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Originally published Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

Richard Darman, veteran White House deal maker, dead at 64

Richard Darman, who marshaled a deep, prickly intelligence to guide policy and deal making in four Republican administrations, including...

The New York Times

Richard Darman, who marshaled a deep, prickly intelligence to guide policy and deal making in four Republican administrations, including negotiating the reversal of the first President Bush's campaign pledge not to raise taxes, died Friday. He was 64 and lived in McLean, Va.

His death was announced by James Baker, the former secretary of state and a friend. Mr. Darman had been fighting acute myelogenous leukemia, his son Jonathan said.

In addition to serving Bush in the Cabinet-level post of director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mr. Darman worked in six Cabinet departments and the White House. He controlled the paper flow to President Reagan, a pivotal responsibility.

Mr. Darman called himself an idealist in the long term, saying he had followed his principles when he resigned with his boss, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, during the so-called Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate in 1973. In the short term, he was the realist who wheedled a bipartisan Congress to pass Reagan's agenda. As director of the OMB, he negotiated with Congress in 1990 to pass a budget that raised taxes. The deal angered conservatives who said it violated the pledge that Bush had made in accepting the Republican presidential nomination: "Read my lips, no new taxes."

National Review, the conservative magazine, called Mr. Darman's work "the most catastrophic budget deal of all time," and Bush later said it was the biggest mistake of his presidency. But many economists believed the agreement's tough "pay as you go" rules and a resulting infusion of revenue eased the recession of the early 1990s and paved the way for the later budget surpluses and economic boom.

In his book "Who's in Control? Polar Politics and the Sensible Center," Mr. Darman wrote that politics in Congress had made the tax increase "an inescapable strategic necessity if we were to do what had to be done for the economy."

He steered Reagan's major economic policies through Congress, including the 1981 tax and spending cuts, the Social Security rescue of 1983 and the tax overhaul of 1986.

Indeed, political operatives coined the term "Darmanesque" to describe ploys and tactics designed to pry legislation out of a reluctant Congress.

Richard Gordon Darman was born in Charlotte, N.C., on May 10, 1943, and grew up in Wellesley Hills, Mass. His father owned textile mills and marketed oil and gasoline.

Mr. Darman graduated from Harvard in 1964 and from Harvard Business School in 1967. He joined the Nixon administration in 1970 and worked under Richardson in a succession of Cabinet departments: Health, Education and Welfare, Defense and Justice. At the Justice Department, he helped arrange the plea bargain that eased Vice President Spiro Agnew out of office.

When Richardson, the attorney general, resigned in refusing to follow White House orders to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, Mr. Darman also quit. He returned to government as an assistant secretary of commerce under Richardson, and then Richardson's successor, Baker.

At the Commerce Department, Darman worked on the law-of-the-sea negotiations and continued this work into the Carter administration — making a total of five presidents for whom he worked. He consulted and taught until he was appointed executive director of Reagan's transition team.

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Asked to join the new administration, Mr. Darman wrote his job description — managing the flow of White House paperwork — and got the job with the title assistant to the president. Edwin Meese, the presidential counselor, said this made Mr. Darman "the nerve center" of the administration. He became principal legislative strategist and participated in foreign-policy decisions.

He became deputy secretary of the Treasury at the beginning of Reagan's second term.

Mr. Darman's pragmatism, willingness to work with Democrats and desire to make a career of government rankled movement conservatives. In "Revolution: The Reagan Legacy," author Martin Anderson, a Reagan aide, called Mr. Darman "easily the most disliked man in the White House."

But he did help elect Reagan by coaching him for his debates in the 1980 and 1984 campaigns. He reprised the role for Bush in 1988.

Five days after the Bush inauguration, the Senate confirmed Mr. Darman as budget director by a vote of 99-0. He soon was negotiating a budget, with Bush's pledge not to raise taxes a defining element.

After Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, Mr. Darman joined the Carlyle Group, the private principal investing firm, as a partner and managing director. He also was a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and chairman of AES Corp., an electrical utility. His charitable work included being chairman of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

In addition to his son Jonathan, of New York, Darman is survived by his mother, Eleanor Darman, of Lincoln, Mass.; his wife, Kathleen; two other sons, William, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and C.T. Emmet, of McLean; a granddaughter, Jane Darman; his sister, Lynn Darman, of Washington; and his brother, John, of West Bridgewater, Mass.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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