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The Gatekeepers

Since the creation of the position of “White House Chief of Staff” in 1946, thirty-three men have had the ear of the President.  In the years since there has only been one extended period where a President did not have a ‘Chief’,  for 909 days President Carter chose to not name a Chief of Staff (Cos), or rather HE acted as his own chief.  For over 60% of his presidency, because of his decision, Jimmy Carter could not focus 100% on his job as he was doing a job that should have gone to someone else. Pundits feel he didn’t get it right until the last 7 months of his term, too late to avoid defeat  to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The Gatekeepers:  How the White House Chiefs of Staff define every Presidency written by Chris Whipple, is not only about the Chiefs of Staff but the Presidents themselves and the decsions made by them.  With all the information the Presidents had about previous CoS’s, there was a pattern of errors, or mis-decisions in filling that role. 

Gatekeepers covers the American Presidencies from Nixon to Obama and closes with a few words about the 45th President and how Trump might handle the slection process for the position.  Of all the Chiefs’, the consencus is that James Baker III is the cream of the crop and was able to ensure that Ronald Reagan won his re-election bid.  

The best advise that all Presidents are given is not to hire a friend, unless you want to lose that friendship.  A friend will not be able to say what needs to be said to the President, that is “No”. Honesty is the best advice that a chief of staff can give – if it can’t be offered, why have a chief.  The proof of Baker’s success is in his longevity working in the West Wing of the Whitehouse.  Baker, a registered Democrat in the 50’s when he met George H. W. Bush, served as Chief for two Presidents, Reagan and the recently deceased Bush. Baker’s connection to Bush 41 and his work as the Bush’s campaign for President against Reagan in the Republican primaries in 1980 brought him to the unlikely selection by Reagan to be his Chief of Staff.  His close relationship with Bush 41 must have played a huge role for Reagan.  As the architect of Reagan’s main opponent in the 1980 campaign Baker could be challenged as the best choice. Baker staying in as CoS through Reagan’s entire first term as President shows the loyalty that both Baker and Reagan had for each other and the roles they held.

As far as Chiefs for Democratic Presidents go, Bill Clinton can claim he had possibly the worst and best.  Clinton broke rule #1 and brought in a close friend, Mack McLarty as his first Chief.  McLarty , a member of the Arkansas Mafia, brought choas and unorganization to the the White House.  McLarty’s run as Chief can be best described as letting others run the administration with no control and what seemed like unlimited access to the President.  As chaotic as McLarty was, blame also goes to the Clinton.  His decision to appointment McLarty came the day after the election in.

As bad as Clinton’s decision was to hire McLarty, bringing in Leon Panetta in ’93 was a genius move and provided a smooth last few years in the White House while Hillary ran for a Senate seat and Al Gore was running for President.  Panetta was the steady hand needed to finish a presidency that was chaotic and challenged by a President that not always took the advice he needed.

The brilliance of Gatekeepers is not only the story of the CoS’s, but the issues, scandals and challenges brought on by a President but stickhandled by the Chief. Gatekeepersbegins with the Nixon Presidency, and if there is any administration that demostrates the loyalty of a chief, it’s Bob Haldeman’s running the the ship through the Watergate scandal of the 37thPresident, and he ran it right into the ground.  The most intriguing aspect of Gatekeepersis the insider perspective of major events that President’s had to deal with.  

The attack on the World Trade Centre September 9th2001 and the Bush 43 administration revealed the actions of an administration that could be scene as having two Chiefs.  Former Chief for Gerald Ford, Dick Cheney was now the Vice President and in agreeing to be the VP he negotiated responsibilities that normally go to the the CoS.  Andrew Card, who served as Deputy Chief under Bush 41, was now Chief for Bush 43.  The dynamic was “unique”  as Cheney says in the book as he, as VP, took on issues under National Security which under previous administrations would have gone to Andrew Card.

Gatekeeperspulls back the curtains on the West Wing.  As the reader you decide if you agree with how decisions were made and rate the effectiveness of the relationship between the Chief and the President.  What is clear is that the golden rule of not hiring a friend to be the CoS isthe cardinal rule and as the reader we all can sit back and see how a presidency falls apart because the Chief can’t say no and the President doesn’t want to hear it.

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