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Ken Duberstein Recalls Reagan in 'The Presidents' Gatekeepers'

Image: Ken Duberstein Recalls Reagan in 'The Presidents' Gatekeepers' President Ronald Reagan meets with outgoing Chief of Staff Howard Baker, left, and incoming Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein in the Oval Office of the White House on June 14, 1988.

By Andrea Billups   |   Monday, 16 Sep 2013 10:12 AM

Ken Duberstein, who served in both of President Ronald Reagan's two terms, says Reagan's populist diplomacy skills and commitment to civility in government still resonate as important lessons for the nation's lawmakers and leaders.

"Ronald Reagan believed in the art of governing. The art of governing is you don't get 100 percent of what you want," Duberstein told Newsmax. "You get 80 percent and then you come back the next year for the next 20 percent.

"Right now, we are a country that is 100 percent or nothing, but we've got to get back to the fact that compromise is not a four-letter word," said Duberstein, who completed the last two years of his presidency as Reagan's chief of staff. "Certainly principled compromise is something that is important to move this country forward."

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The passionate and thoughtful Duberstein joins all 20 of the living White House chiefs of staff who participated in the Discovery Channel's new program, "The Presidents' Gatekeepers."

From Rahm Emanuel and Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld and Leon Panetta, the series offers an up-close look at the men who kept the commander-in-chief's biggest secrets.

With a job that required near 24-7 focus and immense loyalty, the men share amusing, tough and some surprising stories that shape history over 50 years and nine administrations.

The documentary was produced by the filmmaking team of brothers Gedeon and Julea Naudet and news producer Chris Whipple, and White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, whose photographs have been used in the project.

Duberstein, 69, who now runs his own Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, The Duberstein Group, Inc., with six partners while sitting on the boards of several major U.S. companies including Dell and Boeing, calls it an honor to have served the president and to participate in the film. His own warmth and patriotic charisma shine in his segment, which opens a window on the heart of Reagan and his era in Washington.

Duberstein says cherishes what he learned from Reagan's immense wisdom and that he had such a front seat to history

"The fact that he had confidence in me and my judgment… I'm just a poor kid from Brooklyn…. It says something about only in America," Duberstein said.

"I think this program shows the reality of how the White House works or doesn't work," said Duberstein. "I served in the first term and most people [say], 'If you worked in the White House once, it's an honor, but if you go back a second time, you are a glutton for punishment.'"

But in typical Reagan form, the Gipper made the invitation personal, Duberstein recounted. "He said, 'Honestly, Nancy and I want you to come home for the last two years of the administration.' And of course you say 'yes!'"

As was often the case, Reagan knew best.

"It was the best professional decision of my life to be at his right hand when he was dealing with Gorbachev or Margaret Thatcher or Helmut Kohl," Duberstein noted. "As Ronald Reagan said, we started out to change our country and we ended up changing the world."

Duberstein hopes the current crop of political leadership will value of civility as they make crucial decisions. He eschewed the notion the leaders with different viewpoints cannot listen respectfully and disagree.

"I think President Reagan, unlike many current politicians, would be appealing to people's hopes and not their fears. Their optimism, and not their pessimism. He would always believe that America's best days are yet ahead, not in the past. We could use a bit of that right now."

"He dealt with Gorbachev and we had so many breakthroughs on strategic arms negotiations, but it was always 'trust but verify.' He stressed verification because if you are dealing across the aisle with somebody, you better make sure not to simply trust them. Again, something that could be very useful today."

Show clips, photos, bonus interviews and programming details about "The Presidents' Gatekeepers" are featured on the Discovery Channel's website.

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