Saturday, September 8, 2012

The 3 a.m. president ... not whom you might think

Most of us who've worked in large organizations, whether public or private, know that the process for making big decisions can be surprising. No matter how many formal procedures are established, decision-making often comes down to the whims of people on whom the final choice depends. And the White House is no exception.

In his 1997 book Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter: Five Presidents and Other Political Adventures, former presidential speechwriter James C. Humes, who served in the Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, offered some interesting insight into this phenomenon:

“Sometimes – even if the general details of a legislative message have been hammered out – unagreed matters remain because of fights between competing departments. As the various drafts of the proposed message are relayed to various cabinet heads for approval, one cabinet secretary knocks out one work or item and his rival puts it back in. A change goes in – then it’s taken out.  … The hours pass from late night into the wee hours of the next day, when the president is scheduled to deliver the message. Finally, the department heads to go bed and final decision is left to the (speech)writer – hence the 3 a.m. president," Humes wrote.

“I remember one message on mass transit by President Nixon. The bone of contention was funding” from either the gasoline tax or general revenues, he wrote. “I had to decide. I chose general revenues. Strangely, my decision drew no backlash. Everyone assumed the president had made the decision.”

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