Our friend Tevi Troy, author of the excellent What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted, has written a new book. It’s called Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office.
Tevi is a presidential historian and served as an aide to President George W. Bush. He knows whereof he speaks.
The book is just out and I haven’t read it. However, Tevi offers a preview in Politico.
Picking up on Hillary Clinton’s famous “3 a.m. phone call” ad, Tevi finds it “mostly myth to think that any president is ever asked to make critical decisions in the middle of the night.” Usually, there is little that can or must be done by the president so quickly as to warrant awakening the commander in chief, he contends.
The most famous “wake up” decision in presidential history was probably the decision of President Reagan’s staff not to wake up the president after two U.S. F-14 Tomcat fighters shot down two Libyan MIGs. As I recall, Reagan backed his staff’s decision saying that he needed to be rousted only if the Libyans had shot down our guys.
Nonetheless, the decision to let Reagan sleep generated criticism. Johnny Carson quipped: “There are only two reasons you wake President Reagan: World War III and if Hellcats of the Navy is on the Late Show.”
Since then, Tevi notes, presidents and their staffs have erred on the side of waking the commander-in-chief.
Staffers sometimes awaken the president to report good news. A Colonel Butterfield woke Abraham Lincoln up to report that the Union had won a battle, its first victory of the Civil War. It was the sixth such disturbance of the night.
At the other end of the seriousness spectrum, President Obama was awakened by staff to learn that he has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, says Tevi, “was probably as much of a surprise to him as it was to the rest of the world.”
It looks to me like Tevi’s book is must reading for American history buffs. Check out the Politico article and see whether you agree with me.