This post is about introductions in more ways than one. First, let me introduce you to the author D. Michael Lindsay who will be blogging here quite a bit this fall. Lindsay is a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University and the author of Faith In The Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined The American Elite. Faith In The Halls of Power draws on interviews Lindsay conducted with an array of prominent Americans — including two former presidents, dozens of political and government leaders, more than 100 top business executives, plus Hollywood moguls, intellectuals, athletes and other powerful figures. His book shows who the real evangelical power brokers are, how they rose to prominence, and what they’re doing with their clout.
In the post below Lindsay recounts introducing himself Karen Hughes in a bookstore. Would you have had the “chutzpah” to walk up and introduce yourself?
Sitting down with some of the nation’s most powerful figures to talk about their faith has been an exhilarating part of my life for the last five years. More than once someone said to me, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this stuff.”
Why did so many prominent leaders speak with me? Perseverance mixed with a dash of chutzpah. Take, for instance, the story of how I landed an interview with Karen Hughes—former Counselor to President Bush, one of his closest confidantes, and someone with whom he shared a spiritual solidarity.
I was keen to interview her, but since she had left the White House she was tough to track down. Her former colleagues were reluctant to pass along contact details, and none of my contacts in Austin were close enough to her to intervene on my behalf.
In April of 2004 I was conducting interviews with some executives in Silicon Valley and had some time to kill, so I headed over to the Stanford bookstore. While browsing in the current affairs section, I saw a woman who looked exactly like Karen Hughes walk into the store. She was dressed in casual clothes and had no entourage, so I wasn’t sure if it was Hughes or just her near-twin. As soon as she opened her mouth, though, I instantly recognized her voice.
Caught completely off-guard, I started rehearsing in my mind what I should say—how I should describe my research and why I wanted to interview her. As I approached her, my heart started beating like mad and butterflies took flight in my stomach. Just as I got up the nerve to clear my throat, she turned a corner and walked away.
To be honest, I was relieved. I took it as a sign and walked out of the store, the color returning to my cheeks. After a few minutes, I began replaying the event in my head. Why was I so scared? I had conducted nearly 200 interviews at that point. What was the worst thing she could do?
I finally regained my confidence and marched back into the store, but Hughes was nowhere in sight. I finally found her standing in line at the coffee shop on the second floor. Without hesitating I walked directly up to her, but I couldn’t decide how to address her. Was it Mrs. Hughes? Or Madam Counselor? Counselor Hughes? Former Madam Counselor Hughes?
My feet reached her before my mind settled on a strategy, so without really thinking, I tapped her on the shoulder. I didn’t address her, but instead launched into a monologue about myself, my research, and why I wanted to talk to her. When I’m nervous, I tend to talk too much and red splotches appear all over my face. As my spiel drew to an end, it felt like I was back in the seventh grade asking the pretty girl if she wanted to dance. Finally, I shut up long enough for her to respond.
“So you want to talk to me about faith and how it influences my life, is that what you want?” she asked pointedly.
“Yes, and what role your faith has played in the president’s messages and policies over the years,” I answered.
“Okay,” she said, “but not now. I’m taking a short break from the campaign to look at colleges with my son. If you can wait until mid-November, I’ll talk to you then.”
I told her that I was willing to wait and then asked for contact details. She didn’t have a business card with her, so she wrote down a telephone number and email address on the back of one of mine.
“Is this really her number?” I half-joked to her son.
The interview ended up taking place across the street from the White House on the day after George W. Bush’s second inauguration. It was well worth the wait. Hughes offered extremely helpful insights into the role of religion in the administration. As I write in my book, it’s not at all what you’d expect. Faith matters in surprising ways.