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Power Player: Why James Baker Is The Man Who Ran Washington

James A. Baker III (L), former Secretary of State and chief of staff under the Regan and Bush Sr. administrations on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
James A. Baker III (L), former Secretary of State and chief of staff under the Regan and Bush Sr. administrations on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

These days, Washington, D.C. is often criticized as a city where big ideas come to die. But there was a time where bold political ideas flourished in the nation’s capital — and they happened (we know it might feel hard to believe).

But one figure in Washington was known for wrangling politicians for decades. James Baker, a former White House chief of staff and Secretary of State,  served under several presidential administrations. Now, he’s the subject of a comprehensive biography from award-winning authors and journalists Susan Glasser and Peter Baker.

They’ve spent the past several years chronicling the life of a man who was key in Washington politics. The book, “ The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III,” is an extensive account of how he did it.

In an interview with  Washingtonian, Glasser explained why James Baker mattered so much:

Jim Baker [is] the story not only of this particular individual but also of Washington from the end of Watergate to the end of the Cold War. This is a definitive period in our national politics in which Baker essentially was a dominant figure, both terms of politics and in terms of policy. That simply isn’t possible today. Can you imagine someone filling the roles of both Karl Rove and Henry Kissinger today? It’s inconceivable.

The key to Baker in many ways is that he’s a congenital winner—he was in politics to win and he saw that as his job, and his assignment, in the 2000 recount. There’s this scene that he recounts with pride of meeting with Warren Christopher, the former Democratic Secretary of State, appointed to sort of negotiate things for Al Gore. Many Democrats said to us that they knew Gore was toast as soon Baker got involved. Democrats know very well what his skill and capabilities were, which is part of why Barack Obama is an admirer of Jim Baker.

What does James Baker’s career tells us about how politics used to be — and how it is now?

We’re talking with Baker and Glasser about their latest book to get some answers.

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