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Bit Player

My Life with Presidents and Ideas

By Stephen Hess
Front Cover: Bit Player

An insightful, often humorous look at how Washington works, or doesn’t

The title “Bit Player” perfectly reflects Stephen Hess’s long and distinguished career as a Washington insider. As a 25-year-old, recently discharged Army private in 1958, he suddenly found himself as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s speechwriting team that ultimately helped draft the famed “Farewell Address” warning of the influence of the “military industrial complex.” Then over the next two decades, Hess played bit roles aiding Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan—along the way observing up-close those presidents and many other senior political leaders. During his subsequent four-and-a-half decades at the Brookings Institution, Hess was well-positioned to monitor and comment on the achievements and failures of successive administrations.

This memoir by a certified member of Washington’s old-guard establishment is rich with insight into contemporary American democracy, poignant in its reflections of avoidable missteps by even the best and most experienced leaders, and consistently good-humored in the author’s self-awareness of his own role behind the scenes of political power.

Now in his mid-eighties, still involved at Brookings as a “senior fellow emeritus,” Hess uses this memoir to look back at what he describes as concentric circles of research, travel, advising, writing, and teaching. But more than just a memoir, Bit Player offers deeply informed commentary on the major political actors and seminal events in the nation’s capital over the past six decades.

One of the foremost authorities on media and government in the United States, Stephen Hess is a senior fellow emeritus in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution. He first joined Brookings in 1972 and was distinguished research professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington University (2004–2009). Hess served on White House staff during the Eisenhower and Nixon presidencies and as advisor to Presidents Ford and Carter.

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