WASHINGTON. — Washington -- Every time John Sununu opens his mouth, he gets himself into more trouble. He presents the criticism of him as an intellectual failing in those voicing it -- he said being in the Midwest involves travel, a concept hard for some to grasp. Back in Washington, he said he had been in the capital long enough to know that such criticism is a regular thing for one in his job -- in other words, the fault is in his critics. He has done nothing, except perform his job, to justify them.
More attention was paid to how Mr. Sununu traveled to New York than to what he did there. He went to spend a reported $5,000 on rare stamps. His travel cost more than that, but he paid only a fraction of that cost -- taxpayers paid the rest. Why should we subsidize a purchase most of us could not afford?
This is not a minor matter. The time spent keeping up with the stamp market and specific sales, the time spent in travel to a sale, the limousine one way and corporate jet back, add up to a major event in the life of a man pressed not only for money but also for time, one who represents himself as having not a single spare moment.
Admittedly even a John Sununu must have time for his private needs, beyond sleep, exercise and visits with his family. He finds time to ski, to go a long way off for dental visits, to cultivate GOP politicians around the country. This is a very full schedule, yet he can also devote a whole day to a drive to New York.
Mr. Sununu is treated by the only people he gets along with as a genius. That is clearly his own opinion. Want to hear how a genius talks? Listen as Mr. Sununu answers a question about the importance of his constant communication with the White House:
''As we move on, the time for response from the White House on issues, whether they have international content, domestic content, whether they are associated with communications that the president is putting out dealing in response to requests from the media on a timely basis, that puts pressure back on my job to help coordinate and approve what goes out. There is that demand that is not just national security, but there is that demand of communication pressure that puts the load back into my system.''
The urge to be at Republican events around country does not resemble the self-importance of other chiefs of staff. Sherman Adams and Bob Haldeman stuck to their tasks in the White House. Why is Mr. Sununu glad-handing in so many places, so far from the president who needs his constant services? Some who know him think he is trying to establish debts among the party faithful so he can run for president in 1996. That is crazy, of course. But so is much of Mr. Sununu's recent conduct. Geniuses are allowed to be a little crazy.
Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.