WASHINGTON – Andy Card (search), holder of one of the government's classic burnout jobs, talks of 14-hour workdays that begin with breakfast with his wife at 4:20 a.m. "My life is a state of exhaustion," President Bush's chief of staff says with a laugh.
But the 57-year-old Card is staying on for Bush's second term, making him the longest-serving tenant in his office in nearly a half-century.
One of most disciplined White Houses in recent memory -- things happen on time, officials don't stray off-message -- is largely a product of trust, not fear, aides say.
He doesn't see any need to repeat his well-known ban on "flapping jaws," a category that includes leaking White House decisions before they're announced, discussing the president's thinking about decisions yet to be made or publicly airing White House dirty laundry.
He expects unswerving loyalty to Bush and a respectful -- some say buttoned-down -- attitude that extends to an Oval Office (search) dress code: coats and ties for men, "appropriately dressed" for women. Card doesn't sit like a hall monitor outside the Oval Office to make sure aides follow his rule that they see the president only if they really must.
Whatever problems the administration has faced, friends and foes alike say very little of the trouble has been the product of internal disorder.
"Any time a White House gets complimented for running a tight ship ... you have to give the chief of staff credit for that," said Leon Panetta, one of several men who held the post under President Clinton.
Still, he said a tightly controlled White House environment can inhibit the free discussion a president sometimes needs. Panetta says he hears from former colleagues in Congress that there are no longer "the kind of open exchanges that there have been in the past."
Card himself can be an affable talker who loves a catchy turn of phrase. In the fall of 2002, critics said Card was indelicate at best in explaining why the president waited until after his August vacation to start making the case for possible war with Iraq.
"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," Card said.
More recently, some wondered why Card didn't push the president to interrupt his vacation and make a swift statement after the Dec. 26 tsunami.
Card, who has worked under eight White House chiefs of staff, is the man who most often delivers important news to Bush -- Saddam Hussein's (search) refusal to accept the president's exile-or-war ultimatum, the crash of the shuttle Columbia (search) and, most famously, the shown-on-TV whisper in Bush's ear while the president was visiting Florida second-graders on Sept. 11, 2001 (search), that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Card is involved in everything presidential, from the most mundane meeting of Bush's basic needs, like rest and haircuts, to the many quiet conversations that help the president reach decisions. Card, for instance, was one of very few to know which Cabinet members were targeted for departure for Bush's second term and who was being considered to replace them.
Four years into the job, Card says the demands of his assignment "defy description." He arrives at the office by 5:30 a.m. and hardly ever leaves before "7:30, 8:30, 9:30" or beyond. Just the sheer information-intake is hard to comprehend, as Card examines every issue passing through the White House in detail so he can determine what should cross Bush's desk.
"I started exhausted," the stocky Holbrooke, Mass., native said in a recent interview, the accent of his home state as prominent as ever.
It's difficult to get Card to talk about what he does to decompress. As he told an online questioner in April 2003: "Long hours are NOT a challenge, but an opportunity."
"I love our country. It sounds trite, but I really, really love our country and I love our Constitution," he said. "I get great joy in watching the president meet his constitutional responsibilities."
Pressed, he talks about the joy he also gets from spending time with his wife. The Rev. Kathleene B. Card is a Methodist pastor whom he's known since fifth grade. She gets up with him at 4:20 a.m. so they can have breakfast, and they eat dinner together nearly every evening. Having their four grandchildren in nearby northern Virginia, where he can "get two days of vacation out of two hours" with them at least every other week, helps his sanity, too.
Card says his onetime book-a-week fiction-reading habit is down to more like a book a month. His love of both snow and water skiing doesn't get indulged so much.
He will not publicly contemplate life after the White House. But he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Massachusetts back in his 30s and is thought to relish the idea of making another try.