Dana Perino is staring at herself.

It’s 4:30 p.m. on an early September day, and the Acela Express is speeding up the Atlantic coastline from Washington, D.C., to New York City. In the front of the business-class coach, Perino—the 37-year-old former Parker resident and last press secretary for George W. Bush’s administration—is studying herself in the window through her oversized Ray-Bans. She’s on her way to Manhattan, where she is scheduled for her weekly gig as a guest on Fox News Channel’s Hannity, one of the nation’s most popular cable talk programs.

In preparation for her appearance, Perino is compiling the holy trinity of pundits and public relations flacks everywhere: a list of talking points, evidence to support her positions, and a catchphrase. That last item is perhaps the most important in the world of shrink-wrapped sound bites. She needs something palatable for the Fox News crowd: words that are fulfilling but easy to grasp, a “Mission Accomplished,” but preferably something that’s accurate and innocuous. Perino’s nose crinkles as she thinks.

“I’ve got it!” she blurts out somewhere between Philadelphia and Penn Station. “Not so fast, sunshine!” She looks at me and pushes her sunglasses onto her forehead. “Now when I say it, you have to promise you’re not going to laugh. Promise?”

I smile. “I promise.”

“Good,” she says. Her face lights with excitement. “That’s the one. Not so fast, sunshine!

Now that Perino’s come up with her catchphrase du jour, I expect her to dig back into the issues—or maybe to rethink the “Not so fast, sunshine!” line, which seems just a little bit underwhelming coming from this queen of spin. But no. She’s heard the line before, but where? Maybe a movie? She’s enamored of her creation, and she keeps repeating it, changing the pace of the words and her tone with each try in an attempt to jog her memory. She faces the window so she can see her reflection. “Not sofast, sunshine! Not so fast, sunshine! Notsofast, sunshine!”

An hour later, we arrive at the Fox studios. A producer escorts us past gigantic banners of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, and an equally giant banner with Fox News’ mantra: Fair & Balanced.

Hannity’s show, a conservative yak-fest with a regular lineup of attractive, right-leaning women, is the perfect playground for Perino. Since her tenure as Bush’s press secretary ended, she’s been on television, in print, online, and on the speaker circuit over the past year, working to convince folks that her guy from Texas is, in her words, “a great American.”

Today, her goals are more modest: to blast President Barack Obama and House Democrats on the proposed health-care bill, which, at this point, has yet to make it to the Senate. Perino’s having her makeup done in a room overlooking Midtown Manhattan when Hannity—dressed in a black, oversized Under Armour polo, blue jeans, and blue and white high-tops—walks in. “Dana!” he booms. He then wheels around to face me, a guy he knows nothing about, and points: “You know this is the liberal media interviewing you,” Hannity warns Perino. “Watch out.”

“Sean,” Perino says, “say something nice about me.”

There is a pause, and then Hannity gets in my face. “Dana’s one of the most talented, gifted people I know,” he says. “She’s a rock star. You can quote me on that.”

She’s also beautiful, a fact that hasn’t escaped the most partisan of Internet commentators (YouTube examples: “Damn you Dana for being a sexy puppet!” and “I would let her debrief me any day….”). Even in the blow-dried world of cable news, Perino stands out as a political pixie, with short, highlighted hair, whiter-than-white teeth, and tiny features (she’s only five feet tall). Even her mannerisms—strong eye contact, minimal hand gestures, and the half-cocked smile of someone with a secret she’s not about to share—ooze a confident sexuality. “It’s not a secret,” one of her former deputies once told me. “Dana is gorgeous on camera.”

In the Fox makeup room, she gets some eyeliner and blush before a production assistant leads her down a hallway and into Hannity’s 12th-floor studio. Perino takes her seat on the far right of the room, behind a desk with Hannity and Fox Business Network anchor Stuart Varney. The show’s producer calls “five to the big opener,” and then Hannity’s voice ominously declares, “The left is caught red-handed plotting to disrupt town halls.”

The taping lasts only a few minutes, and the questions are entirely about the economy and Democrats’ health-care agenda. Halfway through the segment, Hannity asks Perino whether Obama is powerful enough to persuade wavering lawmakers on the bill. It’s the opening she’s prepared for.

“I think what is more powerful is what they’re hearing from their district,” she tells Hannity. She’s locked and loaded, practiced and confident. “If they try to ram this through, I think the American people are going to say”—and here it is, the moment she’s waited for since the train—”Not so fast, sunshine.”

