Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The General

Our crack Rumor Debunking Department went to work to get to the bottom of the story that said that the speakers at last week's CPAC gathering (the big Conservative convention held in Washington) all got together and exchanged speeches after drawing names out of a hat, and then GAVE them just to see if anyone would notice. No, says our staff. No truth to the rumor. Now, as to the rumor that all the speeches were written by the same GUY, we're still, ah, working on that one.

No one would be blamed for seeing that Al Haig had passed away, and wondering, "Al Haig? Hmm. Was he once the vice president or was he the guy who invented the Frisbee?" There was at least one VP named Al (Gore), and the Frisbee inventor did also pass away last week, but Mr. Haig was a man who took on several governmental roles, mostly in service to Republican administrations.
By training, he was a military officer. But that's a title that may not actually fully describe one's duties. After all, Eisenhower first became known in that capacity, and George Marshall (Remember the postwar Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe?) was also the kind of military man with talent to spare for the civilian side.
Haig's specialty was getting people to agree on things while making them think THEY deserved all the credit. That's what your job is when you help run NATO, which he did, or when you're Secretary of State, which he also was. It was Nixon who spotted Haig's abilities and made use of them, making his name much better known in the process.
In fact, the Nixon years were the real zenith of Haig's career. He came to the Nixon Administration as Chief of Staff, replacing the highly partisan Bob Haldeman. Since he was not in the line of possible Watergate crooks, he was a little freer to work with all the parties involved, which was itself pretty complicated.
Imagine seeing, sometime before your peers in government, that it would be best for the country for your boss to resign, and to get him to do so, while thinking it was HIS (Nixon's) decision. Haig, by the way, had to take on, because no one else would, some of the decision making powers of the president, whose mental state suffered as his inner defense mechanisms kicked into gear and his circle of trusted allies shrank to a handful of confidants. Haig also had the job of assuring Gerald Ford, the VP who hadn't been elected at all, and who had been ratified as the disgraced Agnew's replacement less than a year before, that the option of a presidential pardon was open, but was NOT! a price for the resignation itself. The nation, without knowing it, owes Haig its thanks for bringing these events into place, all without a shot being fired or even so much as a violent threat being made.
All this was, in fact, so subtle that when Haig himself decided to run for president in 1988, he was unable to state his greatest qualification for the job - that he had been closer to being president than any of his competitors. Since it had been 14 years since Haig's feat of ending the long Nixonian nightmare, everyone had already forgotten, and George "I was out of the loop!" Bush became the nominee.
Is there any lesson to this? I think it's this: The nation is more divided along partisan lines today than in the early 1970's, and members of the administration (yes, both parties) seem more attached to their bosses than to the nation's overall well being. Haig gave us the best of the other kind, handling things in the best way possible for the long term, even though it meant that his party had to suffer in the short term. Thank you, General.


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