Book Review: The Gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers:  How The White House Chiefs Of Staff Define Every Presidency, by Chris Whipple

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Blogging For Blogs/Crown Publishing Group.  All thoughts and opinions.]

Honestly, this is the sort of book that I expected to see a lot more of once Donald Trump was elected president.  From reading this book, it is clear that the author considers our current president to be the least qualified president ever elected.  The closing words of this book give the book an interesting context:  “Given his lifelong inclinations, President Trump may try to run the White House himself–his gut instincts unchecked, his decisions uninformed, his Twitter account unfiltered.  Or he may empower his chief of staff to implement his agenda, advise honestly on difficult choices, and tell him what he does not want to hear.  Working next to the most powerful person in the world is an extraordinary privilege.  For Trump’s chief, the job also carries a profound responsibility:  He may well represent the thin line between the president and a disaster (300).”  Here is a book that I can deeply respect, a recognition that whatever person is chosen to be president of the United States, they need the best help possible to work for the common good of the people of the United States as a whole and the well-being of the people of the world.  As someone who cares a lot about gatekeepers, this is a book I can wholeheartedly endorse [1].

This particular book takes 300 pages to explore the importance of the chiefs of staff to every modern presidency.  A consequence of the increased power of government and the increased expectations on the president was the need for the president’s time to be carefully stewarded for the best effect.  The rise of an imperial presidency required the rise of an imperial vizier in order to protect the president from chaos and disorder and ultimate destruction.  This book explores through a case study approach what qualities make for the best chiefs of staff by looking at the experience of those who have served in the office from Nixon’s presidency forward.  In lengthy and detailed chapters looking at Haldeman’s service to Nixon, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheyney’s work for Gerald Ford, Hamilton Jordan and Jack Watson’s work for Jimmy Carter, James Baker III’s successful work for Ronald Reagan and the more uneven work done by Donald Regan, Howard Baker Jr., and Kenneth Duberstein in Reagan’s second term, John Sununu, Samuel Skinner, and James Baker III’s work for George H.W. Bush, the work Thomas McLarty, Leon Panetta, Erskine Bowles, and John Podesta did for Bill Clinton, the work Andrew Card and Joshua Bolten did for George W. Bush, and finally the work Rahm Emanuel, William Daley, Jacob Lew, and Denis McDonough did for Barack Obama, the author gives a series of case studies into what makes for a good chief of staff to a modern American president.  In the main, to summarize, the author looks at how a chief of staff must be loyal to the president but not so friendly with him that he neglects his duty to speak the truth to power and to protect the president either from himself or from his overzealous servants who would show little restraint in overstepping the bounds of law to serve his goals and objectives, and how a chief of staff needs to be a servant leader who is not a prima donna and who can work well with others and avoid letting the power of being the president’s gatekeeper go to his head.  This advise is wise outside the halls of the White House.

In this book one can even get a sense of what kind of president is best served by a chief of staff:  someone who does not consider themselves to be the smartest person and above the need for help.  The humility, or lack thereof, of a president can make all the difference as well in how successful their presidency is and how they are best able to receive the help of a competent and skilled chief of staff.  As someone who is fascinated by the demands and obligations on leadership and someone who would at least like to think that I am able to respect even those leaders I do not happen to particularly like, this book was something I found to be deeply intriguing and thought-provoking.  The author has done his homework, and this work gives a very deep and meaningful picture of how a chief of staff is a critical element to a presidency, and also how those who have served in such a position make for one of the few examples of bipartisanship left in our deeply divided contemporary political culture.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/04/20/1-chronicles-26-1-19-the-levite-gatekeepers-of-the-sons-of-korah/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/11/sweat-the-small-stuff/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/09/25/we-run-this-internet-village/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/08/03/come-on-come-on-its-there-at-your-feet/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/09/27/in-praise-of-cultural-appropriation/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/05/30/the-voice-up-on-the-stage-is-a-heart-inside-a-cage/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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