Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Flashback: Meetings with Javits and Dirksen: Scatology on One Hand, Creativity on the Other.

[Memoirs from more than 50 years of politics for my kids and grandchildren]

Shortly after I was sworn in as an assistant to the secretary of commerce for minority enterprise, I decided to test the political waters to see how receptive the administration and the Republicans in Congress would be to the idea of a temporary (10-year) federal set-aside of government contracts for qualifying minority business. The idea of set-asides was not new, having been adopted by the Eisenhower administration in 1953 with passage of the act setting up the Small Business Administration as an independent unit of the federal government.

The Act carried with it the provision that a portion of federal contracts would be set aside for qualifying small business—but “small business” generally meant white business. Under LBJ the SBA provision was expanded to include minority business but I had the idea that a portion of the entire federal government’s procurement should be set aside for qualifying minority business. The fact that this continues and has been applied to states and cities is a vestige of that plan, blame for which (due to scandals involving cynical recruitment of minority figurehead “presidents” with white owners) —as well as such credit that may be deserved—should be applied to me. In retrospect I think my service generated ample contracts for black business but I cannot escape the thought that in the short-range I idealistically junked free-market prescriptions for an excursion into statism. Therefore, when I lecture against statism, I do as a repentant sinner. Yet in liberal terms, it is an injustice to me to even imply—as one journalist has—that because of my criticism of Barack Obama I might be perceived as a racist.

The first figure in the Nixon administration to move toward special rights for blacks to counterbalance generations of discrimination was Arthur Fletcher, a good friend of mine, a black assistant secretary of labor, a socially conservative and magnificently eloquent man who, had he been a Democrat rather than Republican, surely would have reached the highest sector of that party. A former professional football player with a dynamism of genuine energy that was on par most black leaders I have met with the single exception of Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom I spent a short time with on Chicago’s South Side during his stay here), Fletcher invented the term “affirmative action” to meet the goals of increasing minority employment in companies with federal contracts. It was not called “quotas” but, of course, it was. It was called then and still is what Fletcher wished it to be called—affirmative action. Fletcher initiated the “Philadelphia Plan” with a goal to increase black and minority employment on federally contracted projects from a lowly 4% in 1969 to 26% in 1973. Other cities would have other goals.

My plan was to take section 8(a) of the Small Business act and apply it to the entire purview of the federal government’s contracting of businesses to encourage retention of minority business whenever they qualified and wherever possible by means of a presidential executive order. Today, having seen the folly of government-induced anti-discrimination programs, I would not have advocated it—indeed if I had it to do over again, I would not have taken that job at Commerce. But then, imbued with what I earlier described as a case of idealistic liberal intellectual infection (with little respect for the free market values to which I have returned wholeheartedly), I was determined to try—based on the original vision of the Nixon letter to Stans and the original Stans agreement to hire me…all the while knowing that the Great Chill was unexpressed but on in the administration because of how it could imperil the Southern strategy.

When I visited Everett Dirksen, the powerful minority leader of the Senate (getting in to see him based on our earlier familiarity through my Quaker employment) he was quite ill, jovial, still smoking cigarettes and blowing smoke through his cavernous and hairy nostrils—but scatological. He said the idea in the Congress—among Democrats as well as Republicans—would be “as popular as an infestation of crabs in a whore-house.” His point was that Republicans would despise it because of what it would do to the Southern strategy and Democrats would also hotly oppose because they saw minority—particularly black—votes as theirs and resented any Republican attempt to “cash in” on that special interest. As if that were not enough, he was opposed to Art Fletcher’s Philadelphia Plan as well and had volunteered to the Nixon White House that he would fight its implementation (although since it too would be by executive order there would not be much he could do about it).

The visit with Sen. Jacob Koppel Javits (R-N.Y.) was far different. Of any Senator I met—including the young Hubert Humphrey—Jack Javits was the most exciting, companionable and outright fun to be with notwithstanding a kind of wise-guy New York city street-sense but which was entirely more fun-loving than the abrasive meanness of one of his successors, Chuck Schumer. When I met with him, Javits was 65, a peppery, smallish fellow with a bald but tan pate married to (second wife) a socialite, heavy into the arts and the arts crowd, who disdained Washington for New York. He was Brooklyn-born, a rara avis, a Jewish Republican swimming freely and unmolested in an ocean of Jewish Democrats.