But there’s a catch: The phrase falls flat. No one’s laughing or smiling—not Hannity, not Perino. Varney tramples Perino’s words before they have a chance to breathe. In an instant, the moment is lost.

Ever the professional, Perino stays engaged, doesn’t miss a beat. She cites a poll, gives a prediction on a “face-saving” health-care bill from the Dems, and in a few minutes the segment wraps. The white-hot lights dim, and Hannity and Perino share a high-five at the desk. An hour later, she’s out the door and into a chauffeured car bound for Penn Station, ready to spin again.

Since leaving the White House last year, Dana Perino has run herself ragged. On Mondays she’s up before 5 a.m. at the Washington, D.C., row house she shares with her husband, Peter McMahon. By 6:20, she’s in a car that takes her to the Fox News Channel’s D.C. bureau, where she gives analysis of the weekend’s news events. On Tuesday afternoons, she takes the train to Fox’s New York City studios, where her punditry has expanded beyond Hannity’s show and she delivers commentary on everything from Obama’s Afghanistan policy to Sarah Palin’s new book.

In between, it’s all Dana Inc., all the time: She’s perpetually tapping away on her BlackBerry or her laptop, writing opinion pieces for National Review Online and Politico, Twittering (“A THIRD Stimulus? Get Real!”), planning mentoring seminars for up-and-coming Beltway women, or writing her own speeches for the chicken-dinner circuit from Omaha to London. If that weren’t enough, she’s got a plum gig at international public-relations giant Burson-Marsteller, where she’s contracted to work 27 and a half hours a week (though she often doubles that) as the firm’s chief issues counselor and one of many rainmakers. “I think I do all this stuff because I don’t know what I want to do yet,” she says. “I always figured when I was out [of the White House] that I’d open up a yoga studio.”

Instead, she’s launching her newest project, Danaperino.com, which she envisions as a one-stop shop for her wares, including, hopefully, a book. She coyly wonders what the book’s subject would be, as if there were a doubt. “I guess it could be about [Bush] and how he’s nothing like the perception some people have,” she tells me as she fiddles with her BlackBerry. “I want people to know the Bush I knew. I don’t know, what do you think?”

Before I can answer, she’s up and heading for the door, on to another meeting. This time it’s with a speaker’s group that’s booked her for a policy speech in Atlanta with former Bill Clinton strategist Donna Brazile, whom Perino considers “one of my good friends.” An hour later, Perino’s behind her desk at Burson-Marsteller.

In many ways, Perino—who’s spent a majority of her career in Republican politics and has an undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Southern Colorado (now Colorado State University-Pueblo) and a master’s in public-affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield—is something of a misfit at Burson, a buttoned-down, Ivy League firm run by Mark Penn, a former strategist for Bill and Hillary Clinton, that teems with Democrats who’ve served at the highest levels of federal government. Even Perino’s office—bland white, save for a few desktop photos of W.; his dad, George H.W.; Perino’s husband; and the couple’s dog playing in the water outside Bush Senior’s place in Kennebunkport, Maine—is starkly different from the glass walls and framed diplomas that define the rest of the three-floor office.

When Burson came calling shortly before her White House tenure ended, Perino didn’t necessarily plan on working in corporate America, though she’d had jobs in private PR practices before her work in the Bush administration. Even today, behind her desk, she appears remarkably blasé about her place in the D.C. food chain. “I was kicking around a few ideas, and this came up,” she says. “Marlin Fitzwater told me that your first job after the White House isn’t what you end up doing for the rest of your life, and I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll give this a shot.’?”

While hiring Perino was a “get” in the incestuous world of Beltway business, Burson has not escaped intense scrutiny. In particular, a few weeks before I met Perino, Penn had been accused of using his position as a Wall Street Journal contributor to fish for business. The alleged ethical lapse was used to question a litany of Burson’s practices, most of which centered on its choice of clients. Last year, AIG, the insurance giant that received federal bailout money, hired Burson, leading MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to call out the firm on other PR nightmares, including Blackwater Security, former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “When evil needs public relations,” Maddow quipped, “evil has Burson-Marsteller on speed-dial.” In the midst of a public battle (Penn kept his Journal column), Perino turned the attack on her boss into an affront on herself. Maddow is disingenuous, Perino told me. “She has no respect for me. I don’t talk about her. I don’t think about her.”

