Washington is — and always will be — a town that struggles between outcomes and principles. It’s a place where compromise is both necessary and invariably suspect.
This sentiment comes from the opening pages of a new book — a book about Washington when it was a different town that worked in a different way, and about a man who excelled at getting things done in that distant Washington.
The Man Who Ran Washington, by journalist-author duo Peter Baker of The New York Times and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, is about James Baker III the former secretary of state, former White House chief of staff — and power broker.
Peter Baker and Susan Glasser say that in their conversations with Baker over seven years, he expressed that he couldn’t understand how it was that the U.S. system of government was so broken.
Of Trump, he said in 2016: ‘I’m not going to endorse this guy,’ … but he hasn’t denounced him either. “I mean, I think he always has this idea that things can be fixed,” Peter Baker says.
On James Baker’s unlikely rise in Washington
SG: He is maybe the world’s most successful mid-career switch, in many ways. And of course, he also happened to have a very valuable asset in Washington, which was that his best friend from the Houston Country Club happened to be George H.W. Bush, his tennis partner. The two had just been through hell; Jim Baker’s wife, Mary Stuart, had died before she was 40 of tragic cancer, leaving him alone with four young sons. He was ready to escape the constrained world of the Houston aristocracy from which he sprung. And what’s amazing, though, is that it was really his remarkable talents that then skyrocketed him. Within one year, he went from being essentially an obscure appointee in the Commerce Department to running the election campaign of the incumbent President of the United States Gerry Ford. An unthinkable rise, really.
On Baker’s deep-seated belief that the point of holding power is to get things done
PG: The whole point of winning an election is to get into office to do something which seems so anathema today, where it seems to be the opposite. Right. You are in office in order to win an election. And Jim Baker was the model that he was a ruthless partisan when it came to elections. He was no softy. Just ask Michael Dukakis or Al Gore. But when it was over, it was over. And he would sit down with Democrats to cut deals, most notably in 1983, sat down with Tip O’Neill and revamped the Social Security system. In 1986, he rewrote the whole tax code with Dan Rostenkowski, the Democrat from Illinois, in 1990, he sat down with Jim Wright, the Democratic speaker, and solved the contra war, which had been so debilitating for the country for so long. So in Jim Baker’s world, compromise isn’t a dirty word. It’s a necessity toward getting things done. And there was not a zero-sum-game in which if the other side wins, I lose. Unfortunately, I think what we see today is the opposite of that. And I think what this story tells us is not just Jim Baker’s life, but how Washington has changed so much.
On being willing to compromise even when his principles were at stake
SG: The incentive structure in Washington today has just fundamentally been blown up from that moment. I think back to the really scorched earth campaign of 1988. George W. Bush comes from behind, 17 points behind, beats Michael Dukakis in a ruthless campaign that Jim Baker oversaw, you know — the attacks on him for the Pledge of Allegiance, for the Willie Horton ad. And yet, what’s the first thing that Baker does when he is becoming secretary of state after that victory? He sits down with Jim Wright, the Democratic speaker of the House, and cut a deal to end basically the decade-long internal fight that ripped Washington apart over U.S. funding for the contra wars. It nearly destroyed Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the Iran-Contra scandal. It was the most divisive political issue, in terms of foreign policy, of the decade. And Baker immediately was able to make common cause and to see strategically that it was in his interest, Bush’s interest, and the Democrats interests to move on from this.
On being secretary of state as the Soviet Union was beginning to unravel – and on Baker’s relationship with Russian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze
PB: So Jim Baker has a ranch out in Wyoming, he’s loved Wyoming for many years … He takes Eduard Shevardnadze out to Wyoming, where they end up going fly fishing… it really, though, I think, helped the two of them forge a personal bond that we had not seen between American and Soviet foreign leaders, foreign ministers over the years. And Shevardnadze opened up to Baker in a way that probably no Americans had ever heard a Soviet talk about their own country, about the problems and the dysfunction and how things were going bad. And I think it really paid off. You could see years later — when Iraq invades Kuwait and the American and Soviet leaders stand together, Eduard Shevardnadze and Jim Baker jointly condemn this and say this: There are new rules of the world at this point, and we’re no longer going to make everything a zero-sum Cold-War game — when you invade a smaller country like this, we the two biggest powers in the world, are going to stand against you. And I think that that shows what diplomacy could do at that time.
On how America’s values don’t always align neatly with America’s national interests
SG: [Baker] and Bush were determined not to spike the football. You know, as the Soviet Union was unraveling, its Eastern empire was collapsing in Eastern Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall. History seems a lot more inevitable in hindsight than it did at the time.
And I think for us, that was one of the takeaways of, you know, looking back at this period, this remarkable period in 1989 to 1991, when things could have turned out very differently and so struggling and competing internally over what to do about it. There was enormous pressure from conservatives in their own party in the Pentagon to take a much more skeptical and hawkish view of Mikhail Gorbachev and the reforms that he was undertaking in the Soviet Union. There was a lot of pressure on them in terms of the politics. There was also, by the way, very skeptical allies. The British and the French had fought two world wars against Germany. They were not enthusiastic, to say the least, about the prospect of German reunification. And then, of course, there were the Soviets. So it really was a moment when diplomacy mattered in a very tangible, concrete way. And had there been different people than Baker and Bush in those positions of power, it actually might have turned out differently.
