Baker to discuss previous 3 presidents



Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer

On Saturday at the 3 p.m. Contemporary Issues Forum in the Hall of Philosophy, author and New York Times reporter Peter Baker will let the audience look through a political kaleidoscope and show them a new pattern.

His discussion “Clinton, Bush and Obama: Where Do We Go From Here?” may unsettle hyper-partisans as he offers the opportunity to consider the similarities and differences of those three presidents as they navigate a new era.

“These men are the first of the post World War II and post-Cold War generation. I will talk about them as human beings, flawed and admirable,” Baker said.

As White House correspondent covering the Clinton administration, and since 2008 for The New York Times, Baker has had a front row seat in the theater that is the White House. But he views the presidents with a benign lens, untinted by political cynicism.

“A lot of decisions come from a desire to help change the country,” Baker said.

From Baker’s perspective, all three men have had to deal with polarization and partisan politics, and all have found ways around congressional gridlock. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush in particular have used executive fiat to alter laws in important ways.

“The problem with executive action is that it can be reversed when the next administration begins,” he said.

The impact of a changed media, which Baker describes as “breathtaking,” has affected the three presidencies. In a noteworthy aside, he said there is a value in the old school of journalism, in which there was a difference between pundit and reporter, when news reporting was evenhanded and reporters were not taking sides.

“That seems to be an out-of-favor thought,” he said.

Baker takes a historic, long view of the past three presidents. He will share his observation that Bush and Obama share some similarities. One of them is the two presidents’ insistence that meetings begin on time. The others are more intriguing.

Baker describes this year’s election as being “on a knife’s edge.”

“At the election’s core is a philosophically stark choice about the role of government,” he said.

It will be Baker’s second visit to Chautauqua. Last summer he was a member of the Contemporary Issues Forum audience when his wife, Susan Glasser, spoke. They co-authored Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution. He is the author of The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton and is writing a new book about the Bush-Cheney White House, which he said will avoid the “classic comics” approach.

Baker’s style tends to the objectivity of the reporter rather than the opinion of the pundit. He won the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency and the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award for presidential news coverage.

The Chautauqua Women’s Club sponsors the Contemporary Issues Forum.