Perino’s very public loyalty to her two most recent bosses has earned her points in Washington, even among people who don’t agree with her politically. “Dana’s maintained her reputation in this town,” says Josh Gottheimer, a 34-year-old former Bill Clinton speechwriter who now is Burson’s executive vice president worldwide. “We’re not running a political campaign here. She’s a smart, good person who had the toughest job out there. To work for a president with a 30 percent approval rating says something.”

When I mention the 30 percent comment to her later, Perino bristles. “But did he ever have a chance after the [2000] recount?” she says, conveniently ignoring the 90 percent approval rating Bush enjoyed post-9/11. “I wish I could have done more for him. But [the administration] was not a failure.”

In her white-walled office at Burson, Perino shuts her door, joins a conference call, turns on Fox on the television behind her, and pulls out a folder with a sheet of acetate. The call drones on for nearly an hour, and Perino appears bored. She’s here, but she looks as if she’s somewhere else. Maybe she’s thinking about W., about her next Fox appearance, about something as mundane as the last time the dog was taken for a walk. Or maybe Perino’s thinking about her branding potential. She decides to work on her signature, which she writes over and over, like a sixth-grader doodling on her English book. “Dana, Dana Perino, Dana M. Perino….”

Perino’s row house is set amid a gentrifying strip of homes and window-front stores a few blocks east of the U.S. Capitol in a neighborhood that’s an eclectic mix of working-class D.C. (Perino’s neighbor drives a truck for the city) and Washington’s upper crust (her pal Brazile lives a few blocks away). As Perino unlocks the door one late-summer evening, her husband, Peter, and Henry, a graying Hungarian vizsla, meet us in the entryway. “I picked up your dry cleaning,” McMahon, an Englishman, says in a sing-song-y British accent. “Do you have any suggestions for dinner?”

A reed of a guy—with a long face, gray hair, and sideburns—McMahon, who’s 18 years older than Perino, seems hardwired to serve his wife. After she arrived at the White House press office in 2005, McMahon more or less became her manservant, dropping her off at work in the morning, getting her food, and making sure she was in bed by 9 p.m. and ready for her 4 a.m. alarm. Even today, though the couple is apart for weeks at a time, McMahon has made it his mission to ease his wife’s burdens. “Whatever I can do to help her, I gladly will do it,” he tells me, as he pops two beers, hands one to me, and orders take-out Thai for dinner. Henry, the 72-pound vizsla, nuzzles Perino’s skirt, looking for attention.

“Peter, help me out here,” she says. “I’m on a call.” She puts her hand over the receiver and whispers to the dog, “Sorry, Henry.”

Among her accomplishments—from working for the White House at age 30 to becoming the first Republican woman to serve as press secretary—few have been more satisfying for Perino than training Henry. In addition to the basic sit and stay, Perino and her husband, who is also a Republican, have worked a few partisan tricks into the dog’s repertoire: Henry fetches flip-flops when asked what he thinks about John Kerry; he barks when asked whether Bill Clinton belongs in jail.

“Even your dog’s a Republican?” I ask.

“Yeah,” Perino says, “isn’t it great?”

She starts tapping away on the BlackBerry when McMahon, who’s twice divorced and does international sales and marketing for medical products, offers to give me a tour. The couple’s home is quintessential Washington: hardwood floors, exposed-brick walls, white cabinets, and a collection of items from other continents. On the kitchen counter is a photo of President George W. Bush, signed “I miss you.”

Upstairs, McMahon shows me a smallish bathroom and Perino’s office, which for the moment is a mishmash of boxes and keepsake photos of Perino with the Pope, the Queen of England, and other dignitaries.

McMahon leads me to the couple’s bedroom, which has a fireplace, an oversized bed, and an antique-style glass dresser. Perino joins us after finishing up some business. “We better get upstairs before the sun sets,” she says. Atop the roof’s Trex deck, we stand in the dimming summer light as the sun disappears behind the U.S. Capitol. The air is warm and sweet. It’s both relaxing and invigorating. Maybe it’s the moment, maybe it’s the beer, maybe it’s that I’ve been running around with Perino all day, but I can’t contain myself.

“Who here thinks Bill Clinton belongs in jail?” I ask.

Henry answers: Woof, woof, woof.

It’s completely quiet. Perino and her husband look a little shocked. So am I. She’s staring at me. Then, Perino cracks a smile and we all laugh.

