Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Rhymes with Fighter: Clayton Yeutter, American Statesman (Nebraska, 2021) by Joseph Weber.
About the Book:
From a hardscrabble childhood in the Great Depression on the dusty plains of rural Nebraska, Clayton Yeutter (1930–2017) rose to work for four U.S. presidents, serving in the cabinets of two of them. His challenge, posed by one of President Ronald Reagan’s aides, was this: go and change the world. As U.S. trade representative he did just that, opening the global trading arena with bold efforts that led to NAFTA, the creation of the World Trade Organization, and extraordinary growth in cross-border business.
A Word from the Author:
It was a joy to research and write Rhymes with Fighter: Clayton Yeutter, American Statesman, my biography of a most distinguished Nebraskan. The Press published this book in December 2021, a bit less than three years after I began the project at the request of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, his Chief of Staff Michael Zeleny, Dr. Yeutter’s widow, Cristena, and officials at the university’s Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance.
As I discovered, Dr. Yeutter was extraordinary. He grew up in the Depression on a family farm in Nebraska and earned an undergraduate degree in agriculture, a Ph.D. in agricultural economics and a law degree at the university. Afterward, his career took him to the heights of global achievement, as he worked for four U.S. Presidents, notably clearing the way to increased global trade as President Ronald Reagan’s U.S. Trade Representative and later cementing the process as President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Agriculture and Domestic Counselor. By dint of his warm Midwestern personality, forceful intellect and tariff-busting negotiating skill, Dr. Yeutter was largely responsible for the explosion of world commerce from the 1980s until now, a process that has brought unparalleled prosperity around the world.
It was thrilling to comb through the trove of documents that Dr. Yeutter left to the archives at the University of Nebraska library. Every so often, I would handle a personal note from Reagan or Bush, to whom Dr. Yeutter was especially close both personally and ideologically. As I saw from his earliest days in government service – first in Nebraska and then in Washington — Dr. Yeutter was a moderate Republican, which suited him well when he became head of the Republican National Committee at a time when it needed a steady hand.
He had no use for extremists in the party, whether they included a former KKK leader whom he and Bush helped marginalize or President Donald J. Trump, whose election he opposed. It was encouraging to study the experiences of a GOP leader who believed government could serve useful ends for people, whether in helping the least fortunate or in expanding economic growth. As I reviewed his records and interviewed former colleagues, friends and family, I was struck by how much of a positive difference in ordinary people’s lives one man in the right place at the right time can make.
Dr. Yeutter died in 2017. He made many things better for many people and helped lead his party to stability and moderation. If he were with us today, I expect he would work to right that troubled ship again. Certainly, the record of his work can still serve as a beacon for leaders of all stripes.
“Clayton Yeutter used to tell reporters his name rhymed with ‘fighter.’ Joseph Weber captures the negotiating chops and Nebraska-sized personality of the poor farm boy who became President Reagan’s trade-warrior-in-chief and President George H. W. Bush’s secretary of agriculture.”—Peter Coy, economics editor, Bloomberg Businessweek
“Clayton Yeutter was a pragmatic political entrepreneur who, as Republican National Committee chairman, managed the delicate balance between the growing factions within a party in desperate need of leadership and rebuilding.”—Michael S. Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman and former lieutenant governor of Maryland
“Clayton Yeutter played an indispensable role in American history when he helped negotiate the 1988 Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement. What followed was the more expansive 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement and a toppling of dominoes around the world as nation after nation reduced trade barriers. Joseph Weber’s biography of Yeutter is a thoughtful examination of a statesman at the forefront of this and other debates critical to U.S. politics and policy.”—James A. Baker III, former U.S. secretary of the treasury
“Joseph Weber has captured the essence of an endangered species—the principled Republican moderate. Clayton Yeutter believed that progress requires engagement and compromise, and he used his keen intellect and Nebraska know-how to bring our world closer together. This perceptive biography reminds us of the days when ‘globalization’ wasn’t a dirty word and when ‘international trade’ was considered an economic building block.”—Richard S. Dunham, co-director of the Global Business Journalism program at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and former president of the National Press Club
“Joseph Weber’s detailed biography of Clayton Yeutter brilliantly captures the outstanding character, warm personality, and enormous talent of a man who has so richly contributed to our nation and its values. It is particularly timely in today’s contentious political climate and is a must-read for aspiring future leaders.”—Carla A. Hills, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development and U.S. trade representative