Saturday, October 15, 2005

Speaking of Supreme Court Appointments: One Will Live in My Memory

The hubbub over the latest Bush Supreme Court appointment prompts me to recall when a Nixon nominee played a serious role in my life—a man I never met, Clement Haynesworth. It started like this. I had been working at The Quaker Oats Company since 1964, having started what I thought was an innovative program to encourage Quaker employees to get involved in urban affairs in Chicago. One feature of the program—which involved tutoring of disadvantaged kids, a nutrition education program and involvement on Chicago’s South and West Sides—had to do with entrepreneurship. We were literally one of the first companies to provide training to poor people in how to run food stores, with not only training sessions but people who could give them advice on how to raise capital to start their own business. Immediately it became a hot item. It was the dawn of the so-called Black Capitalism craze and Quaker got a good deal of press coverage for it.

We started the program in 1966; that same year Richard Nixon had started what many believed was a quixotic enterprise, trying to convince people that he, after having lost the presidency by an eyelash in 1960, and the governorship of California by a substantial number of votes in 1962, was not a re-tread for the Republican nomination in 1968. I had always been hanging around people with political ideas and one of them was a fellow who was on Chuck Percy’s staff, John McLaughrey. McLaughrey was one of the very few geniuses I have ever met, a young, rawboned guy with blond hair who strode around the office in jeans (when jeans were not very fashionable, called “overalls” by the naifs of the time). McLaughrey was an anomaly: he was passionately interested in minorities but believed just as strongly in free enterprise. He put the two concepts together and sold Percy on the idea of a “Community Self-Determination Act” which touted blacks, Hispanics and Indians taking control of their own lives and pooling resources with private sector entities (along with some government tax credits) to revolutionize the ghettoes and barrios. He was a powerful speaker and Percy bought the idea—up to a point.

I bought it, too. I thought I saw our supermarket training program fitting into the whole and John and I would talk about it occasionally. A disciple of John’s, one Bill Geimer, was powerfully interested in the idea. Anyhow, after having told the press that it didn’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, Nixon decided to give the media another opportunity and announced his candidacy in 1967. His opponent for the nomin/ation was Nelson Rockefeller. The next thing I heard was that John McClaughrey was working for Nixon. How influential he was I don’t know but in the midst of the campaign—with Bobby Kennedy talking ghetto revolution and Rockefeller pressing for more compassion toward minorities—Richard Nixon of all people captured the imagination of the minority community by disavowing government programs for minorities which he pointed out hadn’t worked…and announced a program of “Black Capitalism” in concert with a few black leaders including Roy Innis of CORE. The Nixon proposal was not fleshed out but it evoked strong support from black leaders and Hispanics. When Nixon was elected in 1968, he promptly forgot about the program until someone reminded him that he had to do something about his pledge. Indeed. Howard Samuels, who was LBJ’s head of the Small Business Administration, had pioneered special loans and other programs for minorities. Nixon had to do something. But what?

While Nixon was pondering what to do, his secretary of commerce, Maurice Stans felt he had an idea. Stans had been budget director under Eisenhower and was an early Nixon fund-raiser, had tried in vain to be secretary of the treasury but Nixon always snubbed him. He felt Stans was a loyal, not too bright functionary. He named him to the then lowest cabinet post, Commerce, and on the night he announced his cabinet picks on live television, he forgot Stans’ name. That hurt Stans greatly but he determined that under his aegis Commerce would have something sexier than the patent bureau, the weather bureau, the census, the bureau of standards and the national oceanic administration.

