The Man Who Ran Washington
James A. Baker III, a third-generation attorney, was a political force unmatched in modern American history. He managed presidential campaigns for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. He served as the treasury secretary when he negotiated the Plaza Accords and the Baker Plan. As secretary of state, he coordinated the free world’s response to the fall of the Soviet Union. He served as chief legal advisor for George W. Bush during the 2000 recount. As if that was not enough, he was also arguably the most influential White House chief of staff in the history of the position and the only person to serve that role for multiple presidents. In their book, The Man Who Ran Washington, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, a Washington power couple with direct experience in international affairs, bring nuance and deep examination to the story of an extraordinary individual worthy of more attention.
As Time magazine once described him, Baker was “a gentleman who hates to lose.” Born the scion of a wealthy Texas family, the third James Baker followed in the steps of the first and the second, practicing law for a competitive and prestigious law firm in the growing city of Houston. His life could have stayed this course if he had not become friends with a young George H.W. Bush. Baker followed his tennis partner into politics, where he approached each problem with the analytical skills of a seasoned litigator. From the campaign trail to the international relations circuit, Baker played “three-dimensional chess” and was always thinking many moves ahead. Through excellent research and dozens of on-the-record interviews, readers get to see what each player thought of Baker’s methods, both contemporaneously and after several decades of reflection.
Baker’s story contains many lessons, from the power of preparation to the importance of understanding the motivations of each individual player in politics. The reader is constantly reminded about how small the world truly is — individuals who were once political foes became needed partners years later. The history of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s are completely intertwined with Baker’s career and actions. America is a better place because of the steady hand and preparation of this bureaucratic power broker. For members of The Florida Bar, perhaps there is another lesson — more successful lawyers should consider a second career in public service.