Susan Estrich: Tony Snow Was a Gem

Tony Snow was a gem.

We usually disagreed – hell, we were paid to disagree for years, starting out nearly 20 years ago, when he was “Monday” at USA Today and I was “Thursday” and every week or so we did what was then considered a “novel” on-line back-and-forth for AOL called “The Great Debate.”

Tony and I would disagree about the issues of the day in front of an “audience” (in those days, people signed in to enter the “hall”) and then we would have a side conversation at the bottom of the screen, that no one else could see, about our lives, our careers and our families. Especially family. Robert Novak was the other conservative, and when he was debating me he was actually dictating so my side conversation was with his editor. With Tony, it was between us. Personal. That’s the way Tony was. He always knew what mattered most. He loved his family, his country, and his life.

He drove some of my liberal friends somewhat crazy, to say the least, as President Bush’s press secretary, not because he was in any way more dishonest than his predecessors (hello, Scott McLellan) but because he was so much better at it, more appealing, so much more likable, that he could almost make die-hards sympathize with positions they didn’t take. He was great at the job, and he loved it. It was a gift, and he knew it.

Tony learned early about loss. His mother died when he was a kid, and she was only 37. He took good care of himself, but he understood that cancer could be lurking, as it was, and when it hit him, hard, he was as aggressive as you could be in fighting back. He wanted to live.

And live he did.

He loved being on television and radio, but he loved his job as press secretary even more. It was, he always said, the greatest job in the world. Unlike so many people who hold such jobs, and spend more time whining about the pay and the hours and the beatings they take from the media and the other side, Tony saw himself as lucky, blessed and grateful to be where he was. He had stared death down, and lived to travel the world with the President of the United States. How could he complain? He wore his yellow bracelet. He apologized when he was wrong. He tried to live as an example to other cancer patients, to show them that life doesn’t end with a bad diagnosis, that illness can be a source of growth as much as font of pain.

If there were any justice, any fairness, any sense, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.

The opening line of the news story this morning was that Tony “lost his fight with cancer.” But that’s all wrong. If cancer were a fair fight, Tony would have won. Losing implies that you could have won, might have won, had you done something more or different, had you been stronger or better. That’s not how it works. Cancer is. Jerks sometimes survive it. Decent and honorable people sometimes are felled by it. It’s not a fight; it’s a plague.

Tony had a sweetness about him, a sweetness that, in the mean world that Washington and the media can be, sometimes led him to believe that everyone operated from the same place he did. We hung out together in New Hampshire four years ago, during the primary; I had rented a car, and he hadn’t, and it was a measure of his courage, or foolhardiness that he would drive back and forth with me every day between the hotel in downtown Manchester and the FOX Box that was 20 minutes of winding roads away. I would regale him with gossip about who was doing what to whom, who was after whom, who was up and who was down, and he would gobble it up, wide-eyed. He was so earnest, so dear, he liked everyone and assumed the same about everyone else; he was honorable and honest, and assumed it about others. You are so naive, I used to say to him. He would shake his head.

But he wasn’t really naive. He just knew what mattered and what didn’t, what was worth caring about and what wasn’t. He loved his Sunday show, but when he lost it, he didn’t complain, he just turned his energy to radio. He loved being handsome and strong, but when cancer struck, and took that away, at least for a time, he didn’t complain, he just fought it. He thought he had beaten cancer, but when he learned that he hadn’t, that he wouldn’t, he vowed to live with it, to be an example.

Our friend, our boss, Roger Ailes called him a “renaissance man.” He was. Articulate, educated, informed, he was all those things. But for me, what defined him was not what was in his head but what was in his heart. He was a mensch. A good man died today.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first female president of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for