Stans reasoned: why don’t I lobby to start an agency of the federal government to fulfill Nixon’s pledge? To people who said the SBA was ideally equipped, Stans rebuffed the idea. It was no good; no good, it was clear, because he didn’t control the SBA. He had inherited, in fact, one agency that was ideally suited to fund business: the Economic Development Administration, a hangover from LBJ. Stans took the very little clout that he had with Nixon and argued that yet another agency should be set up to handle minority enterprise—the Office of Minority Business Enterprise in Commerce. It was one of his more cynical ideas: create a new agency with the hope that being new, it could get some press attention. Thus Stans, a so-called conservative, one who had often called for more efficiency and an end of duplication in government, was now duplicating the Small Business Administration and his own EDA by starting y/et another one in Commerce.

To get around the conservatives in the administration, Stans had to agree that OMBE would have no granting power of its own and would merely coordinate the 116 federal programs that funded business enterprise. The most important thing was to develop a strategy for minority business and allow the SBA and other agencies—as well a//s the private sector—to join in a concerted push. Somewhere John McClaughrey had been pushing the idea: to Stans, to a distinctly unsympathetic John Ehrlichman, to a hostile Bob Haldemann until he finally found a taker: Leonard Garment, Nixon’s old law partner who had just been named Nixon’s general counsel (the same general job that Harriet Miers has today).

The Nixon administration was rocketing along early in 1969, with Nixon trying to end the war in Vietnam and bolstering the economy when out of the blue I get a phone call at Quaker Oats from a guy named Gleason who asked if I would be interested in going to work for Nixon. Not really but I said I’d talk to him the next time I go to Washington. By the time I sat down with Gleason, I had decided that if, indeed, I would go to work for him, I’d like to take the post of Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare for Legislation. The job would be, I thought, duck soup for me: lobbying the Congress for programs that had some meaning. And I was a lobbyist, after all. “No, no, no,” said Gleason. “What we have in mind for you is Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce for Minority Enterprise. Aren’t you familiar with Black Capitalism?”

I said yes, I had some familiarity with some programs I was running in Chicago. Then Gleason told one of the biggest whoppers that he calculated would be sure to snare the unwary. The president himself, he said, is aware of you—do you know that? To my credit, I scoffed. Gleason dropped the act and then said, “It’s, you know, a kind of pioneering job. You know we Republicans have missed the boat on civil rights. But we don’t have to miss the boat on ownership. As business-centered Republicans, we’re suited to the task. And while I can now confess that I stretched it a bit to say Nixon had heard of you, I can say that if you take this job, you’d be laying the groundwork for minority economic development so that future generations yet unborn will bless the name Nixon and your own name as well.”

You must remember that I was a wee broth of a lad then—well, 41, married and the father of three—soon to be four. And I should have known better than to give up a perfectly good job at Quaker Oats for what turned out to be a maelstrom between those in the administration who wanted to pursue a southern strategy where civil rights and black ownership are downgraded and those idealists who wanted to build a new wing of the Republican party centered on age-old conservative principles of ownership.

There were four guys who were vying for the job and in interviews I beat all of them out. I convinced Stans I was the guy but on the way home to Chicago I was torn: he hadn’t convinced me he was sincere about the program aside from building an empire so that he could be boosted to secretary of the treasury in the second term. I left Quaker with grim forboding: feeling that if I chickened out and didn’t take it I’d always regret the chance I had, and sure at the bottom of my heart that Stans was the coldest fish I ever saw, a wall-eyed pike who could easily step over the bodies of those he had slain in bureaucratic wars to advance himself. And I felt I could easily become one of those bodies.

I was sworn in as Assistant Secretary on April 1, 1969—April Fool’s Day which told me something. From the very day I started, I knew it had been a mistake. Stans was totally uninterested in any new ideas. There was no contact with the President whatsoever. Every time I went to the White House to talk to staffers, I was viewed coldly by them as the guy who could easily torpedo the plan that had elected Nixon in the first place—the southern strategy. “Do you think Strom Thurmond is going to look favorably on you trying to start businesses for blacks in South Carolina?” one said. “Strom put his name on the line for Nixon and his constituency isn’t exactly yours, Roeser.” At the same time, my memos and ideas were finding a repository in Stans’ wastebasket. I got the then Big 3 auto makers to sign up 25 dealership opportunities for qualifying minorities—a total of 100 in one fell swoop—only to find that Stans was outraged because putting even the slightest pressure on them would jeopardize his relations with the company CEOs for 1972 campaign donations. The office I headed was a sham, a charade and I had hired people who left their own jobs to join me for what had proved to be a miserable fraud.

