U.S. News and Word Report White House correspondent Ken Walsh was on last night talking about his new book, Prisoners of the White House–The Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership. It is a fascinating account of how easy it is for presidents to lose touch with how everyday Americans think, act and live.
Starting with FDR, he breaks presidents into groups of who was able to stay in touch and who wasn’t. He gives high marks to FDR, Truman, Reagan, Clinton and Obama. Low marks go to LBJ, Nixon, Carter and the Bushes.
He notes that it takes an almost heroic effort to stay in touch and that a president has to use several avenues, including input from the first spouse. But he writes that it’s hard to give a president tough feedback, and that it’s common for an underling to promise to give the boss straight talk and then quiver in his presence–particularly in the intimidating setting of the Oval Office.
It’s a far cry from the days of Lincoln when practically anybody could walk right into the White House and talk to the President. Poor Abe only had two rooms to himself (and I assume one of them was the Lincoln bedroom!)
See what Walsh had to say about the influence of Valerie Jarrett and what he calls the president’s gaggle of “idolizers” who may not always level with him by watching the full interview: