Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pushing Out the Lefties in the Peace Corps While Pushing Meetings with the Director and a Disinterested Nixon.

[Memoirs of fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

The first job was to get rid of the Lefties in the Public Affairs department. Only a few were any good as publicists. One was a former volunteer who was first cousin to the actress Tuesday Weld. I called her “Wednesday.” She became my special assistant. Quite soon there was an applicant for the job of writer. It turns out she had tried out first at Quaker Oats in Chicago (another coincidence) but there were no openings. I made one for her at the Peace Corps and she became outstanding—Inez Artico. But how to get rid of the rest. I surveyed all their talents and discovered they weren’t half bad—just misplaced far-left ideologues. Most were good photo journalists who had been PC volunteers and had mastered the trade of traveling the word scouting up good stories for the papers with pictures to-boot. By all odds the best was Joan Kelly. But the others—zilch.

So I cut a deal with the Democratic National Committee which was in the market for far-left photo journalists and one by one, I circulated their resumes over there. Soon the DNC came calling and one-by-one we held farewell parties for them. All except the pot-smoker who had the Che Guevara poster in his cubicle who felt the DNC wasn’t revolutionary enough. Him I placed along with his Guevara poster with Rep. Allard Lowenstein (D-NY), who as founder of the “Dump LBJ” movement, had become a friend of Eugene McCarthy. When I read some years later that Lowenstein had been shot to death by a former ally who was a schizo I thought maybe it was our mutual friend but thank God it was somebody else, actually less radical than he. The only one remaining aside from Joan Kelly was a woman photographer, Susan, an extraordinary photog journalist but a quietly smug lefty. To show you how the world turns over with no surprises, Susan Biddle, with no change of ideology, transferred to the White House where she became the official photographer for President George H. W. Bush. Is this a great country, or what?

Weeks went by and I still hadn’t arrived at a plan to get the Director in to see Nixon with time to fill in the president on the Director’s plan to conservatize the Peace Corps by (a) moving the volunteers from blonde liberal arts upper-class radicality in Winnetka and Lake Forest where all they could do was teach English to the natives to (b) a solider middle class of artisans who could really do things for the developing nations such as telephone linemen, electricians, carpenters and (c) whole families going over, each member with some different trades. Nixon would approve if he could only hear the story of how the PC could be changed around. But how to get to him?

One morning I was looking out my window at 806 Connecticut at the street below and I saw a State Department limousine pull up and discharge two very distinguished black gentlemen, in formal cutaways, with valises and top silk hats. They headed toward our building and went inside. I asked my secretary what gives and she didn’t know. I walked down the hall to see Betty Williams (later to become Betty Currie) and asked who they were.

‘They’re ambassadors from developing nations,” she said. “Today they’re from Guinea and Ghana. They come in to see the Director because he’s an assistant secretary of state and also we have Peace Corps volunteers in their countries.”

I said: Oh. And started to leave when what she said over her shoulder caught my attention.

“Yeah, they come here to see him and to present their credentials—very formal, State Department protocol. Then after they see the Director, they go back to the car and go to the White House to see Nixon. The president is a stickler for meeting each ambassador one on one in the Oval Office.”

You mean, from here they go to see Nixon in the Oval Office?


So I went to the director and made a suggestion before he received the ambassadors.

When they trooped in, he said that in his estimation their countries should receive more stepped-up foreign aid from this government. To effectuate that, he would like to accompany them to see the President. After they left, he could make the case for them in person. Also—more important—to make the case for the Peace Corps.

They were enthused.

He added: One more thing. When they would get to the White House, there would be a certain man—a Mr. Haldeman—who might well object to my coming in with you to see the president. At that point, ambassadors, it would be helpful if you were to insist that I accompany you for reasons of policy. If you would make the case strongly enough, the likelihood is that Haldeman would accede.

Continuing: Once in the Oval Office we will meet the president and the White House photographer would be present. When we line up for the photo, I will try to stand next to the president, put my lips to his ear and ask, “Mr. President, may I have a few words with you after this meeting?” Chances are that the president will be rather taken aback and say “yes.” So when you ambassadors leave, I will have a few moments with him. Then I will make the sale for more foreign aid. (And for the Peace Corps’ new directions).

All were in agreement and they bundled into the state department limo to go to the White House.


When he came back, he got locked into a meeting so I asked his aide Bill Herman his understanding was of what happened.

“Well, first of all it was a brilliant formula. Congratulations! Haldeman came out of his office and said, curtly, `not you—you can’t go in there.’ But the ambassadors, very impressive men, insisted that they wished him to accompany them in to the Oval Office. Inside there was the photographer as you said. He stood next to the president, put his mouth to his ear and asked to see him for a few minutes after and it worked. For about five minutes, until Haldeman came in and threw him out, the President was quite interested, engrossed really, and promised to follow through—telling Haldeman to arrange another meeting for them personally to discuss the Peace Corps. So it was a net coup. Now next week there will be two other ambassadors from Africa coming here and we’re going to do the same thing. Do you think it’s too much or will it work?”

Nothing’s too much. Try it.

But there was a glitch that caused some of us to re-think the mind-set of the Nixonians. After a few repeats of the strategy, a denouement.

On the third trip, the Director accompanied them to the White House…Haldeman popped out on cue and jerked his thumb meaning the Director should vamoose…the ambassadors demurred and they all went into the Oval…the picture was snapped…again the entreaty to spend a few minutes with RN on the Peace Corps…entreaty accepted…both men sat down with RN’s back to the rose garden…Outside a group of people were forming for a photograph…the then leaders of the black community: Whitney Young, A. Phillips Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Vernon Jordan of the United Negro College Fund etc. Then the Director remembered: it was United Negro College Fund Month and the photo was for that purpose. RN couldn’t see them but the Director could. After a few minutes Haldeman came in and dropped a note on RN’s desk. The Director spotted it and as he could read upside down he was startled to read: “The Mau-Maus are in the garden.”

The president glanced at the note, pocketed it, stood up and said, “Thanks, Joe.”

Cute, huh?

Herman said: “It crossed some minds that perhaps it would be smart to get out of here. Anybody who’s nuts enough to even think that much less write it is nuts enough to create a real problem. What do you think?”

College boys having fun?

Nope. When I rethought it, I agreed. Anyone indiscreet enough, stupid enough, primitive enough to make such a joke to the president of the United States which, had it gotten out, would ruin him…anyone nuts enough to do that…is nuts enough to do—what? Later there came the answer: nuts enough to send a goofy infiltration team to break and enter the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist and find out from the files what he was being treated for. Or to sneak surreptitiously into the Watergate offices of the DNC to get to Larry O’Brien’s desk and see what Howard Hughes was paying him.

But that was in the future after I left.

For the time being, the strategy worked and Nixon approved the concept of whole families going to the Peace Corps, which gave the organization a new lease on life.

After a few months passed, I was getting antsy to get back to Chicago. Our fourth—Jeanne Marie—was growing and I was only around on weekends. I was wondering: I wonder if I could connect back and get my old job at Quaker Oats? It turns out: yes. They’d take me back.

But before that, a crisis erupted that involved the entire Peace Corps building being held under siege as national media cameras whirred. More of that next time.

1 comment:

  1. If all your "lefties" were as talented as you state, I don't know why you felt obliged to carry out your orders. Seems it would be better to refuse, ignore, or resign. But it doesn't surprise me at all that you helped place them all elsewhere. I'm sure it isn't fiction, and you really did it. Not bad, Tom.