The Other Fellow May Be Right

The Civility of Howard Baker

Non-Fiction - Gov/Politics
218 Pages
Reviewed on 03/30/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Golder Hazelton for Readers' Favorite

The Other Fellow May Be Right: The Civility of Howard Baker by Bill Haltom focuses on the amazing life of Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. of Tennessee, whose political career was built and sustained on a foundation of civility that turned enemies into friends and bridged mammoth gaps in ideology. Haltom relates the highlights of Senator Baker’s life and career with a kind of grounded reverence that commands respect for the writing, for the author, and for Senator Baker. In our current political and social climate of polar opposition, with our elected leaders making decisions based on curried favor and special-interest alliances rather than common sense and the common good, Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr.’s time-tested model of the friendly handshake, a warm smile, listening intently to his colleague’s ideas and initiatives, and searching, always searching for common ground and common interests seems like science fiction; in truth, it is precisely the kind of approach we need to begin to turn the tide of polarization that plagues our current political system and pervades our society.

Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr., as portrayed by Bill Haltom, was a natural-born diplomat and a true gentleman – the kind that has seemingly gone the way of the dinosaur in our modern age. Haltom doesn’t only write about the amazing things that Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. did; he writes about how the senator managed to do them and, in so doing, Haltom opens the door for others to learn invaluable lessons from Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr.’s exemplary life and career. It is a very rare thing to encounter a book that has the potential to generate positive change on a wide scale. Bill Haltom’s The Other Fellow May Be Right: The Civility of Howard Baker, like the remarkable man it celebrates, has many powerful lessons to teach and many bridges to build for all who are willing to read its contents, to learn, and to grow.

Jamie Michele

The Other Fellow May Be Right by Bill Haltom explores Senator Howard H. Baker Jr.'s life, career, and dedication to civility and bipartisanship in American politics. Haltom covers Baker's early life, military service, and transition into law and politics, which instilled values of teamwork and civility. Baker's successful campaigns, unique use of television in politics, and leadership style characterized by active listening and civility are addressed. Baker's pivotal role in legislative battles, including the Watergate hearings and the passage of significant environmental protection laws, is detailed. Haltom also discusses Baker's involvement in issues such as the sale of AWACS jets to Saudi Arabia and Baker's diplomatic work as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Haltom underscores Baker's lasting legacy through the Howard H. Baker Jr. School of Public Policy and Public Affairs, promoting civility and addressing pressing policy challenges.

I really enjoy political biographies, so when I randomly came across The Other Fellow May Be Right by Bill Haltom, I was immediately drawn to it. By the time I was born, Senator Howard H. Baker was already deep into his career, meaning that I had no idea who he was prior to Haltom's work. While I might not align with his political positions, I certainly appreciate Baker's approach and the integrity Halton describes him as having. This appears to be the approach Baker took with his constituents, where he is described as an active listener who gathered information from the voices of constituents, colleagues, and even lobbyists to make informed decisions. Baker gave the sense that people had been heard, even if he took a different position. The standouts to me are the insights from Haltom into the inner workings of the Senate and the decision-making processes. He describes how Baker engaged with freshman Republican senators and committee chairmen, fostering teamwork and collaboration and offering a glimpse into the mechanics of the legislative process. Overall, this is a well-written and thoroughly engaging biography, and I think others will feel the same. Recommended.

Constance Stadler

On first consideration, the concept of 'strategic civility’ in government may seem a foreign concept because, as the author of The Other Fellow Might Be Right, Bill Haltom, amply demonstrates, it is virtually non-existent in contemporary American politics. In that sense, the career of Howard Baker is not only a profile of an exemplary American leader and public servant who served his country in an array of capacities; it harkens back to a time when authentic representation and constructive collegiality were the norm. The impact of his concept of the requisites of governance resonated in the Senate for nearly a score of years, where his involvement was critical in addressing important turning points in the 20th century. Whether the cause was civil rights, environmental activism, preventing a government shutdown, or securing national concord in Latin America and the Middle East, his commitment to developing consensus despite, at times, seemingly insurmountable odds was the primary reason for his many successes. Although prominently known for asking the most penetrating question in the Watergate hearings, the book repeatedly demonstrates that honest inquiry and activism were always core principles. As Chief of Staff for Ronald Reagan, he was credited by many for avoiding possible impeachment by insisting on total transparency and waiving executive privilege in the Iran-Contra hearings.

The Other Fellow Might Be Right is written in a way that complements the subject; low-key and credible. Baker’s indebtedness to his father and father-in-law, Sen. Everett Dirksen, is underscored. While many political profiles focus on episodic excellence, in the case of Howard Baker, Bill Haltom demonstrates not only his breadth of service but also how he has never compromised his principles. A moment that serves as an apt metaphor is the passage of the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia. The most fervent opponent, Senator Robert Packwood, was deeply disappointed. By sending a rose to the senator's wife, who was sitting in the Senate gallery, it was evident that there was no motive save demonstrating respect, understanding, and care. At the inauguration of the Baker Policy Center, co-founder Senator Tom Daschle assessed what Howard Baker’s years of service meant: “Whether he was representing Tennessee in the Senate or America in Japan or steering the Reagan White House, Howard Baker was able to help everyone find common ground, without anyone feeling they were sacrificing common ground because he is a true conciliator." If that was all we knew about Howard Baker, it would offer ample reasons to read this book, if only to understand that ethical politics can and has existed, an understanding that would be restorative for many Americans.