If I seemed at ease with her, it’s because I knew Perino a little better than most—or at least I thought I did. We’d grown up a few miles apart in Parker in the 1980s, went to the same schools (she’s five years older than I am), were both editors at the high school newspaper, and shared some of the same teachers. We also share the same political party—not that that’s surprising, since we come from a county (Douglas) that hasn’t gone for a Democratic presidential nominee since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Needless to say, we had a lot in common. I figured having a leg up on her past would help me gain some insight into what her future might look like.

Perino’s ascent of the political ladder had been remarkable mostly for the speed with which she climbed. What made conservatives in Douglas County proud was that she had come from the same Western stock as they had and was educated in public schools that were generally ignored in the country’s power centers. She’d gone to D.C. as the antithesis of the Washington establishment and had wriggled her way inside.

In fact, talk to anyone who was around her and it was apparent that Perino was going somewhere, even as a little girl. She was born in Wyoming in 1972; when Perino was six, she visited the White House with her family. After she got home, she went searching for a milk-delivery box and an American flag. Her mom found her outside. Perino was in the driveway, standing on the box and waving the flag.

“What are you doing?” her mother asked.

“I’m going to work in the White House,” Perino told her.

In a place like Parker in the 1980s—an exurban outpost with few kids and even less to do—it was easy to identify the go-getters, and Perino did her best to stick out, even if she’d been largely apolitical up to that point. At Ponderosa High School, she was senior-class president, a star on the school’s speech team, and a member of the National Honor Society. “Dana was nonstop,” her mother, Jan, says. “It got to the point where I stopped keeping track of all the things she was doing.”

At home her father, Leo, who now owns a convenience store just northeast of downtown Denver, took charge of her political upbringing; he had her read the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post and debate current events at the dinner table. “It was always about ideas, why people thought the way they did,” Leo says.

Perino graduated high school in 1990 and enrolled at Southern Colorado on a speech scholarship, in part because the school would give her the opportunity to cover the Colorado Legislature as a student journalist and she could spin records as a late-night DJ for a country music station.

After her college graduation in 1994, she enrolled in a graduate program at Illinois Springfield, where she covered the state Capitol and breaking news for the regional CBS affiliate. One night, a boy was murdered in the city, and Perino was assigned to interview the child’s mother later at the trial. She realized she couldn’t do it. “That was pretty much the end of my career,” she says.

Perino also learned something else about herself: She was a Republican.

“I’d go into the newsroom where there’d be people talking politics, and I looked around and realized that I didn’t believe in anything they said,” Perino says.

Her push into Republican politics came on the heels of Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, a time when the GOP was trying to reidentify with its conservative base. Perino, who’d finished her graduate program in 1995, waded into the political mainstream with Colorado Representative Scott McInnis, a moderate Republican and then a relative newcomer to federal politics. Perino moved into a basement apartment a few blocks from the National Mall and started her job as a low-level aide to McInnis, taking guests on White House tours and answering phones.

After a few months she got an offer from Representative Dan Schaefer—a conservative from Colorado’s Sixth District—when his press secretary resigned. Perino accepted, and her first act of business was getting Schaefer to comment on the pending retirement of Democratic Representative Pat Schroeder. “He asked me what he should say,” Perino remembers. “Here I am, just out of school, and I’ve got a congressman asking me for advice. That was really huge for me.”

Two years into the job, Perino returned to Colorado on a business trip. On her way back to Washington, she sat next to a man who’d been eyeing her as they walked down the jetway in Denver. “I see this cute, tiny blonde with this little ponytail swinging back and forth—she was gorgeous,” McMahon recalls. “I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way I have a chance with this woman.’ I mean, seriously, look at me.”

The pair dated long-distance for less than a year. Perino then moved to England to be with McMahon, even though that meant abandoning her burgeoning career. “The only thing that worried me was what my parents would say,” she recalls. “My mind was made up, and I took the chance.” The pair lived together for a few months in McMahon’s house in the north of England. They bought their dog in Scotland and then eloped. “It was a shock,” Leo Perino says, “but you could see the happiness on her face. That’s all I needed to know.”

In 1998, Perino and McMahon moved to San Diego, where she found a job as a consultant. But within three years she was back inside the Beltway. “George W. Bush seemed like a different kind of politician, and I wanted in,” she recalls. In D.C., Perino proved herself a competent, if not entirely memorable, spokesperson at the Department of Justice, and by 2002 became the director of communications for the Council on Environmental Quality. “There’s nothing that really stuck out about her other than that she never wavered from the message that was supposed to be delivered,” says Scott McClellan, a former Bush press secretary who helped bring Perino to the White House in 2005. “She was rock-solid, and as far as I was concerned, she was pretty close to perfect.”

