JAMES BAKER: THE MAN WHO MADE WASHINGTON WORK
Narrated by Tom Brokaw
This 90-minute documentary tells the story of a remarkable American politician and statesman who represents a time when our government functioned, when Congress got things done, when presidents and politicians worked together for the public interest.
James A. Baker III, now 89, served in top posts for three presidents and proved to be a central player in some of the most momentous events of the final decades of the 20th century.
As White House chief-of-staff he masterminded the so-called Reagan Revolution – a raft of economic changes – and got it through a hostile Congress.
As Treasury Secretary, Baker negotiated the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a legislative feat no one believed possible in a divided government, and arguably the last time we had tax code revisions all sides could agree on.
As Secretary of State he brought the Cold War in for a soft landing – working alongside Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze to maintain stability in eastern Europe while re-unifying Germany after 40 years of division.
Told through eye-witness accounts from former presidents Clinton, Carter, and Bush Sr., former Secretaries of State Rice and Kissinger, former Vice president Cheney, and a host of other Washington insiders, journalists and historians, JAMES BAKER: THE MAN WHO MADE WASHINGTON WORK is a behind-the-scenes exploration of power, persuasion and diplomacy at the highest levels that reveals what it really takes to make government function for everybody.
In 1975, a Houston lawyer arrived at the White House to take a job with President Gerald Ford, and politics in Washington was about to change.
James A. Baker, III was 40 years old and had never worked in government. He got the job because his good friend and tennis doubles partner at the Houston Country Club, George H.W. Bush, recommended him. Rarely in American history has there been such a fortuitous congruence of talent, opportunity, preparation, and luck.
Eighteen months later Baker was heading President Ford’s re-election campaign. In 1980, he led his friend George Bush’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in a bitter primary battle against Ronald Reagan…and thanks to Baker’s strategic decision-making at a critical moment – helped make sure that Bush would become Reagan’s running mate in the 1980 election.
THE GOLD STANDARD
And then in the biggest surprise of all, President Reagan appoints Baker – the man who led the campaign against him -- to be his chief of staff. As a moderate in a White House full of determined ideologues, Baker is a target of constant, often ruthless, infighting. But he proves to be so effective at helping Reagan implement his agenda that he soon becomes the second most powerful man in the White House, and one of the most important political brokers in the nation.
President Reagan names Baker Treasury Secretary, and he masterminds a highly unlikely compromise between the Democratic House and the Republican administration to reform the U.S. tax code in a way all sides are happy with – proving that the art of governing is finding the common ground that will benefit all Americans. To this day, Baker is known as The Gold Standard among presidential chiefs-of-staff.
It was a meteoric rise – and James A. Baker, III was just at the beginning of what would be a stellar career in public service that would literally change history.
SECRETARY OF STATE
After Baker leads George H.W. Bush’s successful campaign for president in 1988, Bush names him Secretary of State – the first among equals of cabinet positions. Baker has reached the place where he will have an immediate, indelible impact on the history of the late 20th century in waysthat have shaped our world today.
It was a brief period of time, a scant four years, during which Baker accomplished a hat trick of diplomatic achievements:
the peaceful winding down of the Cold War;
the unprecedented international coalition to fight the first Gulf War;
and the Madrid Peace Conference to bring together the Israelis and Palestinians with their Arabneighbors for the first time in modern history.
But those events didn’t happen by accident. They happened through a synergy of unexpected and often unsettling events like the abrupt opening of the Berlin Wall, diplomatic initiatives both public and private, and bold leadership that dared to act when the opportunity arose. They also required the skills of a master negotiator whom many consider our greatest Secretary of State in many decades.
JAMES BAKER: THE MAN WHO MADE WASHINGTON WORK is much more than a biography of James Baker. It will use the lens of Baker’s experience and insights to present an exciting, fast-moving analysis of how Baker’s used his remarkable political skills and instincts together with his deft diplomatic touch to bring about change on the domestic and world stage.
Baker is our guide through these events, providing his unique commentary on the series of crises, conflicts and opportunities that erupted in his years at the State Department. A gifted storyteller, he has a sharp wit and an endless supply of personal observations that provide detail and behind-the-scenes accounts that will make this story come alive.
This film also includes commentary from a who’s who of history makers whom Baker worked alongside: former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice; respected journalists Hedrick Smith, Jeffrey Toobin, and Lesley Stahl, just to name a few. In addition, international leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Lord Charles Powell, Simon Perez, Mikhail Gorbachev, Hans Dietrich Genscher, Roland Dumas, and others, are included.
Above all, James Baker’s career demonstrates that successful governing and diplomacy both require practical political sensibilities, a deep understanding of human nature, and a core belief in the mechanisms of government to solve problems and make things work, both domestically and internationally.