Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton

Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton

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by David Gergen, David Gergen
     
 

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From Nixon to Clinton, Watergate to Whitewater, few Americans have observed the ups and downs of presidential leadership more closely over the past thirty years than David Gergen. A White House adviser to four presidents, both Republican and Democrat, he offers a vivid, behind-the-scenes account of their struggles to exercise power and draws from them key lessons…  See more details below

Overview

From Nixon to Clinton, Watergate to Whitewater, few Americans have observed the ups and downs of presidential leadership more closely over the past thirty years than David Gergen. A White House adviser to four presidents, both Republican and Democrat, he offers a vivid, behind-the-scenes account of their struggles to exercise power and draws from them key lessons for leaders of the future.

Gergen begins Eyewitness to Power with his reminiscence of being the thirty-year-old chief of the White House speechwriting team under Richard Nixon, a young man at the center of the Watergate storm. He analyzes what made Nixon strong—and then brought him crashing down:

  • Why Nixon was the best global strategist among recent presidents. How others may gain his strategic sense. Gergen recounts how President Ford recruited him to help shore up his White House as special counsel. Here Gergen considers:
    • Why Ford is one of our most underrated presidents.
    • Why his pardon of Nixon was right on the merits but was so mishandled that it cost him his presidency. Even in his brief tenure, Ford offers lessons of leadership for others, as Gergen explains.
    Though Gergen had worked in two campaigns against him, Ronald Reagan called him back to the White House again, where he served as the Gipper's first director of communications. Here he describes:
    • How Reagan succeeded where others have failed. Why his temperament was more important than his intelligence. How he mastered relations with Congress and the press.
    • The secrets of "the Great Communicator" and why his speeches were the most effective since those of John Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt.
    In 1993, Bill Clinton surprised Gergen—and the political world—when he recruited the veteran of Republican White Houses to join him as counselor after his early stumbles. Gergen reveals:
    • Why Clinton could have been one of our best presidents but fell short. How the Bill-and-Hillary seesaw rocked the White House. How failures to understand the past brought Ken Starr to the door.
    • Why the new ways in which leadership was developed by the Clinton White House hold out hope, and what dangers they threaten.
    As the twenty-first century opens, Gergen argues, a new golden age may be dawning in America, but its realization will depend heavily upon the success of a new generation at the top. Drawing upon all his many experiences in the White House, he offers seven key lessons for leaders of the future. What they must have, he says, are: inner mastery; a central, compelling purpose rooted in moral values; a capacity to persuade; skills in working within the system; a fast start; a strong, effective team; and a passion that inspires others to keep the flame alive.

    Eyewitness to Power is a down-to-earth, authoritative guide to leadership in the tradition of Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents.

