by James Crotty
March 31, 1999
HIGH STYLE, SPECIALIZATION, YOU CAN GET THE GIRL
eet James Rubin:
Spokesperson, arms control expert, aide and
to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
husband of CNN foreign affairs correspondent,
Christiane Amanpour. Shortly after a morning
press briefing, we catch Mr. Rubin in his neat
warm office, which, like Rubin, is in striking
contrast to the State
Department's sterile exterior, and its hospital-like
Handsome, tall, smart, with a glint in his eyes and
a playful smile on his lips, Jamie
Rubin is in command here, excited to be the
subject of our profile, generous with
the details of his life, but cognizant of the ways
and needs of the press. It's his
job to stay abreast of those ways and needs,
and to be helpful while ever mindful of
the policy directives of his boss and his
"boss's boss," the President of the
His allegiance to two masters, his own love of
the spotlight, his assured command
of his personal image all persuasively come
together in that suave, poised, incredibly
ERECT Rubin swagger, which says, in so many
words, "There's war in the Balkans,
troubles in Iraq, but, gentlemen, isn't it a fine thing
to be alive, filled with purpose
and the vigor of youth, the promise of the future,
damn fine thing indeed." Rubin's
demeanor says gusto, confidence, peacock pride.
A master of his universe, doing noble
work in style. The peripatetic wife was home last
night. "Indeed, gentlemen, indeed. Life
could not be better."
We half expect Mr. Rubin to whip out a fine
Cuban cigar and a glass a sherry and toast
us one and all. But these are different times.
Abstemious times. And while Jamie
Rubin's enthusiasm bubbles over, he must be
ever mindful of public reaction. Like
many in Washington, he stakes out his rebellion
in small gestures--a snazzy tie, a pack
of smokes. The latter gesture lends a hoarse
gravity to his beautiful boyish facade.
When Jamie gives his daily press briefings you
can sense his physical discomfort,
as if the nicotine is choking away the youth, by
design. Without that habit, the voice would
be too high, the dismissive air wouldn't play. Rubin
would be another Stephanopoulos--a
young, bright, Clinton "kid," with a Columbia
degree, and a sweet smile, eaten by
the Washington wolves.
But James Rubin will not go into that dark night.
Though he has stumbled, he is determined
not to fall. He's a player, not a victim. We like Mr.
Rubin--a kind of Jewish John-John,
with the same bourgeois conceits, but smarter,
wilier, with less of a pedigree, but more of a
purpose. And so we begin, periodically
interrupted by calls from
wife Christiane, the subtext of our interview.
They met in the Balkans. No Casablanca
as far as war-time romantic backdrops go, but
it's what was available in the late
1990's. And, as this article goes to press, it is
what is dominating the international
MONK: People have said you were the most
wanted eligible bachelor in D.C., and then
you got the girl. How did that happen?
JAMIE RUBIN: It's hard to know what the
features are that attract the opposite sex.
I know I am attracted to women who do
interesting things, who don't want to just
sit around the house, who are good looking, who
are funny and who share a sense of
humor. Clearly, being very visible through the
State Department, being on television, being
known, creates a certain appeal in our culture.
Being known is almost as important
as being rich. Now, I don't have any money, so in
the old days someone who could
attract women if they were rich has been
translated to the attraction of being known.
So to that extent, I gained attractiveness by
being known. I make a government salary.
I was single. I didn't have much time for a
personal life, so I spent my money,
to the extent that we make money in
government, on clothes and restaurants. That's
I have very little furniture. When my wife came
and saw my apartment, she threw
out everything and declared it post-college issue
Ikea. It all went. So I spent
money on clothes. In Washington it is not
common for men, or women for that matter, to
very focused on their clothes. And I, because of
my job, wore nice clothes. So
people wrote that I was well-dressed. You put all
that together and I guess I became
known as an eligible bachelor. Plus, I do think
that women are attracted to people who have
interesting jobs. If you're in an interesting job
and if you're doing something
that matters to you and is important and isn't
based on some crass, commercialistic
value, I think that's attractive. Now, I was
attracted to the same kind of person, who
was in an exciting field; had shown her
toughness on issues that I cared about.
I think we developed an intellectual, emotional
bond over the subject of Bosnia.
Because when I worked for the
then-Ambassador to the U.N., I was very
passionate about American
involvement to resolve the siege of Sarajevo and
the war in Bosnia and that was what
she was telling the world about. So even before
we knew each other, we had a bond.
M: Can you replay that moment when you and
Christiane met over the skies of Bosnia?
How did that happen?
