‘Life & Times’ Authors Chronicle James Baker’s Impact on D.C., World

Dave Moore, Staff Writer

For a moment during their conversation with Dallas lawyer Talmage Boston, James Baker biographers Susan Glasser and Peter Baker marveled at James Baker’s resourcefulness.

Even in his late 80s, they said, James Baker had managed to finagle a galley copy of their new book, “The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m the one who sent him the galley,” said Boston, who interviewed the husband and wife team for the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Monday, Oct. 26, virtual event.

That snapshot in time demonstrated not only James Baker’s wherewithal, but the breadth of his influence earned through a lifetime in public service.

In typical James Baker fashion, the Houston native only suggested small changes to the text (correcting a few minor details), leaving the vast majority of the book untouched.

“[James Baker] comes very much out of this tradition of absolute, fierce political combat in election years,” said Glasser. “But at the same time, a sense that there is a need for history, and (a) warts-and-all (account) is OK, if you’ve established a real record.”

Boston’s interview with Peter Baker and Glasser delved into James Baker’s trials, travails, and triumphs as a political strategist, policy advisor, and confidant to the Republicans who dominated the White House in the late 20th century.

The duo interviewed James Baker for 70 hours, delved into his paper trail at Princeton (where he received his undergrad) and Rice (home of the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy), and even interviewed family and friends to get an idea of how James Baker’s mind works.

The digging revealed that James Baker’s father micromanaged him into his young adult life, even sending him a $25 check so he could buy a birthday president for his wife.

It also revealed an astute reader of personal politics, keeping on friendly terms with Nancy Reagan – who is referred to as co-President – even when she dabbled in astrology.

The book turned out to be as much as a biography of James Baker as it was a story of how Washington, D.C., worked in the late 20th century, Peter Baker said.

“The contrast to today couldn’t be more stark,” Peter said. “(James) Baker was a knife-fighter at election time, but after it was done, he sat down with Democrats to work out a deal… He sat down with Democrats to make a budget deal in 1983 that put Social Security on firm footing for many years to come.”

Within the Glasser/Baker biography is the story of the relationship between President George H.W. Bush and James Baker. Boston said aside from referring to each other as brothers, Bush and James Baker were highly competitive, yet one couldn’t have succeeded without the other.

“Obviously, the Bush/James Baker relationship is at the heart of this book, and their shared story,” Glasser said. “We came away feeling that James Baker would never have been White House Chief of Staff or Secretary of State had he not had this friendship with Bush. Quite possibly, Bush would not have been president if not for James Baker.”

Glasser said that while President George W. Bush shied away from putting James Baker in his 2000 campaign – in part to be seen as his own man – he still called on him for guidance during the ballot recount battles in Florida.

“It tells you everything you need to know that when the presidency is on the line, there’s only one phone call. And there’s no debate, that early morning phone call goes to James Baker,” Glasser said.