Peabody and Emmy Award–winning documentary filmmaker Whipple chronicles the roles as well as the successes and failures of White House chiefs of staff from the Richard Nixon to Barack Obama administrations.
The modern White House chief of staff, the gatekeeper to the president and manager of White House operations, emerged during the Nixon administration. While presidents Kennedy and Johnson preferred a more decentralized system with multiple advisers, Nixon’s chief, H.R. Haldeman, created a strong, focused organization that has endured for nearly a half-century. The author discusses subsequent administrations and their chiefs in chronological order. James A. Baker III, Ronald Reagan’s first chief of staff, is seen as the gold standard. Also successful were Gerald Ford’s two chiefs, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Among those whose performance fell short were Hamilton Jordan for Jimmy Carter, Donald Regan for Reagan, and Mack McLarty for Bill Clinton. Throughout the book, Whipple identifies several variables that affect performance: presidential access and support; management style; and whether the chief serves as an honest broker, allowing all arguments on issues to be presented, or as a strict advocate. Also pivotal is whether he—all the chiefs have been men—views himself as a principal, essentially a peer of the president, or as a staff member; invariably, the former is a recipe for failure. An unusual element was added when George W. Bush’s vice president, Cheney, experienced from White House politics during the Ford administration, was able to thwart the efforts of Bush’s chief, Andrew Card. Whipple also reviews the high and low points of the past eight administrations, and he greatly enhances the narrative with his many interviews, some of which were used for a documentary he did on the subject in 2013.
A well-researched, well-written review of a unique government position—informative for the general public and an insightful blueprint for the new administration.