“The Last Regular Republican”

Sidney Blumenthal’s latest column deserves a close reading. It shines a light on another part of our recent political history, when the Republican Party was taken over by the Goldwater-Reagan “pseudo conservative” faction. Further, it shows us how the Bush II Regime tied the Reaganite conservatives back to the Nixonian imperial presidency, giving us the worst of several possible worlds in one toxic White House.

When the late Gerald Ford became President, he chose Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president. And this mightily pissed off the Reagan faction, including Reagan himself. Reagan actually snubbed the President on a visit to Washington.

Reagan’s motive, however, was ultimately personal pique – he was “disappointed that he had been passed over himself,” according to his biographer Lou Cannon. Reagan thought of himself as the rightful heir apparent and Ford as nothing but a “caretaker”.

Ford had a dismally low regard for Reagan, dismissing the threat of his potential challenge. “I hadn’t taken those warnings seriously because I didn’t take Reagan seriously.” Ford considered Reagan “simplistic,” dogmatic and lazy. Reagan, for his part, argued that Nixon’s 1972 mandate was not a Republican victory but an ideological one for junking the old Republicanism and that Ford was betraying it. “The tragedy of Watergate,” Reagan said, was that it “obscured the meaning of that ’72 election.”

Reagan’s assessment of the 1972 election makes absolutely no sense to me. About the only thing Nixon had in common with Reagan was red- and race-baiting. Nixon was an internationalist who favored détente with the Soviet Union and who visited the other Evil Empire, China. And Nixon had no ideological problem with applying some “big government” solutions to domestic problems. Nixon’s administration established the Environmental Protection Agency, for pity’s sake. I think Reagan was hallucinating.

Reagan accused Ford of fatally weakening national security. He opposed Ford’s pursuit of détente with the Soviet Union through Strategic Arms Limitation Talks that led to treaties reducing the production of nuclear weapons and Ford’s signing of the Helsinki Accords in August 1975, which held the Soviet Union for the first time to standards of human rights. Reagan’s critique appeared against the backdrop of the collapse of South Vietnam and the scene on April 30, 1975, of helicopters evacuating US personnel from the roof of the US Embassy.

Here’s where it gets interesting:

In April 1975, the Senate Operations Committee under the chairmanship of Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, released 14 reports on the abuse of intelligence. It chronicled “excessive executive power”, “excessive secrecy”, “avoidance of the rule of law”, “rogue” operations and even spying on domestic politics. “Whatever the theory,” the report concluded, “the fact was that intelligence activities were essentially exempted from the normal system of checks and balances. Such executive power, not founded in law or checked by Congress or the courts, contained the seeds of abuse and its growth was to be expected.”

Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld – moved from White House chief of staff to secretary of defense as his deputy, Dick Cheney, was promoted to the chief of staff job – created a Team B of hawks within the Pentagon who attacked the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate for supposedly underestimating the Soviet Union’s military strength. Rumsfeld began making speeches assailing detente, claiming that the Soviets were flagrantly violating treaties negotiated by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, another hate object of the right who was long associated with Vice President Rockefeller.

The CIA officially responded by calling the Team B report “complete fiction.” And CIA Director George HW Bush said that Team B set “in motion a process that lends itself to manipulation for purposes other than estimative accuracy.” Nonetheless, Rumsfeld’s inflation of the Red menace, based on faulty data, turned up the flame under Ford. Rumsfeld had his own motive: He wanted to be named vice president, a nomination that in the end went to Sen. Bob Dole, considered acceptable to Reagan.

To appease the Right, Ford pressured Rockefeller not to run as vice president in 1976, an act Ford himself called “cowardly.” Bob Dole would would be Ford’s running mate. Now, get this:

Rockefeller advised Ford: “I’m now going to say it frankly … Rumsfeld wants to be President of the United States. He has given George Bush [another potential vice-presidential choice] the deep six by putting him in the CIA, he has gotten me out … He was third on your list and now he has gotten rid of two of us … You are not going to be able to put him on the [ticket] because he is defense secretary, but he is not going to want anybody who can possibly be elected with you on that ticket … I have to say I have a serious question about his loyalty to you.”

Just think … President Rummy.

Rummy lost his government job when Jimmy Carter was elected. He played some small roles in the Reagan Administration, such as special envoy to the Middle East (1983–1984, during which time the famous Rummy-Saddam handshake took place), but for most of the Reagan years and after Rummy retreated to private industry until Junior brought him back to Washington in 2001. Blumenthal continues,

Cheney and Rumsfeld, since their days in the Nixon White House, had observed the imperial presidency besieged. Under Ford, they saw it reach its low ebb, and they were determined to restore the presidency as they imagined it should be – unchecked by an intrusive Congress, shielded from the press, and unobstructed by staff professionals in the intelligence community who did not clearly understand the present dangers that required just such an executive.

