Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Personal Asides: Thanks to a Reader Who Refreshes My Shaky Memory on Flashback Let Me Take You Back to the Days When Things Were Really Black for Republicans.
Thanks very much to reader Dan Arquilla who was smart enough to catch this doddering old mans confused memory so I have had the opportunity to correct the draft and not mislead my kids.
I wrote about Sam Rayburn disagreeing with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dan brilliantly points out that Speaker Sam died in 1961, hence he was not a factor. As I was pounding this stuff out on the computer late one night I got confused and mixed Rayburns opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957, a largely formless bit of fru-fru passed during the Eisenhower administration. Actually, the weak so-called voting rights act was conceived of by all people, Sen. Dick Russell of Georgia, a segregationist, as a ploy to give his boy, segregationist Lyndon Johnson some standing as majority leader with the hope and foreknowledge that the bill will come to naught. I was working in the House then and I became confused with the 1957 attitude of Speaker Sam who was against the bill but who was convinced to allow it to pass. And his southern cracker banter with Judge Smith and segregationist Bill Colmer of Mississippi I in an exhibit of senility allowed to pass into the 1964 act. John McCormack of Massachusetts was the Speaker in 1964 and he was for civil rights. My deepest thanks to Dan Arquilla. I have redone the portion of Flashback that deals with that and have restored Speaker McCormack to his rightful position.
Im writing this at exactly midnight Monday and I notice that my friend Michael Miner has a comment about Lyndons going on TV. Frankly Im too bushed to research it. Pardon, if you please, the doddering of 79-year-old and Ill get back to Michael Miner tomorrow. TR
Black Days in the White House.
Every day when I hear how terrible things are going for Republicans and that they are bound to lose the presidency, I think back to where they were really in trouble and what happened in defiance of all predictions.
It was the odd-numbered year before the presidential election. We had a two-term president in all kinds of trouble. There was a newly reinvigorated Democratic Congress causing a pack of troubles for the Republicans. There was a pack of Republicans running for the presidency, clawing each other, knifing each other and steering away from praising the incumbent president because of the troubles he had gotten himself into.
The Republican two-term incumbent in severe trouble was Ronald Reagan whose administration had just been adjudged by the International Court of Justice to have illegally sold arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Bribing terrorists with arms, something Reagan had vowed he would never, ever do. Iran-Contra became the biggest governmental scandal of the century in 1987, a year before the GOP would have to run again to try to hold on to the presidency.
The national security director, Robert (Bud) McFarlane resigned and the next national security director, John Poindexter vowed to get to the bottom of the mess. Then as a private citizen, McFarland tried to commit suicide by an overdose of Valiuman inept way to do it if youre going to do it.
Wriggling to get off the hook, Reagan professed ignorance of the plot and called for an Independent Counsel to investigate. But it turned out that Reagan wasnt ignorant of the plot or deal at all. While the arms sales and hostage releases were going on, the president signed an official finding authorizing the actions. His credibility disintegratedand Reagans credibility had been the single most important political asset belonging to the Republican party.
White House lawyers wrung their hands. By signing the finding Reagan had become, in international terms, a criminal. The high court found that this country had violated international law in Nicaragua and transgressed the rule that one country not intervene in the affairs of other countries.
The New York Times, the Washington Post and TV networks piled on, giving the story Superbowl-style coverage. It dominated the headlines just as Reagans term was winding down. Desperately, Reagan named what was known as the Tower Commission, headed by Texas senator John Tower, to probe the scandal. The president wenon television and said no arms were traded for hostages. But he was either wrong or lying or hopelessly confused. As the oldest president he was always under attack for losing his mental acuity anyhow.
Afterward it was discovered that despite what Reagan had said, Oliver North, Reagans assistant national security director and his secretary Fawn Hall had shredded pertinent documents. The nation asked: Is Reagan out of the loop or lying? Then the second national security director, Poindexter, resigned. Jittery, the 76-year-old president appeared before the Tower Commission and wilted under questioning by the commissions special investigator, Dan Webb of Chicago who had been appointed by Reagan as District Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Reagans answers were so jumbled, his memory so faulty that the media spread the word he was either senile or lyingor both. Later it developed that he was under the influence of pain medication which he had to take because of an operation for cancer.
All these things were shrouding the upcoming presidential election at which the Republicans were not given a chance. Againit was 1987, just a year before election, just as I write this in November, 2007 it is almost exactly a year to the day before voters choose the next president.