On what Baker says about Washington today
PB: We started this project in 2013 before Trump showed up. Right. Because in fact, Washington seemed to dysfunctional even then. Obviously, it’s in a different place today even. And we would sit down with Baker. We would hear this sort of lament for, you know, the how things had changed, how little I remember. Susan, you probably remember this too. We were at his ranch in Wyoming and he was there with his wife, Susan Baker. And, you know, he’s far distant, this place, from any place in the world just scrunches his face in sort of pain about how nothing is getting done, about how everything is just fighting and posturing and politicking and partisanship. And, again, he is partisan. It’s not that he was somehow some goody-two-shoes. That’s not the case. But he just couldn’t understand how it was that the system was so broken. And of course, in the seven years that we did this project, it only got worse.
SG: Well, that’s right, and his angst over the rise of Donald Trump obviously was sort of the culmination of this fear about what Washington had become. He told us that he thought Trump was crazy, that he was nuts. He very, very reluctantly told us that he voted for Trump in 2016. We don’t know exactly what he’s going to do this year. He at one point told us he would vote for Joe Biden. At one point, he then said, no, no, don’t say that I’m going to do that. You know, his story helped us, I think, to understand how the modern Republican Party got to this point of a hostile takeover by Donald Trump, someone whose ideology and views are really anathema to the party that Jim Baker built and lived for.
Samantha Power, President Obama’s former U.N. ambassador, she writes, says Baker’s made a devil’s bargain by not speaking up about Trump
PB: Baker’s 90 years old, so, I mean, you know, at a certain point, you can say that he’s done his bit in public life. And again, everything is a compromise to some extent. Right. Is he refused to endorse Trump. Trump wanted him to endorse him and he refused. His friends, in fact, pleaded with him. You know, Jim, don’t do this — this is not what you want. And he agreed. He said, I’m not going to endorse this guy, even though he did in the privacy of the voting booth. … But he hasn’t denounced him either. I mean, I think he always has this idea that things can be fixed. … His idea of power, I think, is that you don’t have any if you’re outside the room. And so throwing stones from the outside doesn’t accomplish anything in his view. Not that he’s trying to have any power at this point of his life, but his instinct is not to be a rebel, not to be a revolutionary, but to find ways to make things better and make things work. And this is a president who I think is resistant, of course, to that kind of advice, that kind of counsel and that kind of thinking….
SG: Remember this is a study in power — and power doesn’t always look pretty up close.
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US vetted stars' politics to showcase Trump virus response – Toronto Star
WASHINGTON – Public relations firms hired by the Department of Health and Human Services vetted political views of hundreds of celebrities for a planned $250 million ad blitz aimed at portraying President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in a positive light, according to documents released Thursday by a House committee.
A political appointee at the department suggested creating a government-funded campaign to rival the World War II icon Rosie the Riveter, according to the documents, and taglines like “Helping the President will Help the Country.”
None of the celebrities agreed to participate — they may not have known they were being vetted — and the campaign has been put on hold.
Director Judd Apatow believes Trump “does not have the intellectual capacity to run as president,” according to a list of more than 200 celebrities compiled by one of the firms. Singer Christina Aguilera “is an Obama-supporting Democrat and a gay-rights supporting liberal,” the list says, and actor Jack Black is “known to be a classic Hollywood liberal.” A public service announcement by comedian George Lopez was “not moving forward due to previous concerns regarding his comments regarding the president,” according to the documents.
The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesman Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesman for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.
According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of soundbites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the President will Help the Country.” The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II against Germany.
“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.
The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.
The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.
“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”
Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the Oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.
“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.
HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.
The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.
Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”
Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.
Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.
“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
Political tide changing slowly as Sask. elects more new moms – Regina Leader-Post
Article content continued
Men are often not held responsible for caring duties, said Thomas. She points to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who “very explicitly” told the public her child’s father is caring for the baby while she works.
“Men just know that they’re not going to be held responsible for the caring duties,” added Thomas. “I think one of the ways you could address this is by having more new moms, in particular, in positions where they can expect legislatures to act on this stuff.”
Just as Young video-conferenced with her colleagues from the hospital, elected representatives could do their work remotely when being physically present is an issue.
Thomas said she could see the argument of internet quality being insufficient in rural and remote locations to allow this.
But, she added, “Elected representatives are uniquely placed to write and pass the policy that would solve that problem and look at telecommunications … as a public utility that every Canadian has the right to access.”
Members could attend remote committee meetings, where the “in-depth heavy lifting” occurs.
In British Parliament, said Thomas, “Remote debate was actually more substantive because things like heckling didn’t work so well. I would put it to the average person, would you be OK with less heckling and other partisan nonsense and posturing in politics? Because I would.”
Parents of young children could be given a top-up to hire more staff — as is done in widespread, rural and remote constituencies.
And, childcare should be required at Legislatures during members’ working hours, which means day and night. That must also include infant care, said Thomas: “The Parliament Hill (daycare) doesn’t take infants and that’s created problems for Members of Parliament who were breastfeeding.”
As new moms running for political office, Young, Sarauer and Conway should pave the way to inspire others.
“Women in general, but especially girls are much more interested in politics when they see women doing politics, and this is internationally verified across democracies,” said Thomas.
Their presence “communicate(s) that those political institutions are for them too. The caveat though is going to be how the legislature responds to having women with infants or parents with infants in the legislature.”
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