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Eyewitness To Power:
David Gergen is probably the only person to have served at high levels in both the Reagan and Clinton White Houses--not to mention his posts in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He's a consummate Washington insider, a man who appears regularly as a centrist political commentator on PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and works as editor at large for U.S. News & World Report. Eyewitness to Power, his first book, draws upon this unique experience. It's part memoir, part political history, part portrait of White House culture, but it's mostly a meditation on what it takes to be a great political leader. Gergen focuses on the four presidents he has known best--Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton--and offers pointed assessments of each. He calls Reagan "the best leader in the White House since Franklin Roosevelt," and says Clinton "is one of the smartest men ever elected president and has done some of the dumbest things." Gergen does not hesitate to offer harsh criticism: Nixon was hateful, Ford was overwhelmed by his predecessor's scandals, Reagan was often detached, and Clinton was not in control of his appetites. Yet there's a reflective admiration for each man.
What makes this volume rise above the mountain of books on leadership (usually written for executives) is its spot-on observations about the way Washington works, drawn from years of experience: "Republicans like hierarchy and order; they're not like Democrats, as I saw later on, who thrive on chaos and creativity"; the Nixon view of Watergate "was the same as the Victorians had of adultery: the sin was not in the doing of it but in getting caught"; "In most institutions, the power of a leader grows over time. A CEO, a university president, the head of a union, acquire stature through the quality of their long-term performance. The presidency is just the opposite: power tends to evaporate quickly."
Gergen concludes by describing the seven leadership qualities a great president must have: personal integrity, a sense of mission, the ability to persuade, the ability to work with other politicians, a strong start after inauguration, skilled advisers, and the ability to inspire. Those traits, of course, will serve people well from all walks of life--and Eyewitness to Power will appeal not just to readers interested in the presidency but to anyone occupying a position of responsibility (or interested in getting there). --John J. Miller [via]