Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Flashback: Good Advice from “the Faceless Professional.” The Stans Anger…Jim Farmer, Whitney Young and Jackie Robinson Approve the Strategy and a Furor Develops Over a Supreme Court Vacancy.

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

In June, on the morning after the trip to Detroit, wherein we secured one hundred automobile dealership opportunities where heretofore there had been only seven in 28,000 (today there are more than 1,700 out of 39,000--which by no means continued the spurt of growth we produced —David Koch, the Commerce Department careerist (assigned as the budget and personnel administrator for our agency) picked me up at the apartment building at 1420 N street NW. We drove to the nearby Washington Hilton (the same hotel where Ronald Reagan was shot twelve years later) for breakfast. Soon I’d be moving out of the apartment, temporarily as Lillian and the kids were going to spend the summer in Washington and we rented a furnished house on Iris street in the integrated Shepherd Park neighborhood of Washington near Walter Reed hospital, a house I rented from Bill Taylor, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights commission (one of the few that was not either all-white or all-black: our kids played with the kids of Chuck Stone, the former editor of the “Chicago Defender.”

David reported: The first news of our foray came at about 11 a.m., after our 8 a.m. meeting with Henry Ford; Ford called the secretary, actually, to thank the secretary for the meeting. The secretary faked it, making Ford think he knew where we were all the time but after he hung up and found we were in Dearborn, blew up. From that time on there were consultations between the secretary and his close group of associates including the assistant secretary for economic development, Bob Podesta of Chicago, an investment banker, a one-time Republican candidate for Congress and good friend of mine. Then a somewhat recovered Arnold Porter called in from Chrysler with the details on what happened at their meeting.

All the information gathering went swiftly via subterranean means…from a note-taker at the meeting to those processing memos summarizing the meeting (mostly career GS’s…to the Faceless Professional. Dave Koch’s informers were, most of them, career professionals who were black who hovered around Correspondence Control et al. They were well-wishers who pooled the information and shared it with him. But as a bonus, there was a white Republican Schedule C, given the job of taking notes at all the meetings who was also from Chicago, having been part of the Percy campaign entourage, so we had access to the official “to-do” list. That morning at breakfast thanks to Dave I had a complete fill-in as to what Stans said, the under-secretary said, the p. r. types said etc.

Their session began with the almost unanimous belief that I be immediately removed on my return. But then the temperature changed. A public relations adviser strongly nixed it by saying that if the 100 dealerships looked like an accomplishment, the media would interpret my dismissal as retribution from an administration that did not want to disturb the status quo. He buttressed it by saying that I was myself a publicist or sorts with better contacts in the media than he, who would use the dismissal to zing them. The rough decision was made to allow me to hang around until a more propitious time to can me. This was fine with me since I desperately needed to stay to finish the strategy paper for the future which I had put a lot of effort in…and it was far from finished on Geimer’s drawing board.

But there was no dissent over my eventually being let-go. Stans didn’t say this at the big meeting but to the Commerce Department publicitor (his political ally) who repeated it to our mole Schedule C was worried that the meeting with the automobile CEOs would ruin his relationship with Nixon in that he wanted to make use of the CEOs as funders for the next presidential election. Why they could not be both supporters of more dealerships for minorities and still support Nixon never became clear but what did was that Stans did not want the reputation of being a maverick in dealing with business when, as he hoped, a vacancy in Treasury would appear, for which he would be considered. David Kennedy, the treasury secretary, had just said that 4% unemployment was acceptable which riled the president (not because 4% was unacceptable but that it presented an unfeeling attitude that the media was happy to present). The meeting concluded with them agreeing to meet with the secretary after he took me to the woodshed.

David said this which verified my own strategic sense: “For a crowd that almost every day gets a lousy press—sometimes from the liberal media but other times through their own blunders, this crowd is mortally afraid of getting a bad press. You can still save the day and be a permanent fixture if you play ball with them, because the results of the session with the CEOs appear to be very good. But you should understand that the job you have is now regarded as one to show a flimsy public relations veneer: minority enterprise is a dead item with them. Your buddy Art Fletcher has veered into all kinds of trouble at Labor because of the Philadelphia Plan. He won’t be fired because he’s black. You can easily be fired because you’re white. But they still are holding off because they are afraid of a dust-up. How long will it take Geimer to perfect the strategy?”

I said the strategy is really done but I want to run it around for comments like to Art Fletcher first, who’s a good ally. Then we have to run it through McClaughry and then a number of economists plus Jim Farmer, the assistant HEW secretary, the founder of CORE who antedated Martin Luther King (having been locked up when civil rights was not fashionable in the 1950s and who was a good friend who knew the risks I was running), then Whitney Young of the Urban League. Frankly it was just as important to gain support from the minority community as to write the darned thing.

“By the way, where does Geimer stand in all this? I mean vis-à-vis you? His heart is in the right place but he is basically a company man—not a rebel as you are. Are you concerned he will end up with them [the Stans people]?”