“People wanted to like her at the first impression because she was so attractive,” says Andy Card, Bush’s former White House chief of staff. “She was a classy woman, too, well-spoken, poised, well-groomed, dressed in an attractive way. Dana kind of fell into view at a time when you wouldn’t have thought to see her on the radar screen. She was very much not from the Washington establishment.”

When McClellan left the administration in 2006 amid Bush’s tanking perception among Americans, Perino’s name was bandied about for the press secretary opening. The position, instead, was given to former newspaper columnist and Fox News commentator Tony Snow, a slick conservative with a jocular manner, matinee-star looks, and something of a charmed relationship with the White House press corps. “Tony was of that [media] world, someone who’d been on the other side of that podium,” Card says. “I doubt Dana was disappointed, because she never viewed it as her being passed up for the job, but rather that she hadn’t been seasoned at the White House. Tony Snow versus Dana Perino was like apples and oranges. Tony was in a different place.”

Perino, who’d become Snow’s deputy, found her way to the center of the administration when Snow—who’d survived colon cancer a few years before—relapsed in March 2007. (He died in July 2008.) “Dana had to move on, and I think it was hard, but I also think that’s when she began to form a really strong bond with the president,” her sister, Angie, says. While Bush had been known for burdening friends and foes with unflattering nicknames (see: Horny, Pootie-Poot, and Turd Blossom), Bush chose “Sweet Dana” and “Daney” as Perino’s monikers. In 2008, during the scrum following the famous Iraqi shoe-throwing incident, Perino took a swiveling mic to her right eye. Bush threw his arms around her. “He was more worried about me than he was about himself,” Perino tells me. “That tells you more than anything about the character of that man.”

By then, though, Bush’s presidency had reached its nadir. The double fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq had taken their tolls, as had the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the rebuke of longtime Bush confidant Harriet Miers after her nomination to the Supreme Court, the firing of eight U.S. attorneys for political reasons, and the Valarie Plame leak case. “By the time she stepped in, it was probably an unwinnable proposition,” Card told me. Says Karl Rove, Bush’s former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser, and one of Perino’s friends: “Dana went in with her eyes open. You never feel sorry for a warrior going into battle.”

Perino had become the accidental press secretary. Early on, she was forced to stand behind a podium that was made for Snow, who was about six-foot-five. Perino stood on an apple box at the White House press gaggles until, three days after she’d taken over, an assistant press secretary told her that a cameraman had noticed her head was partially obstructing the White House logo on the wall behind her. Each day, Perino was addressing her fellow Americans with a sign over her shoulder that read “The White Ho.”

These days, George W. Bush, whom Perino lovingly calls “Forty-Three,” is everywhere. He’s in her newspapers, on her television screen, in her e-mail inbox. There’s Forty-Three talking about the ranch in Crawford; there’s Forty-Three discussing his next speech; there’s Forty-Three joking about Obama’s Nobel Prize; there’s Forty-Three….

“Oh. My. God.”

Perino and I are walking in D.C. one afternoon when she freezes on the sidewalk. There’s Forty-Three at a bus stop.

Well, not Forty-Three the man, but a photo of him looking out a helicopter window at Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. The shot—a gray-haired W., bathed in light, hands clasped like a guilty kid waiting for the Catholic school nuns—became a sort of shorthand for the detachment and mismanagement that came to characterize his eight years in office. This time, the photo was being used in an advertising campaign for a national HIV/AIDS project.

Perino stares at the sign, which is the size of a movie poster. “AIDS IS D.C.’S KATRINA,” it says. Perino stands there, frozen on the sidewalk. “It doesn’t make any sense,” she tells me, pointing at the sign. “I mean, oh my God.”

Matt Latimer, a former Bush speechwriter who took some public shots from Perino late last year after writing a book that claimed Forty-Three hadn’t been conservative enough, likens her “to those Japanese soldiers who were found hiding in caves a decade after World War II.” Just like them, he says, “Dana still thinks she’s fighting the war.” McClellan—whose tell-all book ended his relationship with Perino—told me that his former deputy was having a hard time letting go, just as he had when he left office. “She’ll come around, eventually,” he told me. “It’ll take her a year before she can separate herself.”

