James A. Baker, Hillary Clinton are Modern-Day Clark Cliffords

Clifford was the gold standard of White House advisers.

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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.

The difference between Clifford and, say, Karl Rove or Rahm Emanuel is that Clifford advised several administrations and helped draw up many key initiatives like NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, pushing to recognize Israel, and ending the Vietnam War. In his later years, the political Brahmin played a major social and fundraising role for the Democrats from his perch in the nation's capital. "There are not a ton of people who've had that kind of exposure," says Acacia.

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.

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