Not in the slightest; he is always fly-specking but that’s his way--like a wife or a conscience goad. But David’s use of “company man” was intriguing since, in the future, Geimer became one with a capital “C”—Company being the word used for the CIA.

After being reassured about Geimer, he said “it’s obvious they’re going to get you. If you were prudent, you would scurry back to Quaker as fast as your legs can take you.”

Uh-uh. I have a feeling I can go back to Quaker but I don’t want to leave federal employment at this juncture: too short, only four months for God’s sake! I’d like to spend at least a year in federal service before I go back because this is the last time I’ll be doing this and I have more to learn about this stuff. Actually the fun is just beginning. For example, I have lunch tomorrow with Jim Farmer and after that go to meet Whitney Young! Where else can I get this opportunity? (Thus the naïve enthusiasm of a 41-year-old).

“Well,” he said, “I’m glad personally you feel that way even though you’re playing it very dangerously. As it is, if Stans got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, he can fire you at your 2 o’clock and you’d not have any place to go. How’d you like that?”

Not. I’d have to go live with you and your family, David.

“Not funny.”

Agreed. But I decided I should have some kind of contingency. So when I got to the office—after everybody else had arrived and had arranged a kind of victory party for us all—I decided to scout around. By noon I had talked with the Peace Corps, run by a man I never met but admired who was the same kind of guy as I, Joseph Blatchford. His deputy was Tom Houser of Arlington Heights, the Wheeling township committeeman, who had been campaign manager for Chuck Percy and a good friend. By just before 2, I had a fairly firm understanding from Houser that they’d rather like me to become a foreign service officer and move over there to run the Peace Corps’ sizable public relations and advertising program as well as its congressional relations show. It was a job I would not have quit Quaker for—but a job that could give me some time to cool off, lose the onus for being a maverick and prepare to resume with the private sector.

With that assurance tucked in my pocket, I strolled in with my hands shoved in my pockets—insouciantly--to see Stans at 2 p.m.

He was standing at his desk, leaning on it with his hands formed into fists; I noticed his cheek was twitching. He started by saying that he had talked with Townsend who, he said, was very-very generous—too much so—for the display we put on. His tone began low and then rose in treble.

I was mildly interested in his rage because, to me, it was rather mindless. Actually, what I had done--commandeering a White House phone and rounding up all the Big 4 automobile CEOs in Detroit and getting them to agree to a break-through--should have put me in line for a departmental commendation. It was not that long ago that I was told that all systems were “go” for an immediate breakthrough. I had the feeling that he was at root incorrigibly dumb. His groveling subservience to Nixon was holding him back. The White House had taken him for a mere order-taker, not an economic policy-maker. Why did he lack the inner confidence? Stans was many things: a multi-millionaire, a CPA, a dogged bureaucrat—but a sniveling valet where Nixon was concerned…the idea of moving out to L. A. to be near Nixon when he ran for governor, then moving back to New York to be near Nixon when he practiced law. It was unmanly. All these things despite the fact that to me, at least, Nixon was much less a man than Stans. A combination Uriah Heap when he was soliciting help and a blow-hard with his cringing staff.

All the while Stans was speaking and I wasn’t particularly listening, he still standing, leaning on fists, with his head down in an attempt to control himself as I sat before his desk, his voice cracked as if he was restraining himself. His words of upset were all predictable and I have forgotten them. But I remember this: “Also, where in hell did you find that black giant with the basso profundo voice who cried tears all over Lynn Townsend’s suit with the snot also running out of his nose at the same time? Did that require a good deal of rehearsing or what?”

I thought this uproariously funny—for he had described Johnson’s act extraordinarily well. I laughed so hard at the description that he had to smile a bit with me.

No, I lied. It was spontaneous. It sort of came to him but I think you’ll have to acknowledge that without that trip…and without his tears…we would have never gotten the dealerships.

“Listen to me!” he began loudly, then lowered his voice as if talking to himself. I think he wanted to explode but was tautly fighting within himself, the cheek twitch accentuating and his jaw muscles tightening and then relaxing. He sat down. After all, he was no kid. He was 61 years old. His face was ashen.

“If that stunt had not worked and had irreparably harmed the president or this department, I would have no recourse but to fire you immediately. I think your energy has value but that it has just been…misplaced. I hope you will remember that this entire effort must be team-play. That is all I have to say to you. Now leave me alone but remember: coordinate, coordinate, coordinate. Please.”

“One reason you were not fired,” said David Koch, “is that you had just brought in the dealerships and it would look bad.”

So, I had a reprieve. The next day, I had lunch with the HEW assistant secretary Jim Farmer, the founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and reviewed with him verbally the key points of the proposed strategy. He had always been an idol of mine and was in some ways superior to Martin Luther King. Certainly he was one of the “big four” leaders of the civil rights movement in the 1960s--head of the Brotherhood of Dining Car Porters; Martin Luther King; Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Whitney Young of the Urban League.