Getting Perino to open up about most anything—whether or not it had to do with the Bush administration—had proven difficult. Over breakfast one morning, I asked about John McCain and Sarah Palin. She responded by asking me if I’d ever considered a job in television. I told her I had a face for radio. “No you don’t,” she cooed. I was flattered. A day later, I asked the same question. Again, we talked about my prospects for working on TV. “I could write a book on the 101 ways to say ‘no comment,’?” she’d say later.

I wanted to ask her what it meant to be a conservative in America; I wanted to know about her boss, and what had gone right and wrong in the administration, and how she survived that last year in office. She wanted to tell me that she’d just spotted Michael Chertoff at Burson’s offices. “He’s a great American,” she told me.

Perino wouldn’t say whether she ever disagreed with a presidential decision (“I wasn’t at the podium representing the Republican Party; I was there representing the United States of America”). She wouldn’t talk about her obvious attractiveness (“Really?”). She wouldn’t discuss her personal ideologies, including whether she supported abortion rights (“I don’t share my personal views”). Time and again, she brushed me off with a sentence and a stare, as if she were still at that podium, daring me to ask another question.

At the Starbucks below the Burson-Marsteller offices one day, I ask whether she disagrees with anyone in the Republican Party. “Tom Tancredo,” she tells me. I ask why. “His rhetoric, for one,” she says. “He’s looking at life in such a black-and-white way, and he’s being offensive to people who come to America and want to achieve the American Dream.”

Back in her office, I ask about Glenn Beck.

“For three million people, he’s the right person,” she tells me. “And it’s not for me to describe them. I’m open-minded.”

“That’s it?” I ask. “No problems with Beck? Anyone else?”

“Nope,” she says, “and I’m not going to say any more about it.”

“You said something about Tancredo.”

“Well, you pushed me.”

“So I have to push harder on this?”

“No, because I’m not answering,” she says. “You’re making me very nervous. I don’t know what to think about you.”

I tell her I have more questions.

“No, you don’t,” she says. “You’re studying me.”

She packs her bag and heads out the door. Outside, she gives me a hug and we say good-bye at the curb. “I’m the toughest interview you’ll ever have,” she tells me. Then she gets into a cab and disappears.

A couple of months later, an e-mail from Perino arrived in my inbox.

“I’m going to part ways, very amicably, with Burson at the end of the year and will start my own company and have more time for the speaking, writing, strategic communications work I want/need to do.”

I gave her a call.

“You saw how busy I was,” she told me. “I wasn’t seeing Peter at all. I was writing speeches on the weekend. Peter and I were looking at each other one day, and we said, ‘Our [post-White House] life was not supposed to be like this.’?”

Her new shop, she said, would be part of the ever-growing Dana Inc. She planned to start small so she could continue the long list of gigs she’d already committed to: the speeches, the TV appearances, the articles. The firm also would be nonpartisan.

“So if George Soros”—the liberal billionaire—”said he needed your help, you’d give it to him?” I asked.

“Umm-hmm,” she responded, then added that Soros would never seek her advice. Was she joking? I couldn’t tell.

In that moment, I’d never been surer about Beltway politics. We all know about the backroom deals, about the quid pro quos, about lobbyists and consultants searching for ways to maintain power and eke out another buck. Perino, at one point, had actually warned me about this, without actually saying what was subtly implicit: “People don’t get it,” she told me. “Washington is the least partisan place in the country.” Put another way, there is no red or blue in our nation’s capital, only green.

So you can understand if something was bothering me as I was putting the last period on this story. I’d gone to Washington, D.C., expecting to meet a true believer, someone who was all-in for something. What I found was that no matter where you come from, D.C. consumes you.

But Perino, the master spin-doctor, had me second-guessing myself. Maybe I’d been too critical of her. Maybe she was just following Beltway protocol. Maybe she was fighting the good fight for something she believed in, but I was too blind to see it.

She sent me another e-mail in mid-November. “Watch today for an announcement about me and a board I’m going to be nominated to.”

The press release came that evening. Perino had been nominated for a position on the federal Broadcasting Board of Governors. It’s a small post that helps oversee international, nonmilitary, government-sponsored media—no heavy lifting, just another project on Perino’s to-do list.

Yet there was something else about this job, something that made me laugh out loud when I put it all together. The board position required a presidential nomination, which meant that the woman who had always had George W. Bush’s back was now backed by his successor and polar opposite, President Barack Obama. As the end of 2009 drew near, it appeared that Year One of Dana Inc. couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. m

Robert Sanchez is 5280’s staff writer. E-mail him at letters@5280.com.