I started to put pressure on Stans in the Commerce Department to fulfill my mandate only to be told that this was not the way to play ball. At the same time, trying to coordinate all the federal programs that give assistance t to industry and bargain for minorities was getting me in hot water with every agency head in town, as well as snotty calls from Ehrlichman at the White House.

What to do? The only thing that was left to me was a mandate contained in Executive Order 11458 which set up by office by presidential fiat. It said that my job was to prepare a strategy for the president the United States—a strategy for minority business enterprise. I decided to do that well and get the best minds I could find from the private sector as well as government and try to get the strategy paper to the president—following which he would either buy it and with it me, or veto it and with it me. In any event, I had no choice. So with about 15 people we started discussing a national strategy for minority enterprise for the United States of America. It became so fascinating that I plumb tended to forget my woes in government. All the while I was having to testify before hostile committees of the Congress, a Congress controlled by the Democrats.

The Congress came in two sections where I was concerned. First were the Democrats who were mad that Nixon had stolen what they believed was an idea for minorities belonging to them. Second were the Republicans, mostly apathetic because they weren’t nuts about minorities anyhow and felt anything I would do could jeopardize the white votes of t he south. My only friends were liberal Republicans—Jacob Javits and Chuck Percy. I wasn’t their cup of tea ideologically but I was very glad to see them in any committee hearing. All the while I was testifying, I was fighting with the White House Republicans and the Democrats in Congress. The only peace I had was when we were tooling up the Strategy. Then, you guessed it, more trouble loomed.

A very good friend of mine in the bureaucracy—a careerist—came in to see me and told me the bad news. “Stans is preparing to fire you because you’re not what he expected—someone who would do what he’s told and nothing more.” I asked how he knew. “Easy,” he said. “I’ve been a bureaucrat here for 30 years. When the Secretary prepares to fire a political appointee, he has to fill out some papers. I saw t hem. The paper starts up on the 5th floor where he signs it, stating that he’s not firing you because of race, color creed or anything like that. Then the paper makes it way through a labyrinth to the office of the Commerce general counsel.. It stays there on the average of a week or so, maybe two. Then it—but why go into it? You’re a dead one. I’ve never seen anybody where the firing process has begun who has survived.”

Like a man who was given a death sentence, I asked: How much time do I have? He said, “oh, I’d say you’ve got three weeks, maybe four weeks at the most.” I said that this would not be enough time to finish our strategy paper to give to the president. He said, “Are you nuts? You’re a dead man! Here you are, thinking of getting a strategy paper to the president when you’re getting canned! I’m doing you a favor, my friend by telling you this. You now have four weeks to find another job!”

But I wanted to finish the strategy paper. We were running figures and statistics on early, slowed down Commerce computers, were busily getting information from Census. At the most I needed three months. So I pondered. And while I pondered I kept on going to the Secretary’s staff meetings where I was getting glowered at by His Eminence himself. One morning as I sat doodling on a notepad at the Secretary’s meeting, he said something that caused me to listen carefully.

Stans said slowly with great emphasis: Let me tell you that there is going to be a great deal of controversy for all of us in the administration. The President”—and here he seemingly raised his eyes to heaven—“the President has named an outstanding jurist to the Supreme Court, a man by the name of Clement Haynesworth of South Carolina. The Democrats in the Senate will try to say that he is a racist because he belonged to a restricted country club or other. Civil rights groups and labor will be lobbying against him. The reason I am telling you is this: All of you have blacks working for you in your agencies. They will feel the pressure put on them by the civil rights groups and labor. When that occurs, some of your black employees may criticize the president. This is to tell you not to worsen any public relations problems by letting them agitate you to censure them, or censor them or in any way offend them. Worse of all would be if you would attempt to fire them—if they are political appointees—for insubordination. That would play into the hands of the Washington Post and the other media organs.

