THE BLOG
11/27/2006 06:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Man of the Hour: James A. Baker III


"If I were in the business of writing political fortune cookies, I would put this message in a lot of them: 'The one constant in politics is change.' The electorate wants to know that a candidate, even an incumbent is an agent of change, someone who will make things better."
A second fortune cookie might read: 'Politics is perception."

These are some of the interesting, perceptive and useful quotes in former Secretary of State James Baker's new book "Work Hard, Study. . .and Keep Out Of Politics!" Adventures and Lessons from an Unexpected Public Life.

Today, at age 76, Baker is still a man with advice to give as he is the co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group who will soon be making recommendations to the president on ways to change America's Iraq strategy which is not working at the moment.

Baker is one of America's leading elder statesmen. As a former Secretary of State and former Secretary of the Treasury and former chief of staff at the White House to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush he is a politically savvy diplomat.

His first book on his years as Secretary of State was entitled "The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace 1989-1992". Even when discussing diplomacy the Republican from Texas always mentions the role that politics plays in all aspects of our foreign policy.

Baker is the latest in a long line of elder statesmen that our nation turns to when we have problems that need to be solved by people we trust.

At the end of World War II and throughout the Cold War various elder statesmen were called to the White House to discuss the political and diplomatic problems of the day.

W. Averell Harriman, the wealthy former governor of New York, was the quintessential elder statesman working for and consulting with Presidents from FDR to LBJ.

Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson who served in the Truman Administration was consulted later on by President John F. Kennedy on the Cuban missile crisis and by Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War.

Clark Clifford, an advisor to Truman and later Secretary of Defense in the Johnson Administration, was the leading elder statesman of his day. Clifford was often consulted when he was a well-known lawyer in Washington, D.C.

Robert Strauss, who was head of the Democratic National Committee and our last ambassador to the Soviet Union, was another man that presidents consulted on political and diplomatic topics of importance.

Stuart Eizenstat, who was Chief Diplomatic Policy advisor in the Carter Administration became Under Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration and also served as U.S. ambassador to the European Union. He has been called on to serve on many worthwhile commissions and to give his advice.

On the Republican side, former Senator Paul Laxalt, who served as General Chairman of the GOP, was asked by Reagan to go to the Philippines to speak to President Ferdinand Marcos about his policies that were troubling to the United States.

Other readers will no doubt recall other elder statesmen who have served by giving their advice to presidents. Bob Woodward talks about former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as an elder statesman who stops by the White House from time to time to give advice to our current president mainly on the topic of Iraq.

So, James Baker is following in the footsteps of other leading American politicians and diplomats who at some stage in their lives become elder statesman. Like Baker, most of these elder statesmen are practical and pragmatic individuals with years of experience in and out of government along the campaign trail and in dealing with diplomacy.

Most of these elder statesmen would never leak any information to the press. They are trustworthy and thus called on from time to time.

When Baker was Chief of Staff under President Reagan I interviewed him in the his office at the White House. I asked him how long he would be chief of staff and did he have any plans to move to another position in the administration. He told me: "Absolutely not. I plan on staying at the White House for as long as the president wants me to serve."

The very next morning it was announced that Baker had been named Secretary of the Treasury. So much for my investigative journalistic skills.

For anyone looking for some excellent insight into politics and diplomacy over the past several decades they should pick up Baker's informative and interesting book. From his one attempt at running for elective office in Texas ( he actually thought about running for president in 1996) to his tremendous work in Florida in helping after the election results in 2000 in getting Bush elected this book is a political goldmine of advice.

And, if the story is true his remarks about his mother's comments on what he did for a living are hilarious.

When he was Secretary of State he would visit his mother in Houston. She asked, "Now, darling, tell me exactly, what is it you do?"

He replied, "Mom, I am secretary of state."

She said, "Of the United States of America?"

Baker stated, "Yes, Mom."

"Then she would add, 'Well, you know, dear, if your father had lived, he would never have let you go to Washington."

As Baker says in his book, "No one was better at keeping me humble than my mother."

And, like Baker, most of our elder statesman are humble people whose advice has helped our country in troubled times.

Let's hope that Baker's advice can help with the situation in Iraq today.