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Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership - From Nixon to Clinton

Gergen, David

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ISBN 10: 0684826631 / ISBN 13: 9780684826639
Published by New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000
Condition: As New Hardcover
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Signed and dated by the author on the title page with the inscription "To Jeff Johnson - With Warmest Best Wishes". No remainder marks. Bookseller Inventory # 129-66

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of ...

Publisher: New York: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition: As New

Dust Jacket Condition: As New

Signed: Signed by Author, Dated in Year of Publication

Edition: First Edition, First Printing.

About this title

Synopsis:

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.

  • How Nixon allowed his presidency to spin out of control. Why the demons within destroyed him. What lessons there are in Nixon's disaster.

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.

Review:

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

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