Podhoretz the Younger--former White House apparatchik, son of Norman, and debut author--sheds some harsh light on the Executive Branch and, with some heat and a lot of wit, explains just what George Bush and other inquiring minds would like to know: what changed and how the Bushes lost the key to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If Reagan wore Teflon, says Podhoretz, his preppy Veep became the Velcro President. Everything stuck to Bush because ``understanding was not his strong suit.'' The author argues persuasively that Bush (unlike his predecessor) ``didn't believe in anything very much except that he wanted to be president.'' Never mind the vision thing: Bush never meant what he said. That's why he laid a gigantic egg in the Oval Office, snatching defeat from the jaws of the Desert Storm victory and a favorable rating of 91% in the polls. Throughout his lively text, Podhoretz provides a valuable primer in the workings of the White House, where the West Wing is nothing more than a political bucket shop, inflating the stock of the ``president'' (always uncapitalized here). Updating Peggy Noonan and Don Regan, Podhoretz lets us in on the antics of Sununu and Darman at early morning staff meetings. He reveals the phone number used by staffers everywhere to reach anyone anywhere, and he tells which Cabinet secretary was easy to dominate ``because it is never difficult to outwit a dimwit.'' He takes us to the awful 1992 Republican Convention and the ``worst-run campaign in presidential history...led by a man who believed he deserved a second term because, damn it, he just did, that's all.'' Interspersed are abstract portraits of real, though nameless, staffers and their suffering (along with the Prez, of course, a lot of loyal functionaries suddenly became unemployed). A frisky if cautionary saga of political decline and fall, as well as a diverting backstairs tour related by a perceptive and irreverent conservative.