He antedated King and in many ways was a better man than King—certainly not afflicted with King’s womanizing weaknesses nor his statism. Farmer started CORE in the 1940s as an organization seeking to bring an end to racial segregation in America through active non-violence. Farmer, a tall, impressively-built man of 49, had prematurely white hair, had been trained in theology and had a divinity degree but never became an ordained minister. He launched CORE’s 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, organizing a group of eight white and eight black men traveling through the south, challenging separatism in transportation. He then thought up a new name for the trip: the “Freedom Riders.” They were met with such severe violence that they gained national attention which prompted similar rides by other civil rights leaders.

“I was locked up so long in Mississippi that I thought they had thrown away the key,” he said. “That’s where I came face to face with my disadvantage. I was not a man of the cloth. That means more when you’re incarcerated. Ten years later, ministers were locked up and so had the benefit of greater public concern. I hadn’t been ordained so I was a black rabble-rouser, that’s all.”

But a rabble-rouser ten years before King.

But Farmer was at heart a moderate, a free-marketer, an integrationist and not a separatist. A conservative interested in blacks cracking into the capitalist system not a King style socialist. Indeed perhaps more than that. When CORE was taken over by radicals, he left it and took a position at Lincoln University and continued to lecture. He was also dissatisfied with the way the Democratic party seemed to “use” blacks while at the same time civil rights leaders seemed to foreclose a two-party system but ignoring the Republican party. So Farmer did an historic thing. He ran as a Republican for Congress in Harlem but lost to Shirley Chisholm. He pioneered minority enterprise and thought to the end of his life that the way to progress for blacks was via the private sector, not through government enactments.

“I deeply wish that true Republicanism, with all the benefits of the private sector, could be understood by our people,” he said. He respected King’s courage very much but at the same time felt that King had become imbued with a black messiah complex which had given him a passion for state socialism. The other leaders, with the exception of Whitney Young, he dismissed. Ralph Abernathy was a King clone; Randolph was an old man well past his prime and uneducated; Wilkins was basically just a Democrat. All seemed prey to what he called socialism.

“Socialism cannot help a black man,” he said. He impressed me as a true visionary leader. Unfortunately because he had become a Republican, many black leaders had turned their backs on Jim Farmer, which was a tragedy.

He was very much interested in our idea and added some useful changes. He also recommended that I go to New York and see two people—Whitney Young of the Urban League but in addition—and here I was rerally excited—his good friend, Jackie Robinson and arranged the meetings for me. I spent most of an afternoon with Young and was entranced with his coolly analytical way of supporting our cause with one exception: he wanted it to be non-profit where we wanted it to be profit-making. Young was an exponent of massive government spending: yet so far as our proposal was concerned, he was enthusiastic.

“This government saved western Europe with a Marshall Plan,” he told me. “It should do the same by restoring the imbalance between the races.”

I said—how so? By spending money? Will that do it?

“It is the crux of the matter,” said he. He ticked off all the things that generations since have said should be paid for (and cannot since they imbue human imperfection): education for the poor, nutrition, housing. All of it—or most of it—came down to single-parent households and illegitimacy.

But he bought our strategy anyhow. .


The next morning, at Jim Farmer’s behest, I visited with Jackie Robinson who was a key figure in the establishment of Harlem’s Freedom Bank, a black-owned and controlled entity, and was vice president of the Chock Full 0’Nuts foods who then was in the beginning stages of several illnesses that took his life, heart problems and diabetes complications. He liked the strategy draft and added very little to it. I made it a point to try to stay in touch with him as long as I was in Commerce. He didn’t live very long after.

Jackie, who had campaigned for Nixon, was more of a capitalist than Whitney Young but never got over the bitterness that was heaped on him in his early days in baseball. Sometimes as we ranged over the recent past, I saw a gentle Jackie. Then when we got to the details and he re-thought the number of excellent black baseball players who never had his advantages, he lapsed into depression, recrimination and bitterness. But we parted good friends.

I had spent far too much time on the strategy paper, banking that somehow it would survive all of us. The Nixon administration was interested in only one thing pertaining to minority enterprise: good press, shallow press without accomplishment so the Southern Strategists could be assuaged. But I had the unrealistic hope that it might make it to the president’s desk and change everything. So I was determined to stall as long as I could until the final touches were made. When I got back to Washington, I learned that other developments in the administration might seem to play into my hands to effect a needed stall until the paper was completed. The stall involved a Nixon appointee to the U. S. Supreme Court and the furor that followed. On reflection, what I did to take advantage of that crisis—to add to my time in Commerce—may have been the deciding factor that caused the eventual breakup of Geimer and me.

All of that next time.

1 comment:

  1. This is being sponsored by PC and RPCVs in Congress.