This book disrupted my schedule; I could not put it down. Chris Whipple has written a candid and exhilarating history about the development of the office of Chief of Staff. It all began with Nixon and H. R. Haldeman. This “club” of former chiefs includes well recognized occupants like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Leon Panetta and Rahm Emanuel.
These close confidants of the President are unelected and unconfirmed by any governing body. They are chosen by and serve at the pleasure of the president; the POTUS alone hires and fires them.
Chiefs of Staff manage his daily schedule, determine who sees the President and they control the information the President relies on to make decisions. Many of them have had little or no previous government experience, yet they are empowered to keep the Cabinet Members in line and to execute the President’s agenda.
Whipple interviewed all 17 living former Chiefs of Staff, plus Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. In addition, he conversed with former Cabinet Members and historians in order to ready this well-documented book for publication. From these many, extensive, and sometimes intimate interviews, the author has presented the reader with the last 50 years of United States history as seen through the unique eyes of these White House aides.
In “The Gatekeepers,” Whipple discusses the effectiveness of each Chief – which ones were successful at the job and which ones bungled it. Washington insider James Baker III is given high marks for his successful role in Ronald Reagan’s administration. On the other hand, Donald Regan, another Reagan appointee, is rated by Whipple as probably the least politically effective Chief.
The book includes many pages of photographs of the Office of the President from behind the scenes. It helps the reader understand that the most important moments of a presidency occur outside the public view in closed-door conversations, private heated debates and covert bargains. It is the Chief of Staff who presides over these arguments and negotiations. Often he is the only one in the room when the President makes final historic decisions.
The “gatekeeper” is the President’s right hand man— no women yet. The choice of Chief of Staff is the most important personnel decision a President makes, far exceeding his choice of Vice President and Cabinet Members. With first hand information from the 17 living chiefs, the author reveals how this close personal advisor can rescue a president from political disaster or contribute incalculably to a President’s downfall.
Whipple’s prose is clear and confident. The book stands out because of the primary resources obtained from the men who occupied the office. The former Chiefs open the door to the Oval Office and disclose both typical days and highly charged days when crucial decisions had to be made. They share their interactions with the First Ladies who they were not to anger, but who often overrode them to influence the President’s policies.
Chris Whipple has won many Peabody and Emmy awards for producing CBS’s “60 Minutes” and ABC’s “Prime Time.” Crown Publishing is the publisher of this 384-page book.