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James Baker

updated 12/24/1984 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/24/1984 01:00AM

He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the portrait grow old...bear the burden of his passions and his sins...[and] be seared with the lines of suffering and thought.
—Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray

Who hasn't wondered how Ronald Reagan remains so unnaturally youthful? Millions of men, not to mention frustrated Democrats, asked themselves this year what elixir—Grecian Formula, workout sweat or the essence of an untroubled mind—has kept the presidential head so ruddy, his 73-year-old demeanor so robust? Wonder no more. Merely observe the above photographs, taken in 1980 and 1984, of Reagan's chief of staff, James A. Baker III, now 54. Note the loss of hair, the graying of what is left, the incipient wattles. The conclusion is obvious: Ronald Reagan, great delegator that he is, has delegated the aging process to Jim Baker.

Some might dispute the theory. "It's unfair to pick out Baker," says Washington Post columnist Lou Cannon. "He hasn't aged any more than the other aides." But most admit it would be a wonder if the hard-nosed but gentlemanly Texan did not show the rigors of a job White House Deputy Press Secretary Peter Roussel calls "a plain bunbuster." As right-hand man for a hands-off President, Baker could fill his 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., seven-day workweek just coordinating Reagan's lieutenants and waging campaigns on Capitol Hill. But he is an activist chief on issues from the defense budget to tax policy. A moderate in most White House debates, he adds to his stress load—not to mention the barrage of criticism from the far right—by opposing (and in some cases, deposing) the President's True Believers.

For Baker 1984 presented all the usual challenges plus the political campaign. "People are doling out credit all over town for helping the President's election," says Roussel, "but next to Ronald Reagan, Jim Baker deserves second honors." The chief of staff hasn't stopped to smell the victory roses. He is already preparing for Reagan's 1986 budget—both the White House wrangling that will precede it (Baker favors some defense cuts) and the inevitable Congressional battle when it is unveiled. He will approach both fights with toughness and good humor. If they are winnable, he will probably win them. And if the effort means doing a little more Dorian graying for the President, well, Baker doesn't seem to mind.

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