By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
There might never be a freewheeling White House adviser like Clark Clifford again. Having served four presidents—Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter—the Hollywood-handsome Clifford had carte blanche to command national security and foreign policy as the Democratic fixer until he was tripped up by the 1991 BCCI bank scandal. "I don't think anyone has had that level of influence," says historian John Acacia, who has just penned the authoritative biography Clark Clifford: The Wise Man of Washington. In fact, says Acacia, Clifford, who died in October 1998, was the "prototype" for the influential lawyers and political aides now populating Washington.
But that doesn't mean Washington doesn't have some contemporary Cliffords, says Acacia. He cites people like James A. Baker, who worked for Reagan and George H. W. Bush; U.S. News's David Gergen, who played for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also advised her husband's administration; and maybe even John Podesta, the Obama adviser and former Clinton chief of staff. Still, says Acacia, "relative to comparable and contemporary figures, I think Clifford stacks up rather well."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.