Howard Baker, who died this week at the age of 88, is being remembered as a great American statesman who gave a lifetime of service to the nation. But to many, his greatest service came was seeing the Reagan White House through troubled times.
After he represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate for three terms, Baker’s name often was tossed around as a future presidential candidate. He surprised many by joining the Reagan team as the president’s chief of staff during the height of the Iran-Contra scandal. During troubled times he helped put the Reagan revolution back on course.
In the Senate, Baker honed his reputation as a listener, a conciliator and a consensus-seeker. In the White House, he matched those skills with a commitment to serve his president and Reagan’s vision for a free, safe and prosperous nation.
When Baker came on board, President Ronald Reagan wrote in his private diary, “He’s going to be fine & there was a great feeling in the West Wing of improved morale.”
Reagan was right.
Later, Edwin Feulner, the president of The Heritage Foundation, declared “a lot of my conservative brethren who were skeptical of Baker 15 months ago have got to eat a little crow right now.”
By the time Baker was preparing to step down, Reagan was back on track crafting an historic agenda to change the course of the Cold War, launching a campaign in a speech as the Heritage Foundation for the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty with the Soviets and negotiating a $76 billion compromise to cut the budget deficit.
Baker’s contributions to Reagan’s success can’t be overvalued. Nor can his long career of public service both before and after.