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 â€œpseudo conservativeâ€ 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 dÃ©tente 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 dÃ©tente 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 (1983â€“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.