That was in Spring. I checked with my sources on Capitol Hill and learned that the entire Senate confirmation process would have to take a matter of months, with long Judiciary committee hearings and fireworks every day. At the same time, my bureaucrat friend was telling me that my termination papers were being rushed. So I had to act. I wangled a speaking date at the National Business League, an organization of so-so value which featured black businessmen who since the days of Calvin Coolidge had been trying to lobby for programs such as I was developing. I told a pal at the Associated Press that I was going to make a speech at the NBL. “So?” he said, bored. I said that in the speech I’d ask respectfully for the President to pull the name of Clement Haynesworth. I wouldn’t have a press release but I would say it. And he had exclusively. “For a sub-cabinet guy to say that,” he said, “even a lowly sub-cabinet guy like you would mean you’d be fired!” I wanted to tell him the truth: it would be just the opposite. By saying that Haynesworth should be pulled, I’d be adding to my longevity until I got the strategy paper done. “O.k.,” he said. “If that’s the way you want it, I’m going to have our Memphis correspondent there. But damn you if you chicken out and don’t say it!” I told him I wouldn’t chicken out but would he be sure that this story gets to the Washington Post which subscribes to AP? He agreed. “After you say it , I’ll call it in to the night desk over there myself.”

So at a very long, boring convention in Memphis, I got up and without much fanfare talked about minority enterprise and dropped my three sentences into the pot. No one was listening but one guy: the Memphis AP reporter. I stayed over in Memphis that night and slept the sleep of the just. When I returned to Washington the next morning, I bought the Post and saw to my pleasure that a Nixon sub-cabinet guy was asking, respectfully, that Haynesworth be pulled. Then I joyfully took a cab to the Commerce Department. When I got to my office my secretary’s eyes were like saucers. The secretary has been on the phone since early morning, she said, and he must see you. Also, the entire Washington media market is calling for you.

Before I went to see him, I poured a cup of coffee in a mug and carried it jauntily to his mammoth office. As soon as I approached everybody on his staff rushed out all the doors, their hair standing on end. I sauntered in as he was on the phone (I presumed it was with Halderman). As I sat and drank the coffee he said, “yes—yes—yes—no—no—no, of course I won’t. Goodbye.” He hung up and I almost felt sorry for him.. Almost.

What in the name of God possessed you, he said as he fiddled with his pill box and gulped one, downing it with a handy glass of water. I told him that civil rights mean very much to me and that I can understand his consternation. Therefore if he wished my resignation, he would have it. I said I couldn’t stay with him long as there were a flood of calls I would have to return.

Wait, he said. Wait. He got up and walked to the window. T hen he turned and said, I have always felt a man should have the right to express himself—he said it slowly as if they were the last words he wished to utter. Just promise me this: before you make another speech, would you mind telling me what you’re going to say? Fair enough, I said. We shook hands. I noticed his was rather damp. Then I left.

When I returned to my office my bureaucrat friend called. This is the damndest thing, he said. Your papers had been winging to your office to notify you that you were terminated. Now those papers have been recalled and placed on indefinite suspension. Since this department’s founding by Herbert Hoover, this is the first time this has happened.

I took my time preparing the strategy paper, sent it to the Secretary and saw that it got to the president. Clement Haynesworth failed of confirmation on November 21,1969 by vote of 55 to 45. And when his nomination failed I was on my way out of office—to the Peace Corps as director of public affairs. The Nixon group, stunned by my insubordination, decided not to impede my federal career…although I was planning to say goodbye forever and return to Quaker and the private sector.

So you see, with a blog I can write it up the way I want to. Thanks for listening.

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