The quiet voice behind the roaring success
Co-writer of one of George Bush's favorite books says he couldn't care less that Natan Sharansky is getting all the limelight.
Not many people know the name Ron Dermer, but that doesn't seem to bother the 33-year-old Jerusalemite, whose recently published book was among President George W. Bush's favorites in past months.
Dermer, who co-wrote "The Case for Democracy: the Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror" with Natan Sharansky, is the quieter, less public figure behind the book's success. But Dermer, who was born and bred in Miami Beach, says he "couldn't care less."
"I am honored that my name is on the cover," he says. "The core ideas of the book are Natan's ideas, long before he met me."
Already in its seventh printing, "The Case for Democracy" in an unprecedented and certainly unexpected success. It made the New York Times best-seller list last month, and supply simply can't keep up with demand, with large-scale back orders reported in many American bookstores. Sharansky, meanwhile, has become something of a household name in the U.S., and both President Bush and newly appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have referred to the book on internationally broadcast television.
"If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky's book," Bush told reporters in Washington recently. "It will help explain a lot of the decisions that you'll see being made, you've seen made and will continue to see made."
"The Case for Democracy," which was released in November, divides the world into "free societies" and "fear societies" and argues, essentially, that democracy is intricately connected to peace. It has already earned the two authors a private audience with the president and during their 10-day book tour in November, Sharansky and Dermer were summoned to the White House for an in-depth discussion with Bush; they were scheduled for a 45-minute slot, but reportedly stayed for over an hour. Rice, who had not yet been appointed secretary of state, met with the pair as well.
"We were hoping that enough policy makers would pick it up so that eventually, maybe one of the president's speech writers would read it," said Dermer, who noted that Bush and Rice - the two highest ranking international policy-makers in the U.S. - were among the first Americans to read the book.
In fact, the former quarterback for the Israeli national football team says that the attention and publicity were so unexpected that he was exercising in his local Jerusalem gym when he first saw the now famous CNN interview with the president in which Bush publicly urged Americans to buy the Sharansky book. "I'm hoping the president doesn't ask for a commission," Dermer joked, "because you can't ask for a better promoter."
Dermer's partnership with Sharansky began in 1995, when the then eager 24-year-old student at Oxford University arrived in Israel to help manage the Yisrael b'Aliyah campaign. Their relationship has continued ever since and Dermer is often the voice, however unnoticed, behind Sharansky's public op-ed articles in foreign papers such as the Wall Street Journal.
`Help in the margins'
"It's my job to understand what's going on in Natan's head," he says. "I take his core idea and translate it into a language that people who didn't have his experiences can understand. I organize ideas that are for Natan all self-evident."
"To think that I, as an American, came and foisted my ideas on him is just not true," he adds. "Maybe I helped a little in the margins."
Still, for Dermer, who comes from a long line of politicians, success was almost inevitable. His father, Jay, was the mayor of Miami Beach 40 years ago and his older brother David is now in his second term in the same post. David, a Democrat, helped lead the campaign to reelect George Bush in the highly contested state of Florida and the younger Dermer has worked closely with his brother on election campaigns. Locally, Ron Dermer has also advised Benjamin Netanyahu on various issues and continues to maintain a political consulting agency in Jerusalem. This month, he heads to Washington for a two-year posting as an economic attache in the Israeli embassy.
Indeed, his career is headed in the right direction and in Dermer's own words, "The Case for Democracy" couldn't have been published at a more opportune time. "The environment is ripe for this kind of idea and the world is now debating whether democracy is possible in the Middle East," he says. "Our book helped the president understand what he already believed."