Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Managing the Presidency

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency – Chris Whipple (Crown Books)

With all of the talk about draining the swamp and changing the way Washington does business, there is a built in level of inertia, an ebb and flow to the way things get done in our nation’s capital. While the President of the United States is at turns the Commander in Chief, the Leader of the Free World and the most powerful man in the world, the work load that the person holding that job can be all consuming.

That is where the President’s chief of staff comes in. While the President can certainly dictate his priorities, it is the chief that is tasked with managing and prioritizing those priorities and to manage the personnel and schedule to keep those priorities on track. The people who have been charged with the role of chief of staff have been about as widely varied in in experience and temperament as you can find, and those folks are the subject of Chris Whipple’s new book, The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.

Whipple explores not only the basic job description of a chief of staff, but also delves into the players and personalities of those who filled the role. The amount of power these guys (and I am safe to say guys because women have not filled the chief role to this point) and the manner in which they wielded that power is explored in insider accounts and often in first person interviews Whipple conducted.

Whipple provides great insight into the interactions, the politics of the role and the players, and even how the success or failure of a Presidency can rest on the shoulders of the chiefs. Not sure why, but a gravitated to the section of Jimmy Carter, a man I believe to be among the worst Presidents in our history and I guess I can say I wasn’t surprised that a guy who at the time was cast as an ultimate outsider, bent on fixing the problems after Watergate and President Nixon, floundered because he lacked a strong chief of staff. Instead of trying to tackle the innumerable tasks/problems facing the nation one at a time, Carter tried to tackle a ridiculous agenda and got buried in the minutiae.

Manage, prioritize, worry about the politics and constituencies and keep the President focused is a tall order and The Gatekeepers us an opportunity to poke our nose under the tent and see what goes on in and around the White House.

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