No more "Team of Rivals"

Maybe the Obama crowd should be reading another book in advance of taking office.


Thomas Schaller
December 15, 2008 6:59PM (UTC)

There has been so much focus on Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" as the book of the moment for the incoming Obama administration. That's fine.

But I wonder if there is also wisdom to be found in another book: Barry Werth's "31 Days".

Werth's book is about the opening month of Gerald Ford's presidency, following Richard Nixon's resignation. Some of the parallels between then and now immediately fall away: George Bush did not resign under threat of impeachment; Obama has the benefit of a transition period Ford did not; the change of control in the White House is also a change in party control now but wasn't in 1974; the country wasn't wrapped around the axle of two foreign wars. It's far from a perfect historical analog.

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But still, there is something to be said for taking a look at Werth's book, which I read earlier this year as I was considering what to assign for my just-completed U.S. presidency course this autumn.

For one thing, though not leaving under threat of impeachment, Bush is not much more popular now than Nixon was then. He leaves under duress, with the country ready to be rid of him. Second, there is a need for healing following Bush's departure, much as there was with Nixon. Third, and despite the luxury of transition time, the Obama team is going to need to figure out a lot of stuff on the fly, much as Ford did in 1974. Fourth, and I think most important, Ford had to take some early, bold steps to demonstrate his newfound authority, his command. Most notably, he had to prevent Nixon from secreting away from the White House all of the deposed president's papers.

Barack Obama is going to have a challenging first 31 days. In fact, as discussed in this Salon conversation I moderated that just published today, Obama will have a challenging first 100 days. Maybe Werth is worth a look for guidance, too. (And it would also be nice to go through at least one, 24-hour news cycle without hearing somebody make the "Team of Rivals" reference, wouldn't it?)

There has been so much focus on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals as the book of the moment for the incoming Obama administration. That's fine.

But I wonder if there is also wisdom to be found in another book: Barry Werth's 31 Days.

Werth's book is about the opening month of Gerald Ford's presidency, following Richard Nixon's resignation. Some of the parallels between then and now immediately fall away: George Bush did not resign under threat of impeachment; Obama has the benefit of a transition period Ford did not; the change of control in the White House is also a change in party control now but wasn't in 1974; the country wasn't wrapped around the axle of two foreign wars. It's far from a imperfect historical analog.

Advertisement:

But still, there is something to be said for taking a look at Werth's book, which I read earlier this year as I was considering what to assign for my just-completed U.S. presidency course this autumn.

For one thing, though not leaving under threat of impeachment, Bush is not much more popular now than Nixon was then. He leaves under duress, with the country ready to be rid of him. Second, there is a need for healing following Bush's departure, much as there was with Nixon. Third, and despite the luxury of transition time, the Obama team is going to need to figure out a lot of stuff on the fly, much as Ford did in 1974. Fourth, and I think most importantly, Ford had to take some early, bold steps to demonstrate his newfound authority, his command. Most notably, he had to prevent Nixon from secreting away from the White House all of the deposed president's papers.

Barack Obama is going to have a challenging first 31 days. In fact, as discussed in this Salon conversation I moderated that just published today, Obama will have a challenging first 100 days. Maybe Werth is worth a look for guidance, too. (And it would also be nice to go through at least one, 24-hour news cycle without hearing somebody make the "Team of Rivals" reference, wouldn't it?)


Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

MORE FROM Thomas Schaller

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