He came up from the streets, worked his way through law school and began as a working wonder, delivering whole precincts for Republicans by working under the shadow of Fiorello LaGuardia, the progressive-Republican, half Italian, mother Jewish, mayor. When his time came he went to Congress in the 1950s, aided by the Eisenhower aura. Then he was elected state attorney general, using the office in a pioneer-sense of consumer protection. With a U. S. Senate vacancy opened, he parlayed strong support from the Rockefellers to defeat none other than former mayor Robert F. Wager, a phenomenal triumph.

Javits was the Rockefellers’ man in Washington but by no means was he subservient to that dynasty. Nor was he isolated from the Republican caucus because of his liberalism which was 90 degrees more leftward—approaching, vying with and even, on occasion, exceeding the liberalism of Hubert Humphrey-- than the Republican center. He got along well with everybody in the Senate including the most conservative of Republicans, slapping old Strom Thurmond on the back so heartily the old man’s dentures almost fell out, saying, “hey, Strom—still chasing Little Eva across the ice flows with those dogs? What’s happening on the slave plantations today?” He’d stroll the Senate floor and when a farm bill was under debate, drop down in a seat next to cone-pone Ag chairman Herman Talmadge and pretend drawl with his New York accent: “well, Herman, how do we farmers vote?”

Chuck Percy, not nearly so liberal as Javits, was posing and sanctimonious, viewing himself as destiny’s tot and so was not beloved by both sides as was Javits. As ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations committee and one of the canniest operators on either side of the aisle, he was very important for the Nixon administration to bank on as a defender of its policies on Vietnam—and he held on as a hawk until it became deadly precarious for him to do so. In 1969, Nixon and Henry Kissinger counted on Javits for support of their foreign policy and to be a bridge to other northern liberals.

What is utterly the most resourceful piece of politicking ever conducted in modern presidential campaign history has to do with Jack Javits. In 1968, the Conservative party of New York, a deadly rival of the Nelson Rockefeller-controlled New York GOP, wanted Nixon to run on its line alone and avoid the Republican ticket. The Conservatives were looked on as the successor party to the Republicans anyhow and Nixon was sorely tempted. Rockefeller was no friend of his and all Nixon’s allies in New York were cozy with the Conservatives.

The Conservatives put together a brilliant slate of candidates and they sorely wanted Nixon as presidential nominee to run exclusively with them in November—avoiding the Republican line and punishing Rockefeller. Nixon had almost definitely agreed to do so. After all, Rockefeller ran an abortive campaign against Nixon for the 1968 nomination but Nixon got nominated by the GOP at Miami Beach and now was the time for pay-back, which Nixon deliciously relished. It’s a tribute to Jack Javits’ effectiveness that he was (a) for Rockefeller for president before Miami Beach and (b) still retained a friendship with Nixon—on the basis of what Javits might be able to do for him in northern urban, and particularly Jewish, areas.

Nelson Rockefeller called Javits on the phone and asked if he would please go to see nominee Nixon whose headquarters was then at the Plaza hotel and beg him to run on both Republican and Conservative lines in New York. Well, Javits never begged anybody but he agreed to go to see Nixon who was feeling his oats at the Plaza, triumphantly ridiculing Rockefeller privately whenever he could, ensconced with John Mitchell his campaign manager. As Andrew Glass, Javits’ top political aide (and former reporter for the old New York Herald-Tribune) told me the story, this is what happened.

Javits invited Glass to go with him to see Nixon at the Plaza. Once inside the presidential suite, Nixon greeted them in tow with Mitchell, the pipe-smoking, laconic campaign manager. All sat down. Then Javits made the case based on hard-nosed realistic politics as to why Nixon should also run on the Republican party line and why he should forget his old animosity with Rockefeller. All during Javits’ presentation, Glass noticed that Nixon was not paying attention. He was either looking out the window at the park, or examining his nails, or looking about the room. John Mitchell was involved and asked Javits a number of realistic questions to which Javits responded. But Nixon was a silent auditor of the conversation. Glass was fascinated. Javits didn’t seem to notice that Nixon was day-dreaming, lost in thought.

When it became apparent that Nixon hadn’t contributed anything to the conversation, Javits turned to him and said, “Well, Dick, how about it?”

