‘Washington has turn into a spot that simply doesn’t work,’ Peter Baker says in FSI ebook speak
James Baker’s “History is the story of Washington – how Washington really worked then and how it works today,” said author Peter Baker of his latest book, The Man Who Ruled Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III “. during a book talk on October 9th.
Professor Michael McFaul ’86 MA ’86, Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, moderated the interview with Baker, New York Times political journalist and six-time author, to discuss his latest book. Co-author Susan Glasser, political journalist and employee of The New Yorker, was unable to attend the book talk for health reasons.
The book tells the life and legacy of former White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, James A. Baker.
Over seven years, Baker and Glasser conducted 215 interviews, including three presidents, two vice presidents, and five state secretaries, to examine the politics and statecraft that Baker practiced while serving under Presidents George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan.
The polarization and dysfunction of politics today makes the story of James Baker even more important, according to Peter Baker.
“Washington has become a place that just doesn’t work,” Baker said.
Expressing that he does not want to romanticize the past, Baker said that Washington today is the opposite of what it was in Baker’s day. In particular, Baker cited the lack of a recently passed COVID-19 bailout bill, even though Democrats, Republicans and President Trump have “every reason” to pass another bailout package. While Congress passed the $ 2.2 trillion CARES bill in March, recent talks in Washington about additional incentives stalled.
“If James Baker was there, they would have had a deal,” said Baker. “It might not be what everyone wanted – the Democrats would be disappointed, the Republicans would be disappointed – but there would be a deal. It would happen. ”
Although James Baker was a Conservative Republican, “he wouldn’t stand on ideology or ceremony at any negotiation because getting things done was too important,” Baker said.
For him, “Compromise is not a dirty word – that’s how things are done.”
According to Baker, there is currently no compromise as there is no longer any political incentive to produce a bipartisan bill. The parties are more homogeneous and do not interact ideologically or personally as in the past.
He added that writing books on America’s political history helps Baker and Glasser better understand the present.
“It was helpful to me and Susan [Glasser] Spending time every day or week in the past – a little time to travel to another time – because it puts the present time in context to see what is different and what is not, “said Baker .
Baker shared an experience during the impeachment trial of President Trump earlier this year.
After reporting the trial, Baker found a memo from James Baker on file. The memo contained information about Republicans who came to the Oval Office to persuade President George HW Bush and James Baker to ask Russia for information about Bill Clinton that they could use against him. James Baker wrote that he and Bush refused to do so.
“To see this memo right now with today’s events, I thought I was really putting things into context,” Baker said. “That was the standard of the time; If you did that, that crossed the line. “
When asked if people like James Baker had a chance to rule Washington ever again, he said, “It’s a man and a moment thing.”
“I don’t think Baker would be as successful today because the incentives have changed, the structure has changed,” said Baker.
Baker said former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are similar to James Baker in their pragmatic work across party lines. Basically, however, Baker doesn’t think they could achieve as much as James Baker, since there are no incentives to compromise.
“The system doesn’t really give them the capabilities to do that,” he said.
Contact Malaysia Atwater at matwater ‘at’ stanford.edu.