Reedy, The Twilight of the Presidency: From Johnson To Reagan

former Nixon and Reagan aide has just told his Miller Center oral history interviewers a long story about the Nixon administration:

Young
So, what is the moral of that story?

Anderson
The moral of the story, I think, is in the White House people don’t realize the extent to which the President of the United States is forced to delegate enormous authority. You know how busy you can get during the day, try multiplying that by 100 times, 500 times. The pressures that come in are incomprehensible. So when he says, Do something, he usually thinks, Well, maybe it will get done. Most of the time, it doesn’t get done, but he says, Maybe it will get done. And he doesn’t have time to follow up.

He doesn’t have time to sit down and say, Ehrlichman, what happened with Anderson? And whatever Ehrlichman tells him, he may say, Well, Anderson wasn’t interested, which is probably what he told them. Now, he’s not going to pick up the phone and call me and say, What happened? and follow through on all this. You can talk to Dick Allen. Similar things happened to Dick Allen, in terms of he gave instructions to have Dick do certain things, and Dick was never told and then the President was told that Dick hadn’t done it.

There’s a wonderful book called The Twilight of the Presidency by Reedy. You ever read that?

Young
George Reedy.

Anderson
In which he says, If you try to understand the White House—most people make the mistake, they try to understand the White House like a corporation or the military and how does it look, with the hierarchy. He said, The only way to understand it, it’s like a palace court. And if you can understand a palace court, then you understand the White House. I think that’s probably pretty accurate. But those are the things that happen. So anyway, I didn’t go back. So I missed Watergate.

Asher
Darn.

Reedy’s book is fascinating, Reedy was himself Press Secretary and a special assistant to LBJ.

This is the bitter lesson we should have learned from Vietnam. In the early days of that conflict, it might have been possible to pull out. My most vivid memories are the meetings early in Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in which his advisers (virtually all holdovers from the Kennedy administration) were looking to him for guidance on how to proceed. He, on the other hand, felt an obligation to continue the Kennedy policies and he was looking to them for indications of what steps could carry out such a course. I will always believe that someone misread a signal from the other side with the resultant commitment to full-scale fighting.

Reedy argues that the presidency is such a powerful and weird job that in effect it always creates something of a monarchy, dependent on the personality of the (so far!) man.

When stories leaked out that Richard Nixon was “talking to the pictures” in the White House, it was taken by many as evidence that he was cracking up. To anyone who has had the opportunity to observe a president at close range, it is perfectly normal conduct.

The tone of Reedy’s book is pretty scholarly, but he’s also a skilled, entertaining presenter:

For many years, a corporation sold a popular mouthwash to the American people on the basis that it would inhibit bad breath. The slogan under which the product was merchandised – “Even your best friends won’t tell you” – meant that the subject was too delicate to mention and that a person could exclude the foulest odors without being aware of the fact. As far as the mouthwash was concerned, the slogan was somewhat misleading: not only your best friends but your worst enemies will tell you if you have bad breath. But the concept that “even your best friends won’t tell you” about unpleasant things applies with tremendous force to the president.

Reedy argues that, even in his boyhood, the President wasn’t really that important, or at least not a constant topic in national life:

For those who have lived long enough to have some political consciousness from the pre-Franklin Delano Roosevelt ere, there will be memories of local politicians who had far greater name identification than the president, even among educated people… the press spent very little time covering presidents.

What changed that? The radio, and TV cameras, and national level communication. Reedy mentions how the TV crews in the Johnson White House started keeping the cameras “warmed up,” a huge advantage that gave LBJ the power to give a TV briefing whenever he wanted. What would Reedy make of Twitter?

On the rise of Henry Kissinger:

When a crisis would break out anywhere in the world, Nixon would call his Secretary of State, who would promise to get “my people” together and report back. The president would then call Kissinger, who would give him at least ten answers before hanging up the phone. Presidents like answers.

would hang out w


Strange times

during the takeover of the Capitol by goons I went to see what Eric Trump, the President’s second son, had to say. Turns out it was his birthday so a graphic of balloons was going across his page on my phone


Napoleon meets Metternich

In the course of a face-to-face meeting in Dresden in June 1813, Metternich, by now the Austrian foreign minister, reminded Napoleon of the appalling human cost of his wars. ‘In ordinary times,’ Metternich observed, ‘armies are formed of only a small part of the population. Today it is the whole people that you have called to arms.’ This was a matter also of ‘future generations’, he remarked, in reference to the extreme youth of many in the latest cohort of recruits who had perished on the Russian campaign. Napoleon made an extraordinary reply. ‘You are no soldier,’ he barked, ‘and you do not know what goes on in the soul of a soldier. I was brought up in military camps, I know only the camps, and a man such as I am does not give a fuck about the lives of a million men’ – ‘un homme comme moi se f(out) de la vie d’un million d’hommes.’ Metternich sometimes wondered how Napoleon did not shrink from himself in horror at the pain and injury he had inflicted. Here was the answer. A lasting peace with such a man was not possible. That the Napoleon who turned up to meet Metternich the day after this chilling exchange was the soul of amiability and charm merely confirmed his intuition.

Christopher Clark, reviewing Wolfram Siemann’s biography of Metternich, translated by Daniel Steuer, in LRB.

The Napoleon whom Metternich came to know resembled a Calabrian crime boss: tender to the point of indulgence with his family, formidably shrewd and utterly pitiless in his dealings with the wider world.

Must the history-makers be psychos? Reminded of the scene in Oliver Stone’s Nixon:


Politics and drama in ancient Athens

All art has a political dimension, but tragedy actually began life in fifth-century Athens as a political institution, locked into the structures of the state. The authorities appointed an official to train and pay the Chorus, the city preserved play scripts in its archives, and there was a state fund which poor Athenians could draw on for the entry fee. Tragedy was a form of ethicopolitical education for the city state as a whole, not just a night off for the toffs.

Wild. What if the US government paid for movie tickets? They probably should! We were pretty close to a merger like this during World War II I suppose, when they’d show the GIs Mrs. Miniver and stuff.

That’s Terry Eagleton reviewing A Cultural History of Tragedy: Vols I-VI edited by Rebecca Bushnell in LRB back in February. Cleaning out my files!


BJ and Ursula

source: CNN

Struck by how much the visuals of these two, Boris Johnson and EU president Ursula von der Leyen, look like a Black Mirror version of Trump and Hillary.

The group dined on a starter of pumpkin soup with scallops; a main of steamed turbot, mashed potatoes with wasabi and vegetables; and a desert of pavlova with exotic fruit and coconut sorbet. It was fitting that fish featured on the menu, given arrangements for fisheries is one of three outstanding sticking points in the trade talks, and particularly scallops, which were the subject of clashes between British and French fishermen in 2018. 

source. Love the idea of pointedly serving someone fish.

Ursula von der Leyen is interesting. She has seven children? And maybe plagarized her doctoral thesis?

Von der Leyen’s father’s grandparents were the cotton merchant Carl Albrecht (1875–1952) and Mary Ladson Robertson (1883–1960), an American who belonged to a plantation owning family of the southern aristocracy from Charleston, South Carolina. Her American ancestors played a significant role in the British colonization of the Americas, and she descends from many of the first English settlers of Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Barbados, and from numerous colonial-era governors. Among her ancestors were Carolina governors John Yeamans, James Moore, Robert Gibbes, Thomas Smith and Joseph Blake, Pennsylvania deputy governor Samuel Carpenter, and the American revolutionary and lieutenant governor of South Carolina James Ladson. The Ladson family were large plantation owners and her ancestor James H. Ladson owned over 200 slaves by the time slavery in the United States was abolished; her relatives and ancestors were among the wealthiest in British North America in the 18th century, and she descends from one of the largest British slave traders of the era, Joseph Wragg.

Boris Johnson for his part has been getting away with stuff his whole life. As with the naughty schoolboys of my youth, I have a desire both to see him “caught” and punished and also to see him get away with it. He seems to thrive in the space where, like, a Dec 31 deadline looms, and there’s lots of technical details to work out, and he’s barely started.


Interested by this developing story

about a possible job for Pete Buttigieg in a Biden administration:

(from Politico, 10/22). Low on reward and high on risk. Sounds like a job for a hero who’s interested in taking on tough problems.

But it sounds like, reasonably enough, Buttigieg wants an easier, more fun job. From CBS:

Buttigieg, meanwhile, is under consideration for U.N. ambassador. Aides to the military veteran and former South Bend, Indiana mayor were told that some transition officials envisioned him serving as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the mayor made clear, along with his team, his preference for representing the U.S. before the world body or in another Cabinet position, two people familiar with the Cabinet discussions explained. A representative for Buttigieg declined to comment.

One factor in picking a VA secretary will be finding someone with experience managing large organizations, according to people involved in the transition. The VA is one of the largest federal departments and one of the largest hospitals systems in the world, requiring management of hundreds of thousands of employees.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens!


a haiku

The interviewer is Jon Wiener, LA Review of Books, Sept 11, 2003

JW: Most pundits emphasized the unique and unprecedented qualities of the Bush v. Gore contest in Florida that ended the 2000 election – but you wrote that the events in Florida were “not entirely predictable, but entirely familiar.” What do you mean.

JD: It was entirely predictable: at the most immediate level, the election was that close because both candidates had run the same campaign directed at the same small number of people. Florida had a certain poetry to it; it was like a haiku of what the process had become.


The goal: being in power

Baffled by politics in the last four years or so, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this Bagehot column in The Economist from 21 Dec 2019.

It’s probably behind a paywall for non-subscribers, but I’ll try and give the jist.  In the 20th and (so far) 21st centuries the UK Conservatives have been in power for longer than any other party.  Why?

It’s because the Conservative Party views their job as being in power.  That’s it.  That’s their meaning and their purpose.  The Conservative Party is not guided by any principles or beliefs or philosophies.  It may pretend to be, individual members may be, that might be part of the whole stew, but the job of the party is to be in power.

Evelyn Waugh once complained that the Tories had never succeeded in turning the clock back for a single minute. But this is exactly why they have been so successful. The party has demonstrated a genius for anticipating what Harold Macmillan once called “the winds of change”, and harnessing those winds to its own purposes.

They keep their eyes on the mission:

The Conservatives have always been quick to dump people or principles when they become obstacles to the successful pursuit of power. Theresa May immediately sacked her two chief advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, after the party’s poor performance in 2017, whereas Jeremy Corbyn is still clinging on to Karie Murphy and Seumas Milne after Labour’s devastating failure last week.

Mr. Johnson keeps with this tradition:

He succeeded in this where Mrs May failed because he possessed the other great Tory weapons. He has been willing to sacrifice anything in the pursuit of office. Beneath the bumbling exterior lies a ruthless, power-seeking machine. His withdrawal of the whip from 21 colleagues (some of them close friends) in September made Macmillan’s “night of the long knives” in 1962 look tame.

When I try to think about American politics, it helps to imagine that the Republican Party understands its job: getting power, keeping power, staying in power.  The issues are irrelevant as long as they serve this goal.  That’s why various attacks about the absolute hypocrisy of “pro life”ideas, or pretend deficit hawkishness, or “small government” –> enormous bailouts whenever necessary, etc etc just don’t stick or have any meaning.  You’re falling for the game if you fall for that.

Now, what the point of the Democratic Party is I’m not sure.  It might be “losing nobly,” or something, as evidenced by the career of this longtime Democratic operative and summed up by this speech.  Or maybe it’s “not appearing too extreme.”  Or “making people feel ok about themselves.”  In any case, it’s not as focused a mission, and it’s not gonna be as successful until it gets figured out.

Maybe the Democrats need to remember what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s supposed mentor, Saul Alinsky, put bluntly:

Horwitt says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: “You want to organize for power!

Source on that.


cause a scene

via

You’re the Speaker of the House, you’re eighty years old, two trillion dollars on the line, and the problem is someone might “cause a scene.”

The idea of “causing a scene worth thinking about!

 

 


When I read about UK or USA politics

sometimes I’m just like, haven’t we seen this before?


America as casino

Now we finally have a former casino operator as our President.  It was inevitable.  Gambling is really at the heart of America, IMO.  Even in the ancient myths of the desert Southwest we hear of The Gambler.  The thing is, this isn’t really a country, it’s a casino.  Anybody* can come here and take their chances.  Any immigrant to America was weighing the odds and taking a big chance.  If you win big, congratulations, if you crap out that’s on you.  Maybe that’s why we don’t have nationalized health insurance, and why we tolerate rule by billionaires.  It’s a feature, not a bug.  Social safety nets for societies.  Casinos don’t have a safety net.

Before Trump, Bill Clinton might have been our most casino-adjacent president.  He liked to describe himself as the man from Hope, but he was really from Hot Springs, a kind of local Arkansas Las Vegas from before the age of Southwest Airlines.  His mother spent her time at the race track and the house where young Bill spent his time had “a bar on which stood a rotating cage with two huge dice in it.”

I’m not saying I love that America is more of a casino than a country, but let’s accept that reality.  Maybe a winning political messaging could come out of something like “MAKE THE CASINO FAIR” or “A FAIR CASINO FOR ALL!”  It’s hard to look around and not think the casino is at least a little rigged, or at the very least that current management is crooked.

Or how about CLEAN UP THE CASINO! or EVEN THE ODDS!

 

 

 


These are your only options

Shouldn’t you be allowed to vote for whoever you want?

I remember the anger at the people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000.  I get it.  I voted for Al Gore, I loved Al Gore, Al Gore is like my dream politician (boring experienced intellectual veteran centrist conservationist globalist).  But the people who voted for Nader get to vote for Nader!  Al Gore didn’t earn their vote.  They don’t owe Al Gore a rotten fig.  You can’t be mad at the people who voted for someone else for not cynically falling into line to vote for an establishment centrist they didn’t prefer.

Same deal with Susan Sarandon!  She can vote for whomever she wants, cool for her for having interesting choices.  You’re gonna blame her for Trump?  Blame the woman who had an absolute slam dunk layup election on her hands, who had many advantages, enormous amounts of money, her husband was a very popular President of the United States two Presidents ago, for failing to convince enough voters to vote for her.

Dr. Jill Biden, in New Hampshire, says:

You have to swallow a little bit and say, ok, I personally like so and so better, but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.

If you check out the video you can also see Joe Biden’s first campaign ad, which highlights how “all the polls agree” Joe Biden is the best candidate to beat Trump.

Quit your thinkin’, voter, this one’s been decided for you.  Who’re you gonna believe, your judgment or some polls we pulled together?

The whole premise of the Biden campaign makes me sick.  This is a guy who was a weak, confused candidate who couldn’t stop himself from making stuff up and plagiarizing not just speeches but the family histories of other politicians when he was in his prime!  And now he is… guess how old Joe Biden is.

Did you guess 72?  74?

Joe Biden is seventy-six years old!  He will be seventy-eight if he takes the oath of office in Jan 2021.  Eighty-two at the end of his first term.

What has Joe Biden done with his life?  I get that he was Obama’s pretend best friend, but really, who is a person who in Joe Biden’s thirty-eight some years of public life he really helped?  Uplifted?

(skimming his Wikipedia page)

OK I guess he did stand up for Delaware’s chicken farmers, Delaware’s banks, and in many ways benefitted the people of Delaware (by getting them federal taxpayer money). He was an advocate for Delaware, a state with a population of about one-quarter of the city of Los Angeles.

Where has he been on the big issues?  He voted against the “good” Iraq War, the one we won, and for the bad one, the one that was a stupid, deceitful, horrible disaster from start to… finish?  I guess it’s over?  For us?

(Oh no wait we still have five thousand troops there.)

Joe Biden is sometimes said to know a lot about foreign policy but he was exactly wrong on the biggest American disaster of my lifetime.

Biden has said, “I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I’ve crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate.”[119]

OK, well that is cool, but didn’t the same bill also eliminate higher education for inmates and create new death penalty offenses?

The argument I hear for Joe Biden is that white Rust Belt working class men, who are alleged to have cost Hillary Clinton the election in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc,  like him.  Well, I don’t know if that’s true, I am not a white Rust Belt working class man.

I do think that:

1) the group credited with “swinging” the last election is never the group credited with swinging the next one

2) it’s not my job as a voter to put myself in the hypothetical mindset of some possible swing voter in another state and attempt to pander to their whims in order to take out the current whim-panderer.

It’s my job to choose the candidate who I try and suss out has the best character, judgment, and policy understandings and preferences to be the President of the United States.

For a campaign to suggest anything else, to suggest five months before the first primary/caucus that voters should shut up and get in line, that this is your only option, is so insulting I can scarcely believe it.

We try not to be all negative at Helytimes, so in the interest of saying something nice about Joe Biden he does have a great smile.


George HW Bush

Thought of this photo today.

(what’s David Gergen doing there?  sometimes I’ve been that guy).

All posts related to any Bush.

 


Meanwhile in Australia

It started when Greens leader Richard Di Natale called Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan an “absolute pig”, after the Senator said there was a “bit of Nick Xenophon in” Ms Hanson-Young.

“He’s an absolute pig. He should be booted out. He’s a disgrace,” Mr Di Natale shouted across the chamber. “You grub.”

An emotional Senator Hanson-Young said Senator O’Sullivan and conservative independents Fraser Anning, Cory Bernardi and David Leyonhjelm were “cowards” who had spent months levelling slurs at her.

“You are not fit to be in this chamber. You are not fit to call yourselves men,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

She backed the Greens leader for calling out Senator O’Sullivan’s “reprehensible” remarks.

“That is what real men do. Real men don’t insult and threaten women,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“You grub.”

Enjoy reading news stories about the goings-on in other English speaking countries, you usually have to fill in the gaps just enough to piece together what’s happening.

(thanks to our Sydney correspondent for the link and background)


Bannon as Bond villain

It’s not fashionable to even listen to Steve Bannon these days, and I don’t know why you’d invite him to your festival.  But when I read or listen to interviews with him, I always feel I’m gaining insight.  Much like a Bond villain, he seems to delight in revealing his plans.  Consider a moment at 17:05 above:

Third is the deconstruction of the administrative state.  It’s the reason Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are on the Supreme Court.  They’re not social – they’re not about abortion or gay marriage, these people are about the Chevron exemption, they’re about deconstructing the administrative state.

I think he means Chevron Deference, which I had to look up.  A lawyer friend defined it for me:

It emerged from a case called Chevron U.S.A Inc vs Natural Resources Defense Council:

Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1977 to address states that had failed to attain the air quality standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) (Defendant). “The amended Clean Air Act required these ‘non-attainment’ States to establish a permit program regulating ‘new or modified major stationary sources’ of air pollution.” During the Carter administration, the EPA defined a source as any device in a manufacturing plant that produced pollution. In 1981, after Ronald Reagan’s election, the EPA, which was headed by Anne M. Gorsuch, adopted a new definition that allowed an existing plant to get permits for new equipment that did not meet standards as long as the total emissions from the plant itself did not increase. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental protection group, challenged the EPA regulation in federal court, which ruled in the NRDC’s favor. Chevron, an affected party, appealed the lower court’s decision.

Bottom line, the Court ended up ruling the EPA could make its rules and they wouldn’t intrude too much.

But wait one second: Gorsuch?

It was this woman, mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch!

3-5-1981 President Reagan meeting with Anne Gorsuch EPA Administrator-Designate in oval office

How about that!

It gets a bit complicated after that and I’m afraid above my paygrade, but it seems Gorsuch The Son doesn’t care much for Chevron Deference.  His tone on the topic tends to veer towards the sarcastic:

Under Chevron the people aren’t just charged with awareness of and the duty to conform their conduct to the fairest reading of the law that a detached magistrate can muster. Instead, they are charged with an awareness of Chevron; required to guess whether the statute will be declared “ambiguous” (courts often disagree on what qualifies); and required to guess (again) whether an agency’s interpretation will be deemed “reasonable.” Who can even attempt all that, at least without an army of perfumed lawyers and lobbyists? And, of course, that’s not the end of it. Even if the people somehow manage to make it through this far unscathed, they must always remain alert to the possibility that the agency will reverse its current view 180 degrees anytime based merely on the shift of political winds and still prevail.

One can’t but wonder: does any of this have to do with his mom?

Just think it’s interesting that Bannon says they don’t give a fig about social culture war issues.  Remember that Bannon and Kellyanne Conway are more or less hired guns for the Mercer family, of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund.

I wonder if Brett Kavanaugh will get through, or if they’ll have to find a different person to help dismantle the administrative state.

As always we welcome your comments!

 


message

sent by Rhode Island desk


Weak, weak, weak

The Trump era will end when a Democrat can get in Trump’s face and confidently say this.  American politics is not structured for this kinda face to face thing so maybe it won’t be until 2020.

Jump to 3:42 in this director’s cut to see the almost sexual excitement that explodes when Blair drops the word “weak”:

Sherrod Brown is the Dem who physically resembles Blair here the most, imo.

Once a confident Democrat is calling Trump weak to his face, the fight will enter the pattern laid out by Randall Collins:

How does violence sometimes succeed in doing damage? The key is asymmetrical  confrontation tension. One side will win if they can get their victim in the zone of high arousal and high incompetence, while keeping their own arousal down to a zone of greater bodily control.

Trump will enter a state of high arousal and high incompetence.  Collins continues:

Violence is not so much physical as emotional struggle; whoever achieves emotional domination, can then impose physical domination. That is why most real fights look very nasty; one sides beats up on an opponent at the time they are incapable of resisting.

Unfortch a US president in a state of high arousal and high incompetence has a non-zero chance of ending human life on Earth, so that also must be weighed.


When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death knells ringing

we used to listen to this record when I was a kid.

when friends by shame are undefiled

also a good line.

The first was the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, which led, ultimately, to the ousting and gruesome lynching of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. Afterward, many people who interacted with Putin noticed how deeply Qaddafi’s death troubled him. He is said to have watched the video of the killing over and over. “The way Qaddafi died made a profound impact on him,” says Jake Sullivan, a former senior State Department official who met repeatedly with senior Russian officials around that time. Another former senior Obama-administration official describes Putin as “obsessed” with Qaddafi’s death

reported Julia Ioffe for the Atlantic in February 2018.


Montenegro in the news

Montenegro in the news:

made me think of:

Gatsby is finally telling his backstory to Nick:

       “Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief and I tried very hard to die but I seemed to bear an enchanted life. I accepted a commission as first lieutenant when it began. In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major and every Allied government gave me a decoration–even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!”

Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them–with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines. He reached in his pocket and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm. “That’s the one from Montenegro.” To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look.

“Orderi di Danilo,” ran the circular legend, “Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.”

“Turn it.”

“Major Jay Gatsby,” I read, “For Valour Extraordinary.”

#teammontenegro


Henry Adams to young FDR

Henry Adams with dog Marquis from Wikipedia

Young man, I have lived in this house many years and seen the occupants of that White House across the square come and go, and nothing that you minor officials or the occupants of that house can do will affect the history of the world for long.

Believe he said this to FDR when Frank was assistant secretary of the Navy.  Quote from Old Money by Nelson Aldrich.