Cross-Examining History with James A. Baker III

Last Wednesday, I attended what felt like an impromptu opportunity to hear former Secretary of State (and White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of the Treasury, etc. etc.) James A. Baker III speak.  For his new book, Talmage Boston, lawyer and author, interviewed Baker, since he served as a “presidential insider” to many of our recent leaders.

I think everyone can appreciate much of what Baker offered during the interview, despite party alliances.  Here are a few overarching methodologies championed by Baker, explained in my own words:

  1. Principle pragmatism: focusing on accomplishments as deliverables and action items without foregoing principle
    • Context: Former President Reagan was assumed to be an ideologue, but Baker asserted that Reagan understood that the presidency demands tangible accomplishment.
  2. “Win-win” situations: not settling for compromise, creating positive outcomes for all involved
    • Context: Baker stated that one of the most controversial issues he helped tackle is tax reform.  The Reagan administration significantly reduced the tax rate from 78% to 28%.  This change in policy was an ideal opportunity for bipartisan support, since it erased loopholes (Dem) and reduced marginal tax rates (Rep).
  3. Loyalty: commending your leaders, suggesting rather than demanding changes, minimizing complaining, and communicating more on a personal rather than professional level
    • Context: Throughout the interview, Baker emphasized the “good.”  He acknowledged the “bad” and suggested improvements, but he did not blatantly show regret for decisions (think Iran-Contra for Reagan).  Baker also discussed Reagan’s open communication policy when the former President would respond by his own personal hand to those who wrote to him.

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