Author Series: Kathryn McGarr

As a part of the annual Author Series, Kathryn McGarr ’03 visited Hockaday on Jan. 9.

Kathryn J. McGarr ‘03, author of “The Whole Damn Deal: Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics,” visited Hockaday on Wednesday as one of the four authors visiting during Hockaday’s annual Author Series week. McGarr’s biography is about her great uncle, Robert Strauss, former Democratic Party Chairman and former ambassador to the Soviet Union and later Russia.

McGarr is a graduate of Stanford University and the Columbia University School of Journalism. In addition to interning at Politico, she worked on the John Kerry presidential campaign in 2004.

McGarr hadn’t intended to write this book at first—it started just as an idea for the book-writing course she took at Columbia. After coming up with a full proposal and sample chapter, she ended up sending it to different agents and eventually had it picked up.

“It was very accidental that this became a book,” she said. “This definitely gave me a crash course in politics and the history of politics.”

Strauss being her family member, McGarr had access to a lot of information and files that others in the past who tried writing a biography about Strauss didn’t have. She dug into national archives, Strauss’s personal papers and his FBI file.

McGarr also had the opportunity to interview many well-renowned politicians including Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Bob Ruben, George H. W.  Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker and, most notably of all, former President Jimmy Carter.

“If I hadn’t been related to Strauss, people like Jimmy Carter would not have let me interview them in person,” McGarr said.

McGarr’s interview and research process for this book was extensive. She said she drove for hours through Texas, Georgia, Maryland and other places to conduct several interviews of people who worked with Strauss.

McGarr said that true journalism, shoe-leather journalism, was “never being satisfied with the answer you already have even until you’ve really tracked down the last fact and just never stopping your reporting. You’re reporting always goes on.”

Strauss was known in Texas and Washington D.C. for his great sense of humor and being an “old-school politician.” His loyalty remained strong to his party and to the administration he worked under.

“He was known for being a practical politician and that mostly meant that he did not care for policy. He felt strongly about good government and a bureaucracy that would work,” said McGarr. “He first and foremost and was a Democrat and was loyal to his party and then when working for a president, would follow the policy of the administration. He really thought it was important for policy to stop at the water’s edge, and that’s really important and relevant today.”

Strauss was ambassador to the Soviet Union during its collapse in 1991 and then served as ambassador to Russia under first Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

“He went in thinking he would be working with Gorbachev but then left working with Yeltsin,” McGarr said, “and he managed that transition remarkably well.”

McGarr said that writing this book has turned her away from social history, which is what she studied at Stanford, and more towards political history. She is currently working on her PhD at Princeton University and is possibly looking into party politics or politics in the late 20th century for her dissertation and potentially her second book.

-Anisha