Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Flashback: Setting the Course While Understanding the Ship’s Captain Could Eventually be Dumped.

[Fifty years of political memories shared with my kids and grandchildren].

Talk about mixed emotions. There were at least five within me, brimming to overflowing. First was the enthusiastic anticipation still surviving from the original meeting with Stans and reading the Nixon letter which charted a four-year program to provide special treatment for black business which would renew historic support for the Republican party from blacks who had historically been part of the GOP base from abolition of slavery on to the 1930s—a reformulation that could, if successful, change the political dynamics of the country. Second: the let-down coming from word from David Koch and others that the White House was already yielding major ground to fomenters of the Southern strategy (a rumor I was determined to verify).

Third the determination to do what I could to re-charge the batteries of the administration away from the Southern strategy (although how a lone public manager could accomplish this I didn’t know). Fourth was the regret on leaving Quaker, particularly since the program I was to head could be short-changed coupled with the foreboding that I had acted too peremptorily. Fifth since leaving Quaker had to be a resignation with no formal way of taking a leave of absence, a natural wonderment of what would happen if and when I were sacked with a wife and three kids, with another waiting to be born, if I had to hit the street at age 41 or 42 with the onus of a firing by a president of the United States in my resume. Why before the swearing-in did I buy what David Koch, a seeming stranger, had said about my tenure lasting all of seven or so months? After all, Koch had only met me once: why did he estimate I would be out in that short a time? Why did I trust Koch, anyhow? Maybe he’s another Walter Hamilton. Maybe…

Before I went back to Chicago to formally sign out, I had coffee with Koch, the “faceless professional” whose loyalty I assumed was bona-fide. But was it? How was it that he predicted my death warrant when I could easily “sell out” and hang around as an alter-ego to Stans. So I asked him this:

Suppose I do what you say the Secretary and the White House will want me to do, David, and just fool around with a program that goes nowhere—why couldn’t I hang around for a year or so and quit on my own the way hundreds of business types do with federal service? Why are you so dead set sure I’ll be booted?

“Because of Correspondence Control, sir.”

That same Correspondence Control?

“The same. They have a whole file of personal observations about you. You’re sort of an independent free-spirit, sir. A bit of a rebel, too. Not too organized but, strangely in a free-spirit way, you are determined to get things done…and they kind of get done although sometimes in an unorthodox way, they seem to agree. The people who recommended you said you were just the kind of guy to head up the program because you didn’t want to be a professional bureaucrat—and that although your political philosophy was conservative you had a streak of nonconformity, you would take this job as a challenge and give it the maximum to push it through.”

They checked me out that far, did they?

“Yes sir. These people who evaluated you include two U. S. Senators from Illinois whom they checked with and a few congressmen including the chairman of the House Republican conference [John B. Anderson] as well as a host of people from Minnesota including the former Republican governor. He, the former governor, put us in touch with, incredibly, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey who was contacted at the Encyclopedia Britannica [which he was heading up] and Senator McCarthy of Minnesota. All had the same impression as did a lot of Republicans in Illinois. Free spirit and bit of a rebel. Pretty clear that they didn’t imagine you would just be a time-server here. Of course if they’re wrong and you obey all the orders you get around here, you’ll hang on for a long time. That’s just the attitudinal study that has come out about you.”

I see.

“The funny thing about is that the Secretary had a whole list of people eager to come on board who were time-servers, willing to make no waves. Lawyers, businessmen, former CEOs, minorities, economists, professors, MBAs. He vetoed them when he thought the White House was willing to forge full-steam ahead. He undoubtedly regrets that now. So you’ve got a whole lot of people who have endorsed you from the flattering standpoint that you were the guy to get things done. Interesting, isn’t it?”

No. Rather scary, actually. If I perform as expected I’ll get canned ultimately. If I don’t, a whole lot of people who evidently have their faith in me will be kind of disappointed.

“Yes. But here’s an interesting sidelight. There’s always a chance that the White House and the secretary will come back to their first concept—in which case you’re in like Flynn.”

David, I was thinking that, once I get sworn in, of making the rounds and seeing for myself. Making the rounds not just of the White House but the Congress.

“Very good idea, sir. And if you find a lot of unexpected support in the Congress—among Republicans there, particularly—they could put some heat on the White House to regenerate the engines so to speak. But--.”

But what?

“Remember I’m a faceless professional—but my view of Republicans, sir, is that many of those in the Congress are a bunch of unimaginative people, not willing to change an administration of their own party right off. Where would the congressional constituency come from with Republicans? You tell me.”

You start with Chuck Percy who’s not ace high with the White House anyhow since he endorsed Rockefeller for president last year. I imagine I could get some middling support from Dirksen…

“You better get that in writing sir, because he is a very sick man.”

Then Jack Javits.

“Yes. And while he’s very liberal, he has a following in the White House because of his support of the president last year. He’s stronger than you think. Matter of fact, since he’s carrying a lot of duties for the White House in the Senate and has great touch with Democrats, he could be your best ally.”

I would think Bob Dole.

“That’s a good one. He’s the national chairman but favorable to minorities.”

Well, I’ll go around. I would think Margaret Chase Smith who’s on Senate appropriations.

“Good. Not as good as Javits but you got the idea, sir.”

I left saying to myself: I’ll bank everything on Koch’s loyalty. On that I was 100% right—as he proved time and time again as when the heat was on he stood with us and didn’t cave. Of all the people I ever worked with in government…on the Hill…in state government…in the federal government…I have never met his match for perspicacity, courage, plain old fashioned guts and the willingness to take risks which he didn’t have to do as a “faceless professional” to see that our office survived. His early death knocked me for a loop.


