Is it any wonder that in this era of rancorous politics one bipartisan collaboration is brought to you by the people whose job it was to help presidents entertain graciously?
Two former White House social secretaries — Lea Berman, who worked in the George W. Bush administration, and Jeremy Bernard, who was the Obamas’ party planner in chief — just inked a book deal for a manual on the seemingly lost art of being nice to people.
“Treating People Well” is due to publisher Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, next year.
Past White House social secretaries make up a sort of informal club, and Berman said she and Bernard, who left the White House last year after four years on the job, have long been friendly. But the idea to collaborate on a book came up when, seated next to each other at a lunch, they realized how many of their experiences had been similar, even though they had served in administrations with divergent political agendas.
“The White House is of course a very political environment,” Berman says. “But everyone, no matter what, does their best work when they come from a place of mutual respect, and that might be getting lost in American culture.”
At first the pair considered writing a straightforward entertaining guide, but they soon realized that that is a crowded market — and that deeper issues were at play. The first-time authors describe the project not as a guide to proper pinkie placement, but rather a how-to on human interactions peppered with anecdotes — both positive examples and cautionary tales — from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “People are so interested in the White House,” Bernard says. “And everything is magnified there … but the issues are applicable wherever you are, from Walmart to a law firm.”
For now, the two are pinging drafts back and forth from opposite coasts; Berman, who writes a blog about entertaining, America’s Table, is based in Washington and Bernard is in Los Angeles.
And the book might come just in time, with grade-school-worthy insults flying in the presidential debates.
“If a little book about being nice to people makes people realize that there is another way, I’d be happy,” Berman says.