Nixon thought and then said, “Jack, your good friend Arthur Krim, the movie producer, just had a major fund-raiser at his home in Beverly Hills for Hubert and had every Jewish film producer and financier in Hollywood at his place. Jack, how do I get Jewish money for this campaign?”

The question was so blunt—a question that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic—but so typically unvarnished Nixon that even John Mitchell jumped back in surprise. But Javits didn’t turn a hair. His response was traditional: Jews have always been Democrats for many years and that he, Javits, had made some inroads with him. As he went on, though, Javits knew what Nixon was saying in essence: get me Jewish money and I’ll agree to run on the Republican line in New York as well.

Javits wound up his answer by asking, “how can I help you with that, Dick?”

Nixon said, “Well, I just wonder why the hell I never get any Jewish money, that’s all”—and he outlined all the things he did in a foreign policy vein that were consonant with the goals of the American Jewish Committee and other groups. It was obvious that he was hanging a contingency on the statement so Javits responded, “let me see what I can do with Arthur Krim and his friends.”

Andy Glass now started to bolt upright. Arthur Krim, formerly of Chicago, was about as anti-Nixon as it was possible to get, had been a huge fund-raiser for John F. Kennedy when he ran against Nixon. There could be no chance that even Javits at his most persuasive best could get Arthur Krim to kick in to Nixon.

But Nixon’s eyes glistened with appreciation. “Jack,” he said, “it’s important to me. Get back to me on that will you…” and a pregnant pause, “…and I’ll see what can be done about this matter you mention.”

As they went down in the elevator at the Plaza, Glass said to Javits, “well, Senator, it’s a foregone conclusion that you can’t get Arthur Krim to kick in to Dick Nixon.”

Javits said: “M’boy, I’m going to give you a lesson in how it’s done. I’m going to call Krim when I get back to the office and you’re going to be with me when I get the dough and when I get his friends to give to Nixon as well.”

Glass said, “this I want to see.”

Back at the office when the call went through to Krim, Javits put on the speaker phone so Glass could hear and said, “Arthur—I understand you raised quite a bundle at your place for Hubert.”

Krim said, “That’s right, Jack. As you know, Hubert and I have been the closest of personal friends through the years just as we are friends, Jack. If you were to come out here to raise money for yourself and your campaign, I would do the same thing for you Jack. And, in fact, you will remember the last time you were up for reelection, that’s exactly what I did.”

Javits: “I remember, Arthur and was—and am—very grateful. Now I’m going to come out there and I wonder if you would host me at your home.”

Krim: “Absolutely! Absolutely! You just give me the date!”

Javits: “Tell you what, Arthur. I’ll have my associate here, Mr. Glass, call with the date and Mr. Glass will be accompanying me. It’ll be later this month. As soon as I can make it, that is.”

Krim: “Whenever you say, Jack. As you know, you and I are brothers; we don’t let the fact that you’re a Republican bother me or my friends.”

Javits: “One thing more, Arthur.”

Krim: “Yes, Jack.”

Javits: “I want you to invite all the people you had for Hubert Humphrey.”

Krim: “A deal! A deal! They all love you, Jack!”

Javits: “…because—and only you know that and must not tell anyone-- I am going to give a pitch for Dick Nixon.”

Long-long pause.

Krim: “Jack—Jack. The people who were at my house—and you know a lot of them—hate Nixon like poison. Some of them have been blacklisted through his friend Joe McCarthy. It won’t work to have them. Let me invite some Republicans--.”

Javits: “No. No. No. Arthur, I’m not obligating you to do anything more than invite them. Again—and I insist you keep this confidence: I don’t want you to tell them I’m coming in for Nixon. I’ll make the pitch, not you. I just want the same people. Tell them I’ll be there and do this as a favor for me.”

Krim: “Jack. For you they will move heaven and earth. For you I will move heaven and earth. Believe me. But not for that [and he used a scatological term for Nixon pertaining to genitalia]. For you the moon! The world! Not for--.”

Javits: “Arthur [and here he recalled a tax provision that he had shepherded that was a great boon to the film industry]. So I’m calling in the favor with you now. Again—don’t tell them I’m coming for Nixon. Just tell them I’m the guest of honor and I’ll make the pitch. Agreed?”

Krim: “Jack—agreed. They all remember the tax provision and are eternally grateful. And they love you beyond the tax provision! Anything for you, my friend. But I don’t want you to be embarrassed when no money eventuates!”

