With former President Gerald Ford listening in the audience at Rackham Auditorium, former top presidential advisers discussed yesterday how policy is made in the White House. The event, titled “The Buck Stops Here: White House Decision Making From Gerald R. Ford to George W. Bush,” was part of the festivities for the dedication of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s new building.
David Gergen, who was an adviser to Ford as well as Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, began his speech by talking about the strong character of Ford.
“Certainly no president in my life has commanded as much respect … as this gentlemen has,” Gergen said of Ford. He then explained how Ford was selected vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned from the job. Gergen said Nixon called key members of Congress into his office to discuss a replacement, knowing that because of the Watergate scandal, Agnew’s successor would probably become the next president.
When Ford suggested John Connally, former governor of Texas, the Democratic leadership of Congress resisted. Finally, Nixon asked whom they had in mind. They suggested House Minority Leader Gerald Ford.
“There have only been two men ever chosen for the presidency because of character: Gerald Ford and George Washington,” Gergen said.
“What surprised me most about the presidency is that I had no idea the number of decisions and the magnitude of those decisions (the president) would be making every day,” said Roger Porter, former executive secretary of the president’s economic policy board during the Ford administration. He said he has participated in “well excess of 1,000 meetings” with numerous presidents.
“The successful decision makers are the ones who have a set of principles that are imbedded in terms of the long term view,” Porter said, referring to presidents who make decisions based on short-term political gains.
Also on the panel was Ann Lewis, director of communications for President Bill Clinton. Lewis mainly talked about the role of the White House staff in determining policy.
“Preparing information for the president of the United States … is the single most important task of the White House staff,” Lewis said.
Lewis said part of forming strong policy is getting outside opinions as well as listening to advisers. Clinton was a good policy maker because he had a “personal curiosity and hunger for information,” Lewis said.