JR: Well, she was in the back of the plane
covering the Secretary of State's trip
to Yugoslavia. We went to Belgrade, capital of
Serbia; Zagreb, capital of Croatia;
and two cities--Sarajevo and Banja Luka--in
Bosnia. So in the back of the plane
there are the journalists who cover the
Secretary. I think the Secretary was coming
to greet the journalists, and I was with her.
There was a moment when somebody spilled
their popcorn and I went down to fill it up and
we looked at each other. Then later
that night I asked her to go out for a drink. It
was very late, 2:00 a.m. in the morning.
I had taken my suit off and put on a black
leather jacket and jeans. She cracked
some joke like, 'aha, government official relaxing.'
And then we drank some margaritas and we
made a point of taking each others' phone
numbers. Then I asked her out
for dinner in New York City and that was the
beginning of the best thing that ever
happened to me.
M: Are there any Clintonesque signals that you
do while Christiane's in the briefing
room and you're up there on the podium to
indicate "I'm thinking of you,
JR: Well, it's not that simple. The question of
her covering the State Department
was raised as an awkwardness that we needed
to deal with. But the fact is we don't
have to deal with it because she doesn't cover
the State Department. When she's
in Washington, she's not working. What her job
is, is to go out in the field and cover Iraq
or Kosovo or Tehran. She goes out and does a
story about what's going on in that
country. She doesn't cover what it is the U.S.
Government is doing every day. So
there really isn't that kind of interaction.
M: Is there a clear separation of church and
JR: First of all, on that issue, there are hundreds
of men and women who are married
in this world of journalism and government. The
only reason that [Christiane] and
I became a subject of conversation is because
we're more prominent. There are people
who work in Congress who are married to
reporters who cover them. What I believe is
our bosses have to trust us. They have to trust
us to have the integrity to do our
jobs. Her bosses trust her to cover the news
without fear of favor, and my bosses
trust me to present the Administration position
as compellingly as I can. So just as a
defense lawyer and a prosecutor are married in
cities all over the country, and during
the day they have to make different arguments
and present different cases and do
different things on the same subject, we do it on
the same subject. There are hundreds of
marriages where it's much more complex, where
the government official is not trained
to be wary and to know what signals you can
send to give journalists confirmation
of things, to know how far you can talk on the
record and on background. If there were
a person in the U.S. Government who was best
trained to spend time with journalists
and, therefore, married to a journalist, I would
argue it's me. If there was ever
somebody who was least likely to be affected by
working with, living and married to a government
official, I would put her on that end of the
spectrum. She's established her independence
over a long, long period of time, whether it's in
Bosnia or Iraq or in any part of the world. I think
her bosses believe that her integrity is
I hope mine do, too; I think they do. She serves
Ted Turner and the head of CNN.
I serve the President and the Secretary of
State. I believe the President and the
Secretary of State have charged me with this
because they think I'm good at it. I do not
believe that they think I would compromise my
work for them to do something for my
M: One of the things we try to do as Monks is
get at the spirit of a place from a
lot of different angles. If you had to list your
private Washington, D.C., not the
standard tourist stuff, but stuff nobody knows
about, what would you list?
JR: I'll tell you what, we can go upstairs and you
can take a picture of where I
smoke my cigarettes--since I'm not allowed to
smoke in the building--which is on
the balcony of the 8th floor of the State
M: There's a hidden place.
JR: They're not hidden, but one of the things
that I do in spring, summer and fall
is get on roller blades and roller blade through
Rock Creek Parkway and end up on
this particular bench with all my newspapers and
my cell phone, and spend my day
working on the weekend there instead of sitting
in the office. There is a restaurant called
Cashione's. It's down the street from where I live
and the bartenders know me there.
I can come in and just sit at the bar with a
magazine and read while I'm eating
and nobody bothers me. That's an example of
that. And there's a small group of me and
my friends, we kind of get together for dinner
whenever we're all in Washington.
We have what we call "no fault
dinners," which means we can say anything
and it doesn't leave the table. We can yell and
scream about each other and talk about our
in ways you can't. I think it partially works
because we're all in the government;
but when I walk around Washington, I don't have
any freedom to sit at a bar and say
what I think. People know me and will quote me
and use it against me. So we used
to go to this empty Korean restaurant. It was on
24th Street across from the Hyatt
over there. It closed about six months ago. So
we've been finding other places, but
it's never been quite the same.
M: Now, I hate to cast aspersions on D.C. style,
but obviously you're a person with
a greater sense of style than the average
person working in government. If you had
to describe the elements of D.C. style, what
would they be?
JR: I can't do that on the record. It would be
helpful. I'll try.