I went back to Chicago and officially signed out and went to the farewell party having given the company about a month pre-notice. My assistant, a very good man, Patrick Racey, could, I thought, run the job by himself as Senior Vice President Bob Thurston, my immediate boss, was quite sophisticated about government relations. Racey was a young man I hired from the employee relations department who, believe it or not, was writing instructions for company manufacturing and hiring manuals which surprisingly was an excellent background for his becoming a government affairs manager.

He never had a day of experience in either government or politics (he was a loyal Daley regular Democrat to which was added more than a modest touch of social liberalism) but had a thorough knowledge of Quaker’s needs…far better than I had…and a memory that could rival any future computer… a memory for legislation, how it impacted various Quaker facilities and departments. He was sort of Luddite (not into the typewriter), writing longhand with a pencil stub, not using any mechanical means, then giving his longhand to a clerk for typing; he was nevertheless flooding grateful managers with clippings, analyses and Congressional Record reports pertaining to their businesses…and had a reputation with Bob Thurston and the chairman, Bob Stuart, for perceptive government relations astuteness.

In all my business or political experience I never knew anyone as phenomenal as Racey. We called him “the wonderful Racey machine.” Smoking vile cigars, sometimes chewing tobacco, sitting in an open coop puffing away or spatting away into a toxic wastebasket during the 1960s, while secretaries frowned and sprayed perfume around him to enliven the air, he would close his eyes and in response to a question be able to tick off the entire legislative history of a bill which would have even small relevance to Quaker.

You’d say: Pat, where is the Congress now on the Consumer Protection bill?

He’d strike a match to relight his cigar and say: “The bill was introduced at the start of the session in the House on January 14 by”—and list in order the Democratic sponsors—“and also by John Anderson who is swinging somewhat to the left, actually on consumer matters. It went to Government Operations in the House where it is expected to sail through easily. On the Senate side a companion was introduced on February 7 by Warren Magnuson the Commerce chairman which, of course, was written by Mike Pertschuk, but there will be a lot of--.”

Thanks a lot, Pat.

“Wait—I’m not through yet.” He wanted to finish the entire roundelay from bill introduction, step-by-step to where it was now.

That was only one instance of the Marvelous Racey Machine. He also knew with far more detail than most of the company’s tax people, the state of tax legislation, far more detail than most of the company’s personnel, the state of labor and pension legislation and regulations; he’d know federal regulations impacting on marketing far more than marketing managers (and even, I dare say, lots of company lawyers). In those days well before the advance of modern computer technology, had he been hit by a bus, it would have taken three full-time professionals to replace him—and even then they’d miss stuff that Pat never would. We had great respect for each other but were never close: we couldn’t be—someone as detailed and as meticulously detailed as he with the high ethical principles of a moralistic and contemplative monk with almost Nader-like scrupulosity and someone like me who enjoyed outrageous dickering and political maneuvering. But the fact is we needed each other in an association that went on for a quarter of a century.


We—Lillian and I—decided that she would stay back in Chicago with the kids—Tommy, Mary and Michael--since they were in school…and with her undergoing a somewhat difficult pregnancy (having had one miscarriage a year earlier). So I asked Mother to come to Washington with me to be on hand during my swearing-in. I decided that since the office had so much importance to blacks, Abe Venable my deputy and I would have a joint-swearing in. The accompanying photo shows Secretary Stans, me, Abe Venable, Mrs. Venable and Mother at the ceremony. Someone who saw the picture the other day says Mother looked like she was ready to give me a swat. That she certainly did during my younger days but this was her official, formal look.

Before the swearing-in, I had made a list of things I thought the office should do—a list I had shared with the secretary preceding the Great Chill where the White House ordained that much progress on minority enterprise should come to a halt to pacify the Southern strategy people in the Congress. The first issue was one which I must say I have now come to have serious misgivings over…an issue which Stans supported pre-Chill, but which I could only rationalize today by remembering that I had put a 9-year deadline on it. This was the federal set-aside program which would launch what came to be known as the “8 (a)” program of federal procurement wherein a portion of purchases would be allocated to qualifying minority firms. After the Chill, Stans said that by no means should it be pushed—but I wanted to verify the Chill in the White House toward the possibility anyhow. So after the swearing-in I went to see John Ehrlichman, the White House domestic advisor.

I remember Ehrlichman’s endorsement of the Chill included the coolness with which he received me. I followed up with some visits to other domestic White House officials; I received a charming but ambiguously stated view from the scholarly and ironic Daniel Patrick Moynihan who even then was concentrating on welfare reform and not interested in minority enterprise. So I went to see Sen. Javits. Normally getting in to see a Senator personally and avoiding his staff is a difficult thing for a distinctly minor league administration official—but here as frequently I hearkened back to my Quaker Oats experience and said that I had worked for…and would probably return to…a company that owned Fisher-Price located in Aurora, N. Y. which got me in. Lawmakers are very solicitous of those who have or had relationships with even moderately-sized employers in their states.

Jacob Javits was an anomaly as a liberal Republican—and I mean an exceedingly liberal Republican. The oracular and intellectual equal of Hubert Humphrey, Javits was unlike other liberals such as Chuck Percy, by not being estranged from the regular Republican party or Richard M. Nixon. Far from it, he spoke his mind which was generally, except on some business issues, 90 degrees to the left of party orthodoxy but varied this by cooperating in many ways with Nixon. On one significant occasion in 1968, he was challenged by candidate Nixon to raise what Nixon called “Jewish money.” No one would have made that request which he described so baldly but Nixon. Someone else would have faded away by being faced with that request—not Javits. The story comes from my friend Andrew Glass, a Jew, who was a journalist, then a key Javits aide and who is now a journalist again. And the story is worth retelling since it shows the brilliance of Jake—whom people called Jack—Javits.

The details of that story and of my later meeting with Javits next.

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