkansas governor that “he’ll never stab you in the back, even though you may deserve it.”

In a 1993 interview with Campaigns and Elections magazine, he looked back on his years as a political consultant. “The business has changed enormously, particularly in the area of research,” he said. “We now know more about our candidates and our opponents than we ever did in the past. . . . The consultants who are most serious in the business really know what they are talking about before they even begin to think about their first commercials. But he added, “the candidate is always more important than the consultant. The consultants that do poorly in this business are the ones who begin to forget that.”

His marriage to Jane McNeely ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Prudence Bergman of Millwood; two sons from his first marriage, Mark Ralph Squier and Robert McNeely Squier, both of Bethesda; and three grandchildren.

Democrats Eulogize Political Pioneer Bob Squier

President Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Gore and his wife Tipper Gore were among the Democratic notables at Robert Squier’s funeral Feb. 4.

For 90 minutes yesterday, the laws of nature were inverted. Politicians gathered together to make a political consultant look good.

Vice President Gore took a red-eye from Seattle. A gaggle of governors, congressmen and current and former senators assembled, including Chuck Robb, Chris Dodd, Evan Bayh, Bob Graham, Jim Sasser, James Blanchard, Vic Fazio and Tony Coelho. Top administration officials including Sandy Berger, Richard Riley, Bill Daley and Alexis Herman joined the gathering, as did President Clinton and the first lady.

The recipient of all this praise was Bob Squier, who died Jan. 24, the same day his pal and former client Gore won the Iowa caucuses. Nearly a thousand mourners, “a Who’s Who of the Democratic establishment,” met at Washington National Cathedral for his memorial service.

Clinton, in his eulogy, said he and Gore were the beneficiaries of their ad man’s “abundant American optimism” and passion. “But for him, we might not have been here today.”

After the service, the vice president joined Squier’s widow, Prudence Bergman, at a reception at the Cosmos Club, where people hobnobbed in a gilded ballroom equipped with two bars and a buffet. An enlarged photo of a young Squier, looking like Robert Redford with a camera, greeted them. It was just the sort of event Squier loved to put together. “He’d have been rearranging the flowers,” said Steve Selby, a former colleague.

Squier was a founder of the political consulting industry, the Andrew Carnegie of the televised political campaign. “Bob will be remembered as a pioneer in politics, a pathfinder who created the modern campaign,” Bill Knapp, a Squier partner, told mourners yesterday. More objective sources would agree. In his 32 years in the business, Squier advised seven presidential campaigns, including those of Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter and Clinton. He handled so many Senate campaigns that at his high point, in 1992, he represented 19 senators, “a third of the Democrats in the Senate.”

Squier’s client list over the last three decades included Mario Cuomo, George Mitchell, Gary Hart, Tom Daschle, Tom Harkin and dozens of others. He created the early barrage of Clinton ads in ’96 that doomed Bob Dole before the fall campaign even began. He designed a famous spot in 1992 that featured an old clip of George Bush asking, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” and then a narrator asking, “Well, it’s four years later. How ya’ doin’?” In 1988 Squier created a vicious spot for Michael Dukakis with footage from Lloyd Bentsen’s debate with Dan Quayle, with the phrase “President Quayle?” on the screen.

Squier had planned to cap his career with the election this year of Gore. But he was pushed aside painfully after a rocky start to the campaign last year, replaced by Carter Eskew, a protégé turned adversary. Within a couple of months, he discovered the colon cancer that would kill him six months later at age 65.

Such bitterness was forgotten yesterday. Eskew, who has had kind words to say about his old friend, filed into a pew with Bob Shrum, Donna Brazile and other Gore campaign advisers. Other warring factions of the Democratic Party put aside their animosity for the moment, too. Anita Dunn, who left Squier’s firm to be a top adviser to Bill Bradley, sat a few rows away from a lineup of Gore advisers. Mark Longabaugh, another senior adviser to Bradley, was there as well. Onetime adversary and fellow “Today” show commentator Roger Ailes was there, as was America Online chief Steve Case, a client.

The service had the tone of a political-junkie support group, a disreputable profession learning to love itself. Mark Squier, one of Bob’s sons, told the gathering: “He loved this city and he loved the business of politics, and man, did he love to win.” Clinton remarked that Squier “actually liked politicians,” to appreciative chuckles from the crowd. “And he wasn’t afraid to admit it, even in this age when a sort of sanctimonious disapproval of us is the only politically correct position. He saw people in politics as basically good people who struggled to reconcile personal conviction and popular opinion into a combined force.”

While Squier pioneered the televised campaign, he was also a father of the consulting business in a more direct way. His firm served as an incubator for Democratic talent, men and women such as Eskew, Dunn, David Doak and Tom Ochs. Typical of the Squier method is Bennet Ratcliff, who joined Squier as a researcher in 1989, two years after graduating from college. He worked his way up to senior vice president, and, when he announced his departure in 1998, was amazed that Squier handed him the firm’s client list. “Pick who you want and take them with you,” Squier told Ratcliff. Ratcliff took the Kentucky governor, “Paul Patton,” and Squier insisted he take part of the National Abortion Rights Action League’s business.

Yesterday, his protégés repaid him with warm remembrances of his exploits as a young swimmer, as the author of documentaries on Faulkner, Melville, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and as an epicure.

Mostly, though, they talked of Squier the businessman. “One year we did work for Burger King,” Knapp told the mourners. “That year he loved Whoppers, too.”

“He worked with everyone from Keith Richards to Ann Richards,” Clinton quipped.

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