Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership: Nixon to ClintonJust in time for the presidential election comes a new book designed to help the informed reader determine the best qualities for our next leader. In Eyewitness to Power, Washington insider David Gergen weaves personal memoirs and observations about presidential leadership into an interesting narrative of White House politics since 1970.
Gergen is a former speechwriter for Nixon and Ford, a former communications director for Reagan, and a special advisor to Clinton. He is most famous as the originator of political "spin" during his time in the Reagan White House, where he was responsible for orchestrating events such as the D-Day address at Normandy. Gergen's positions afforded him a first-hand opportunity to observe the inner workings of four different White Houses, both Republican and Democrat.
While in many cases Eyewitness to Power is more memoir than analysis, Gergen seeks to position the book as a study of presidential leadership. He describes the qualities of an ideal president: the leader should be secure, self confident, focused on goals, well read in history, persuasive, and knowledgeable about how to use power. Yet candidates and presidents rarely live up to these ideals.
Through Gergen's eyes, the reader gets a behind-the-scenes look at the leadership styles of four recent presidents. Nixon is a brilliant strategist battling the forces of darkness and good; Ford is a decent person seeking to understand how to operate the levers of power; Reagan has a temperament well-suited to his job and knows how to play the leader; Clinton has a brilliant mind and is a superb politician, but lacks the discipline and maturity for the job.
Clearly, Reagan emerges as the president who comes closest to representing the ideal. He is praised for his security of self, his natural instincts, and for sticking with a few, clearly defined goals. Reagan is the most like FDR, Gergen's model president.
For a thoughtful consideration of presidential leadership, read this book before casting your ballot.
John Green is a business consultant based in Nashville.