The Tower commission filed its report which skewered the Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger. It pulled no punches on Reagan either, saying he bore ultimate responsibility for the wrongdoing by his aides. It said his administration evidenced secrecy, deception and disdain for the law. It severely criticized the vice presidentthe leading candidate for presidentGeorge H. W. Bush for being either in the loop and lying about it or being out of the loop and not knowing what was going on.
Fourteen persons directly involved with Iran Contra were indictedof which there were eleven convictions. Secretary Weinberger was indicted for perjury. Now Reagan had to go on television again and say that his previous statements were wrong. Although he had maintained the U.S. had not traded arms for hostages, he had to admit it had. He also said his vice president, Bush, knew about the plan. Reagans popularity took the biggest single drop for any president in U. S. history according to the New York Times/CBS poll. The secretary of defense was convicted and appealed.
As the Republicans approached the 1998 elections, the news was almost unremittingly bad. As if all these things werent bad enough, a Senate committee reported members of the U. S. State Department hjad been involved in drug trafficking and elements of the Contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers.
Meanwhile the GOP candidates for president all attacked each other as they are wont to do: Vice President Bush, Congressman Jack Kemp, former Delaware governor Pete DuPont, evangelist Pat Robertson, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and former secretary of state Alexander Haig.
At the same time, the fallout from Iran-Contra continued. A Republican senator from Maine on the Tower commission said the likely GOP nominee, Bush, had endorsed the arms sales. Former secretary Weinberger said Bush knew more about the arms sales that he was letting on. UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick said it was impossible to tell with exactitude what Bush thought about foreign policy. Bush was interviewed by Dan Rather and the program degenerated into a shouting match. Bushs words were captured by a live microphone which sent them out through the nation, as Bush shouted the bastard didnt lay a glove on me! You tell your goddamned network that if they want to talk to me, raise their hands at a news conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff!
To take advantage of this Republican comedy, the Democrats nominated a cool, calm, competent, supposedly centrist governor of Massachusetts, Mike Dukakis who eschewed ideology but concentrated on competence. He started off the campaign with a 17-point lead over George H. W. Bush. Dukakis picked one of t he most popular senators for his vice president. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas. Bush made a horrible mistake for vice president, picking a callow young man who if he had any insight at all was adept at hiding itDan Quayle of Indiana. After Quayle was chosen th news came out that he may have tried to avoid serving in Vietnam by using some favoritism to join the Indiana National Guard. He and Bentsen debated and Bentsen scored a knockout with the injunction:
Senator, youre no Jack Kennedy!
Moreover in the middle of the presidential campaign, Chinas dictator Deng Xiao-ping endorsed George H. W. Bush.
If this wasnt a prelude to a disastrous defeat for the Republicans, I dont know what worse could happen. Now look at what happened.
George H. W. Bush won for president 54% to 46%.
Ronald Reagan went to become rated as one of the six great presidents in U. S. history.
What caused this turnaround?
Liberalism gripped the Democratic party and the voters were turned off. A Massachusetts prison furlough program involving Willie Horton was cited not by the Republicans but by Tennessee Sen. Al Gore who was seeking the Democratic nomination. Horton was freed on furlough and after Dukakis freed him, broke into house, raped a woman and beat her husband.
Dukakis had vetoed a pledge of allegiance requirement for Massachusetts schools.
And then capital punishment.
The issue became incredibly whether Dukakis was a weakling liberal without intestinal fortitude even to avenge a rape and possible murder of his own wife. On Oct. 12, 1988 in a debate between the two presidential nominees, CNNs moderator, Bernard Shaw asked: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis [his wife] were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
Incredibly, Dukakis answer was no. I was watching the debate and saw George H. W. Bush act as if he couldnt believe his ears.
Dukakis said, No I dont and I think hyou know that Ive opposed the death penalty during all my life.
The nation recoiled. Dukakis poll numbers dropped from 49% to 42% overnight. The election was all but over.
More update: Olive North, indicted on 16 counts was found guilty but was freed because his 5th amendment rights were violated by use of his testimony to Congress which had been given under grant of immunity. He has since become an author and served as a permanent host on Fox News.
The second national security director, Admiral Poindexter, had the book tossed at him. He was convicted of several felony counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and altering and destroying documents. But like North he had testified before Congress with immunity so the convictions were tossed.
Caspar Weinberger was convicted but pardoned by President George H. W. Bush and has been honored as an outstanding defense secretary and architect of the defense buildup that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
All I can say is now even the memory of Iran Contra seems to slip away. But at the time news commentators were heralding the end, the final solution, the termination of the Republican party.