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Editorial Reviews

As a bipartisan adviser to four presidents, magazine editor, political analyst, lecturer and author, Gergen has remained in the government-media relations spotlight for some time. His book is not so much about the author's inside-the-beltway tenure as it is a series of lessons on leadership, both good and bad. As the new century opens, Gergen argues, a new age may be dawning in America, one that must be realized by the next president. Drawing upon his observations while serving in the White House, he lays out seven key points for the new chief executive to follow. Unfortunately, from "A Capacity to Persuade" to "Leadership Starts From Within," Gergen's points wind up sounding like good old-fashioned political common sense rather than advice to the leader of the twenty-first century.
—Rob Stout
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Few observers are as qualified to comment on the merits of presidential leadership as is Gergen, having served as a speechwriter and adviser to fourchief executives. In these finely etched tales of his time with Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, Gergen not only explains what made these men tick but also draws broader lessons on what makes for presidential greatness. It begins, he says, with strength of character; then a president must have a clear and compelling vision of what he wants to accomplish, and must be able to communicate this vision to the American people. Organizationally, he must be able to work with other centers of political power, particularly Congress; be decisive in his early actions in office; and have around him strong and prudent advisors. Finally, he must inspire. This is a lot to ask of any leader, and Gergen admits that none of those for whom he worked quite had it all, though in his estimation Reagan came closest. Both Nixon and Clinton were men of brilliance, he says, yet harbored deeply flawed characters; Ford was honest and capable but never quite defined his goals. Reagan, for all his considerable virtues--courage, conviction, vision--too often allowed his inattention to detail and hands-off management style to derail his intentions. While some may debate Gergen's assessments, his own eye for detail and knack for narrative are to be admired. He brings to life the everyday world of the presidency and provides telling portraits of these fallible yet fascinating leaders. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal - Library Journal
Prominent national journalist Gergen is a familiar face on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and ABC's Nightline, among other outlets. He has moved in and out of government for more than 30 years, and here he offers his insights into the leadership qualities of the Presidents he served and those he witnessed, beginning with Richard Nixon and ending with Bill Clinton. As one might expect, Jimmy Carter does not fare well, though he is respected, while Ronald Reagan and Clinton do. Gergen first worked in the Nixon administration, but his loyalty does not prevent him from perceiving and describing the dark side of that regime. The author worked for Clinton for a time, and his observation is that the man had no mechanism for sorting out the input that was hitting his highly intelligent and capable mind. Still, he was a genius at inspiring his followers and persuading others that he cared deeply for them. Gergen found Gerald Ford to be an effective and honorable man, defeated by the events into which he was forced to play. The best leader chooses skilled operators whose strengths and conflicts bolster one another and give the President multiple perspectives from which to view the issues of the day. Stylishly written, this book would have been better if Gergen had not taken on the task of reading it himself; his enervating pacing and nearly lifeless intonation prove once again that it is not always wise. Recommended for modern political history collections. Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Historic insider's insights into presidential qualities.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780783893860
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
03/28/2001
Series:
G. K. Hall Core Series
Edition description:
LARGEPRINT
Pages:
653
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.47(h) x 1.33(d)

Read an Excerpt

What Would Richard Nixon Do?

"It is just possible that we are living at the dawn of a new golden age." --David Gergen, from the preface of Eyewitness to Power

The year 2000 may very well be the dawning of a magical time in America. As David Gergen warns, however, the same sentiment was also expressed at the turn of the 20th century, when America plunged into two world wars, the Great Depression, and a dark global era that saw only 12 democracies emerge intact from World War II. What went wrong?

According to ultimate presidential insider David Gergen, poor leadership was a large part of the reason for the tumult of the early 1900s. Now, in Eyewitness to Power, Gergen -- who has served under four presidents in the past 25 years -- offers a riveting account of the ups and downs of presidential leadership in the last quarter of the century. Gergen has weathered Oval Office storms from Watergate to Whitewater, and his behind-the-scenes lesson in leadership chronicles the tenures of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.

Be forewarned: This is anything but a kiss-and-tell look at these four presidencies. Rather, Gergen considers each presidency as he saw it unfold, thoughtfully outlining the strengths, the weaknesses, and the turning points in each administration. From Gergen's unique vantage point as an eyewitness to power, learn:

  • How Richard Nixon displayed an arguably unparalleled mastery in global affairs -- but how the historical leaders he idolized hinted at the paranoia that insidiously swept the White House
  • That Gerald Ford's brief tenure hinged on the politically unsavvy execution of Nixon's pardon -- an action that was not, as many claim, a grievous error in judgment but was so mishandled it cost him the presidency
  • Why Ronald Reagan's temperament, not his intelligence, guided his presidency and earned the trust of a nation -- but how his reliance on others resulted in the muddled messages of the "Great Communicator"
  • Why Gergen, an admittedly staunch conservative, joined President Bill Clinton's team and believed this president could be the stuff of legend -- until idealism, inexperience, and personal foibles alike got in the way

Along with fascinating accounts of the dramas that unfolded within White House walls, Gergen provides the seven key lessons for future leaders: inner mastery; a central, compelling purpose rooted in moral values; a capacity to persuade; skills in working within the system; a fast start; a strong, effective team; and a passion that inspires others to keep the flame alive. How did past presidents measure up? And how will the leaders of tomorrow learn from the lessons within? In Eyewitness to Power, Gergen offers a down-to-earth, authoritative guide to leadership -- whose impact stretches far beyond the White House.

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Meet the Author

David Gergen is a prominent national journalist, teacher, and public lecturer. He is a professor of public service at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and codirector of the school's Center for Public Leadership. He is also editor-at-large at U.S. News & World Report and is a regular political analyst on television.

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