After the 2000 election, Vice President-elect Cheney held a dinner at his house where he held forth that the new administration would finish off Saddam Hussein, a job that the elder Bush had left undone, opening him to charges of softness. Rumsfeld, appointed by the new president as secretary of defense at the suggestion of Cheney, named one of the key members of the Ford-era Team B, Paul Wolfowitz, as deputy secretary. At the first meeting of the National Security Council with Bush, Wolfowitz raised the question of invading Iraq.

And there you have it. Through the Bush II White House, the drown-government-in-the-bathtub Right was tied together with the Nixonian “Executive Power Ãœber Alles” Right. This gives us secretive, oppressive, antidemocratic government that can’t govern. Nice.

Blumenthal writes that “Ford was the last regular Republican to serve as president.” If you’re much younger than I am you may not remember what a “regular Republican” is.

20 thoughts on ““The Last Regular Republican”

  1. Exactly so to the above

    . I watched the Dark Side on Frontline on PBS and felt it was good but did not delve enough into what Cheney and Rrummy have been doing the last 7 years behind the scenes.Or even the years before that behind the scenes. Remember that even when Rumsfeld was in private business he would go to participate with Cheney in “shadow government” drills where they would simulate the shadow government in the case of nuclear or other emergency. But back to recently: They deliberately gamed the system, advised who to be appointed, where, so Cheney could have a power base in the executive with Addington and Libby for example doing Bulldog duty( the documentary had Richard Clarke describing how Libby told him to ‘shut up’ ie quit contradicting Cheney in public with facts. Cheney appointed his own people at state and justice , had Addington going to Justice to threaten people, himself going to the CIA 10 times to pressure them. Both Cheney and Rummy feared the CIA having power and deliberately neutered it.They felt the CIA was trying to keep Bush from being reelected. Rice at NSA was weak just as they needed her to be. Powell at State was shut out as they needed him to be. They need an idiot frontman and got him.The DOD expanded special operations and DIA etc etc not for military strategy or streamlining the military but for Rumsfeld to compete with and outdo the CIA with his own uassailable unquestioned activities. After all the DOD budget and decisions can never be questioned or openly challenged. It is the true Sacred Cow. Same with Cheney- he is the executive and anything he does( or his staff) is covered by executive priviledge. All secret and non reviewable. Now that they have Negropnte in place, the CIA director has less power and control. So you can see this has all been one big inside bureaucratic grab of power and control. They have been totally unaccountable while neutering ever other balance of power set up to check them. The documentary did not go into it, but there needs to be some very public airing of the hundreds of executive orders Bush has signed furthering this power grab and making Cheney his virtual standin anytime it is convenient. The Constitution does not allow for this but here we are. How do we get rid of this precedent setting mess, God knows. They wanted to wield unchecked power for 30 years and they finally did –just look what a mess they have made.

  2. How do we get rid of this precedent setting mess, God knows.

    My hope is that the war in Iraq which helped build this monster turns out to be the Achilles heel that disasembles it. I don’t feel that the newly elected Democrat congress is going to act agressively to clean up the mess this time around. We’ll need a lot more death soldiers and a lot more money down the rabbit hole before they get a vision of the big picture. All the piece to the puzzle are out there, but no politican I’ve heard, or seen so far, has articulated what the puzzle looks like.

  3. Hunter Thompson, writing in his August dispatch in “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” said that Nixon had sold out the Republican Party to the Goldwater/Agnew wing at that year’s convention, in order to ensure his re-election. Thompson figured that Nixon knew the old guard Democrats who didn’t want McGovern’s people to get hold of the party apparatus would be willing to hold back support for McGovern, knowing that they’d be able to knock off Agnew with someone like Kennedy in ’76. He wrote that all of the speakers at the Miami convention were held to strict time limits — all of them except Goldwater, anyway — who was brought back out of the cold and “encouraged to rave and snarl at the cameras. … his only real competition was Ronald Reagan.”

  4. GDAE — I read the posts you linked to. Write back when you’ve got something original to say.

    I say you need to spend a lot more time on the Left Blogosphere before you make judgments about the “seeming inability of progressive commentators to provide deeper analysis” of the ISG report.

  5. I’ve said it before and I will say it again.
    Our nation did not heal becasue nixon was pardoned.
    It allowed the Republican party to become what it is today.
    Nixon was a traitor to this country and deserved to be Impeached.
    Bush also should be Impeached.
    His level of crimes has exceeded Nixon’s and yet he continues to destroy this country.
    Cheney and Rumsfeld are involved with this administrations “crimes and misdemeanors”.
    Although they were not directly involved with Nixon, they benefitted by his pardon with .
    If they had learned back then that Republican crimes will be punished, would we be in the mess we are today?

  6. I agree with Diane. I also think that perhaps George H.W. Bush was a “regular Republican.” I’m old enough to remember Eisenhower. I didn’t like Republicans then, and I sure don’t like them now. The “regular” ones were bad enough but the current crop makes them look like saints.