M: Oh, come on, that's what they need. If you
had to be an image consultant to the
average government employee--
JR: Look, I think working in Washington
government is not a well-paid profession.
The public has been ginned up by a variety of
political means to not want its government
officials to live well or have any of the creature
comforts of people at their stage in life and
capability who have it in the private sector. If you
go to Europe, a
government official who's an assistant secretary
of state or something like that,
the European public expect that person to fly
first class, to eat at fine restaurants,
to have a car and a driver. Now, being a
different kind of society, in America that's
not okay. So guys in top level positions don't get
all those perks of office. So
clothes are a symbol of that phenomenon. If
you're a government official and you're
dressing too nicely and having too much style,
then wait a minute, you must not be
that you're a representative of the people. Now,
I don't believe that. I don't
believe that most Americans begrudge me for
spending my government salary on nice
clothes or a nice car, if I explain to them that I
don't have a family and if I were
in the private sector I'd be making ten times as
much money as I am in the public
sector. So with my $100,000 is it okay if I have a
few nice ties? I don't think
they would have a problem with that. But if it's
presented in a very truncated way--top
official spends thousands of dollars on suits--they
don't like it. That's our money
he's spending. It's all a question of how
something's presented. So that phenomenon is
what generates a lack of style or concern about
spending money on frivolous
things or what are perceived to be frivolous
things like clothes.
So I probably have pushed the envelope a little
bit, and I'm comfortable with that.
At some level I need my releases because I do
work so hard.
M: This cognitive dissonance of we are private
people, on the one hand, yet we also
work for the government, causes some of the
problems that happen in this town when
you try to have a private life, yes?
JR: Well, obviously, you've got your finger on a
very, very sensitive question right
now. You're asking me about my private life.
Okay, I'm a public figure. So you've
chosen to insert yourself and the public into my
private life. Now, I'm the spokesman and I can't
deny some discussion of myself because I am
every day the face of the
U.S. Government when the Secretary isn't
speaking abroad to the rest of the world.
But journalism is partially responsible for the
breaking down of the private lives
of government officials. Journalists have made
the private lives of government officials
part of their investigative powers. The
investigative powers of journalism and
have increased. I think you've asked a
legitimate question, but it's a very complex
question that involves our society and how
Washingtonians feel about their private
lives. It involves the extent to which journalists
have decided that if he's my
elected President, then he should be subjected
to scrutiny. And how low does that
M: I think we've seen that. Did we go too far
JR: I cannot comment on that as Assistant
Secretary of State.
M: Back to romance. Who are the five uber
"babes" of Washington, D.C.? Pick the ultimate
women you just think are hot, smart, that meet
the criteria you established at the
beginning of this interview of what, in your mind,
classifies as a great gal.
JR: I think if I answered that question it would
interfere with the smooth functioning
of my marriage.
M: You're married, though. Isn't it fair game to
just say, these gals are great,
but I didn't choose them?
JR: I just don't see what I would get out of
answering that question other than a
heap of trouble.
M: Well, all right, put it this way. There's 20 million
Playboy readers around the
world that want to know, if they come to D.C. ,
what advice would Jamie Rubin give
them on how you get the girl?
JR: I think how you get anything in Washington
is the same advice. The more you
climb the Washington ladder, the more you
become appealing to women. That's just
a fact, just like it is in any city.
M: Well, that's not always true, but in this city it
seems to be that power is the
JR: Well, no, because the ladder is defined
differently in other cities. In Los
Angeles or New York, there are 20 different
ladders. There's the musician ladder;
there's the artistic ladder; there's the business
ladder; there's the banking ladder.
In Washington, it's just that it's one ladder; it's
called government. My best advice
is to develop some issue that you're very good
at, that you're interested enough
in to work really hard at, and then learn not only
the substance of that issue but
the politics of that issue, the journalism of that
issue, the history of that issue and the
future of it. You will quickly find yourself special.
If you're good at one of
those issues, you will find yourself being invited to
the right places, being talked
to by the right journalists, being talked to by the
members of Congress and the government.
And you will find yourself in a very interesting
social environment from which it's
up to you to strike out and find what you're
M: So specialization in Washington is the ticket
to getting into the bigger pool.
JR: Right, because once you're a specialist then
other specialists talk to you. They
also think you might be knowledgeable about
things you don't know anything about
because you're a specialist. So the advice I give
interns, I give graduate students,
is that's the best way to climb the ladder. And I
believe that the more interesting
you are professionally in Washington, the more
there is an attractiveness about you.
M: So you want to pick a sexy specialization?
Bosnia's not sexy.
JR: Well, you'd be surprised. That's how I found