Secretary James A. Baker III never planned to go into public service. The advice he was given as a young man was simple: work hard, study, and stay out of politics. This, he says, was his mantra for the first 40 years of his life. But life has a strange way of leading you in directions you never intended. After his wife died at the age of 38, a friend approached him with a proposition to help him move beyond his grief. The man needed someone to help him run for Senate.
From that beginning, Baker would go on to serve as under secretary of commerce to President Gerald Ford and would eventually become the White House chief of staff and senior counselor to President George H.W. Bush. In between, he ran presidential campaigns for both Ford and Bush, as well as for Ronald Reagan.
The story of his early political career was one of several (including the fact that he used to be a Democrat!) that Baker shared with the audience in Swasey Chapel last night as part of the Mary Elizabeth Babcock Lectureship in the American Conservative Tradition.
And despite the media’s gloomy outlook on America, Baker used the platform to assure Denison students, faculty, staff and community members that he still believes there’s hope.
“Despite our current difficulties—and we have some serious difficulties both economically and politically—we are still, by far, the strongest country,” he said. Perhaps, he suggested, the rise of China, India and others is not about America falling behind. It’s about those countries adopting our market paradigm and catching up.
He told the audience that, at 81, he’s seen this country go through some tough and challenging times, and age, he said, has given him insight.
“As long as we stay true to our American characteristics,” he said, pointing to Americans’ resilience, pragmatism, creativity, and optimism, “America’s future will be every bit as bright as its past.”