When a presidential campaign is over and the winning candidate is in the White House, he (and in the future, she) must face the difficult task of turning political rhetoric into concrete legislation or executive action. Presidents get accustomed to people agreeing with them, but it is imperative that the top elected official in the land has someone with the authority to challenge the president. He or she must be willing to “speak truth to power” when problems emerge and must be ready to accept the blame when things go wrong, but be certain that when things go well, the president is the one who receives credit.
For many years that person has been the White House chief of staff. With his carefully researched, bipartisan and eminently readable The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, Chris Whipple has written a must-read book for all who want a backstage view of the presidency, from the Richard Nixon years through Barack Obama’s two terms. Based on extensive, intimate interviews with all 17 living former chiefs of staff, former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, and many others, this is a treasure trove of experiences. James Baker, chief of staff for Ronald Reagan, who later served as treasury secretary and secretary of state, says a strong argument can be made that the position is the “second-most-powerful job in government.” Forty years after he served as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld said the position was “unquestionably the toughest job I ever had,” despite later serving as secretary of defense under two presidents.
Whipple is an acclaimed writer, documentary filmmaker and multiple Peabody and Emmy Award-winning producer at CBS’ “60 Minutes” and ABC’s “Primetime.” The remarkably candid interviews and reader-friendly narrative of this book make for very informative and entertaining reading.