  7. Pingback: End of Silence - Freedom hating on the internets since 2002 » links for 2007-01-04

  8. I agree with diane also. Cheney in particular appears pretty smug in sending a message to the American public that, “You ain’t gonna do shit about it, cause I’ve got it all figured out”. I’ve seen Cheney on TV convey that message with a dismissive attitude toward attempts at accountability.. Yeah, right, we’re just empty headed moonbats incapable of grasping the need for Cheney’s forceful leadership and superb guidance.

    Eff Cheney …I hope his heart seizes soon.

  9. Yeah, what’s up with Cheney’s ticker? It’s long overdue for seizing. Was he replaced by a robot shortly after the 2000 election?

    All the Gerald Ford nostalgia has had me pondering the slimy, slippery slope of the GOP, from Ford’s caretaker mini-presidency to the Cabal of Pure Evil that the party is today. Maha, as usual, provides a concise and fascinating summary.

  10. I talk with more and more “regular Republicans” who are beginning to see the distinction between themselves and the neocons. Many of them voted Democrat in the last election. If they ever wake up and throw the neocons under the bus, they’ll go right back to the GOP. Not a good scenario for the Dems.

  11. Not a good scenario for the Dems.

    ‘Twould be good for the country if the Republicans became “regular” again, though.

  12. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush Jr are examples of men with some serious mental pathology. Lyndon Johnson had some, also.
    Even Roosevelt evidenced a little whe he tried to pack the Supreme Court.
    One characteristic is that the end justifies means.
    Neither the ends or the means are questioned.

  13. Maha – Thanks for your time. How do you define left?

    I presume you accept that there is a “political elite.” Do you think it is discredited? I don’t hear a lot of the “Left Blogosphere” delving into that level of discussion. Instead, they seem to accept the legitimacy of the rulers and the rules of the game, which work so much in favor of those with legions of lobbyists and lawyers who can negotiate their way through the complex rules (they wrote most of the rules). That level of discourse doesn’t seem very “original” to me.

    The proposed remedy of “Restrict[ing] corporate rights at the constitutional level,” might not be “original,” but it at least attempts to take the discourse beyond the superficial level of “to surge or not to surge,” or Parenti’s “original” quip about “Defeat with Honor.”

    Sorry if my earlier comment had a sting. I really appreciate do your blog. I just want people with good minds like yours to take the dialogue to a deeper level.

  14. GDA — of course there is a political elite, and that political elite is aristocratic, plutocratic, corporatist, and antidemocratic. The word “discredited” doesn’t apply, however; discredited to whom? About what? Their service to their own interests hasn’t been discredited, for example. They’re doing a heck of a job with that.

    There are endless discussions about the nature of that elite on this and other leftie blogs. If you think the leftie bloggers are “accepting the rules of the game” it makes me wonder who the hell you’ve been reading.

    How I define left — Dig out a copy of Arthur M. Schlesinger ‘s The Vital Center. Find the Schlesinger – Poole diagram. Study it.

    Sorry if my earlier comment had a sting.

    It didn’t. I just hope you aren’t one of those tiresome one-note wonders who thinks he’s found the magic solution to all political problems and won’t accept disagreement. I hate that.

  15. Maja – Thanks for your reply. One note? One hit? Google “Lebanon Damage” for my one blogosphere hit 😉

    Given your civility, I hope I won’t be “one note.” I have commented in the past.

    My dad explained the circular political spectrum to me when I was a kid in response to questions about “None Dare Call it Conspiracy.” I recently used it as the basis for a critique of the media’s portrayal of the 2006 mid-term election as evidence of a movement to the middle. I think a significant number of voters took a quantum jump, bypassing the middle.

    But I’m troubled by the circular model of the political spectrum. Granted the model seems to “explain” the “left” regimes that exhibit centralized power like a right-wing dictatorship. But, are they honestly “left,” or rather, is that how we want to define the left?

    I’ve run across people who have returned to the linear political model based on thinking of Karl Hess. Perhaps it’s an effort to reframe the concept of “left.” In a nut shell, “right” wing implies power in the hands of a few, and “left” wing implies distribution of power into the maximum number of hands. * Shrug ?*

    Yes, I think the political elite is discredited from a growing number of the people from whom they derive the “consent” to govern. The elite seems to be preparing for a global debacle. The US dollar reserve currency is slipping. They’re running out of places to reinflate speculative bubbles; Thailand has just waved off some capital flows in a pretty desperate way. The gig is up on corporate globalization (neoliberal economic model) even if the payola pundits don’t yet know it; the plutocrats do. I guess I buy into William Grieder’s thesis that The Future is Now.

  16. “Whenever two men come together as one all over an altar boy’s back in My name, there is My Church” –Jesus

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