Javits: “Let me worry about that. You just host the event. I’ll do the rest.”

He hung up and sent Glass to the scheduler to see when they could both go to Los Angeles.

As they flew out to L. A., Javits let Glass hang and didn’t tell him what he had in mind. They walked into Krim’s magnificent Beverly Hills palace and the cream of the film producing community was there—all Jews, the same people who had given to Humphrey: people who were Jews married to Jews; lawyers, financiers, screen producers, directors—all Jews. There were non-observant Jews, liberal Jews, radical Jews, some orthodox Jews, a number of Rabbis, including a stunning Jewish screen starlet betrothed to a Jewish financier who returned her adulatory gaze with warm regard—a gorgeous, raven-haired woman who had packed a rifle in the Israeli army. All expected Javits would make the pitch for himself. All had a wondrous dinner, champagne, exquisite dessert and met in the huge front room loaded with precious antiques.

Krim gave Javits a brilliant introduction and when he finished, they all jumped to their feet in applause.

Javits walked ponderously over to the grand piano, turned, leaned on it with one elbow and said, “My friends—you who have been with me throughout my career and have stood with me. I am here to ask that you donate to Richard Nixon!”

There was a loud shriek as if a wild, furry defecating animal had penetrated the room. Some stood up and shook fists, shaking their heads “no” vigorously. The Israeli actress demanded of her lover that he take her home. When this died down, Javits said:

“I am going to show you something.” He handed his valise to Glass and ordered Glass to distribute copies of a document to each guest. It was the latest Gallup poll accompanied by the latest Harris poll. He reviewed it with them. The poll showed that Nixon was—at that juncture—significantly ahead of Humphrey. There was crestfallen silence.

“Now I am going to tell you something that will not surprise you,” said Javits. They all leaned forward to hear.

“Dick Nixon is a mean-mean-mean, hate-filled sonuvabitch who has only survived this long by rubbing his scabs and vowing to get even with his enemies. He knows that you had this meeting not long ago, knows who attended and knows that I am here with you today. As one who knows him well since the days of Alger Hiss, I can tell you something that will not surprise you. His anger is something to behold. Now get this straight: he is going to be elected—do you get me? He is going to be elected! He has a burning, deeply passionate memory and I cannot promise you that he will not be vindictive. This hate, this anger reminiscent of Richard III will carry through to this industry…and to another cause that I will bring up today. The cause of Israel. You and I have worked too hard for this industry and for Israel and all the things we favor to be so short-sighted as to jeopardize…Let me bring up the tax measure I authored, for example--.”

Silence while they meditated.

As they did, Javits toyed with a folio on the piano and muttered ih perfect cadence the line from Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

The Israeli actress who was going home, sat down and looked soulfully at her lover.


At length Krim stood up. “Jack, we get the idea. What do we do?”

“I want all of you who contributed to Hubert to give to Nixon. Decide now since I am here on a very short timetable.”

As Javits and Glass flew back the next morning, he carried in his valise a fat envelopes of checks plus a bevy of full commitments—actual checks and on-the-barrel-head pledges redeemable and signed by the participants.

Nixon agreed to run on the Republican line as well as the Conservative party line.

This is the man I met with next and asked to help me get Nixon to buy the minority set-aside idea.

1 comment:

  1. "It’s an index of ineptitude that the GOP can’t capitalize on these facts: etc."

    Well, if they are going to win the election, the Republicans must somehow find a way to lay at the feet of the Democrats the soaring inflation we will be experiencing by fall of 2008 (M-3 is growing at 11% per year, prices will follow; with corn prices going through the roof because of ethanol demand, all meat, egg and dairy prices will skyrocket); the crash of the stock market, because consumers are tapped out and deep in debt; a hard real estte crash; a derivatives meltdown that may destroy our entire financial system, etc. Spend some time at They and the entire precious metals crowd have known for at least three years that housing and the mortage industry would be in big trouble and have forecasted all the above, including hyperinflation ala the Weimar Republic and every banana republic you've ever read about.

    To win the Republicans have to find a way to disassociate themselves from all the above and from Bush's Iraq policies to boot. "Bush betrayed the conservative cause, but X is a true blue conservative who will save us from Hilary, Obama and all the woes that surround us" would probably be the line to take in Fall of 2008