Grand Vizier rules himself out of court


The shelves of American bookstores will be collapsing under the weight of worthy tomes this autumn. Speaker Newt's thoughts on how to save the nation have already appeared. General Colin Powell will be treating us to his remarkable life story. Also due for publication is The Politics of Diplomacy by James Baker, of whom one thing at least may safely be said. Of the three authors, he alone is not running for President.

No so long ago, the political skills of James Addison Baker III mesmerised Washington - first as Ronald Reagan's White House chief of staff and subsequently Treasury Secretary, then as Secretary of State under George Bush - as much as his flashy monochrome ties.

Mr Baker was the man who emerged unscathed from every disaster, from Iran-Contra to the failure to anticipate Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Only the last act was a let-down, his recall to the White House to oversee the doomed Bush re-election campaign.

One image from that wretched campaign lingers, on a raw October afternoon in Wisconsin, amid the razzmatazz of a train tour which Mr Bush hoped would wreak an 11th hour miracle. Through a carriage window you could make out the bowed silhouette of Mr Baker, half-smiling at the futility, resigned to inevitable defeat.

For a while, his name was on everyone's shortlist for 1996, but as no sign emerged of serious planning, the talk subsided. A recent aside made it unofficially official: "I've gotten over the virus of Presidential ambition."

It is as well. In the last couple of years even Mr Baker's supreme asset - the Teflon coating that rivalled Ronald Reagan - was starting to tarnish. To the stigma of 1992 must now be added a perceived share of the blame for Bosnia.

But there are deeper reasons why a Baker run was never plausible. His party constituency was invisible, his name a throwback to an era that, for Republican believers, is a grey parenthesis between Reaganism and Gingrichism. Ultimately, too, he was always less a leader than a courtier, a Grand Vizier of successive administrations who pulled many strings but whose fate was inextricably linked with that of his bosses.

Mr Baker affected the odd common touch - cowboy boots, an adjustable Southern drawl, and drinking beer out of a can at black-tie parties. But many were unconvinced. In his own new autobiography, Power, Pasta and Politics, the gritty Republican senator Alfonse D'Amato calls James Baker a "blue-blooded snob".

Patricians are rarely fleshpressers and James Baker of the thin smile is no exception. Only once did he run for office, for Texas Attorney-General in 1978. He lost and thereafter his career is essentially the story of his close, yet complex 30-year friendship with that transplanted Houstonian, George Bush. For all Mr Baker's influence, his deftness, his sometimes unconcealed sense of superiority, he remained the subordinate, the "younger brother" as Bush once called him.

So what now? A book, speaking engagements, good works, doubtless some powerbroking from a plush office in the family law firm of Baker and Botts, plus the simpler joys of hunting and fishing at his Wyoming ranch. There are many worse things. Jim Baker deep down might accept that in Washington only one job is worth having. Like many others, he has flinched at the price to be paid.

Suggested Topics
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam