Given he was garnering about 2 percent in national polls, it may have seemed a bit premature for former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt to have started naming possible cabinet appointments last July. During a Democratic candidates debate in Houston, Babbitt decided that for his quest to be taken seriously, it might help to drop some serious names. So right then, only 480 shopping days before the election, he rattled off a list of Washington’s finest, including Robert ‘Mr. Democrat’ Strauss and Warren Christopher, Jimmy Carter’s Deputy Secretary of State and a certified member of the foreign policy establishment. Babbitt’s press secretary, Mike McCurry, explains the Christopher choice: “It was a way of communicating to inside the Beltway. Hey, I have some sense of how things move in Washington, I’m no hick governor with straw coming out of my ears.”
Babbitt inadvertently let the TV audience in on what political junkies have been all too aware of: the other campaign, the one for federal jobs. It’s already well underway. Candidates are trying to attract big-name advisers and, just as important, would-be appointees have begun campaigning aggressively for post-season jobs. Like the unknown governor yearning for the presidency, the aspiring cabinet secretary must start early if he or she wants to stand out.
When Gary Hart was the front-runner, the seekers clamored to get close to his senior aides. “As the Hart campaign was warming up there were people trying to elbow their way in, some with very sharp elbows,’ Richard E. Feinberg, a foreign policy adviser to Hart, told The New York Times. Hart’s exit affected this other campaign as much as it did the one for the nomination. Now the seekers have spread out. Super-lobbyist Anne Wexler is a top adviser to Michael Dukakis, James Schlesinger is whispering in Richard Gephardt’s ear, Robert Strauss is simply everywhere, and hundreds of lesser-knowns have fanned out to the candidates of their choice. “How do people do it?’ said Feinberg. “By ingratiating themselves with senior advisers, by writing unsolicited memoranda, providing either advice on campaigning or specific issues, by offering to organize a briefing session on a subject.’ Or they pound out opinion pieces, angle for a few precious minutes on Nightline, or attend conferences. Lots of them. The conferences of choice this year have been those of the Washington-based Center for National Policy. The Center has become a sort of employment agency for the government-in-waiting, just as the Trilateral Commission and the Industrial Policy Study Group were in previous elections.
Insiders know that they’d better campaign now because competition becomes frenzied during the ten-week transition period after the election. The clawing and climbing of job seekers has been so frenetic during past transitions as to evoke Stephen King descriptions from officials involved: “a black morass,” “a whirlwind,” “thunder clouds and lightning,” “that tidal wave,” “that avalanche, that onslaught.”
Presidents, in part to avoid the stampede, often choose people they know and trust, a formula that can backfire in the form of a Bert Lance or Frank Moore. Although less known than Lance, Moore was perhaps more damaging. Carter put him in charge of the White House congressional liaison office because Moore had done such a fine job lobbying the Georgia legislature when Carter was governor. But Moore was as much of a Washington neophyte as Carter; many of the administration’s legislative initiatives stumbled over Moore’s inexperience—”a disaster” is how one top Carter aide describes Moore’s tenure.
Presidents will also make cabinet-level selections that satisfy the demands of the department’s constituencies. Reagan selected James Watt to be Secretary of the Interior to please Western politicians like Senator Alan Simpson and Western business interests like the National Coal Association, whose president bubbled at the time, “We’re deliriously happy.” (Reagan, who at first shared the sentiment, eventually stopped smiling when Watt became the administration’s chief liability.)
To dispel the impression they’d make appointments of the caliber of Lance, Moore, or Watt, candidates have made an equally perilous mistake: relying on respectable Washington insiders.
There are, of course, some talented people in Washington institutions like congress, the think tanks and law firms. But too often they have investments in the same failed policies that new administrations are supposedly elected to overturn. Outsiders might lack government experience, but insiders are more likely to be blind to ideas percolating in the rest of the country. Take Carter’s appointment of Joseph Califano, a veteran bureaucrat of the Kennedy-Johnson years, as his secretary of health, education and welfare. When Carter’s Labor Department tried pushing a welfare reform program tied to a work requirement, Califano argued that people on welfare were “functionally illiterate unemployables.” Carter pointed out that he had plenty of capable employees on his farm who could operate forklifts but couldn’t sign their names—just the sort of common sense you’re more likely to pick up on a peanut farm than on the banks of the Potomac. Califano continued to advocate that old liberal warhorse, a guaranteed national income, which doomed the welfare reform initiative Carter had made such a high priority.
Finally, there is the danger that in the quest for someone with an impressive resume who knows how Washington works, a president overlooks obvious faults he wouldn’t tolerate from some no-name, such as, say, being a complete jerk. James Schlesinger impressed candidate Jimmy Carter with his brains, his high-level experience (he’d run the CIA, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Defense Department), and with secrets regarding the defense spending vacillations of his old boss, Gerald Ford, just in time for the presidential debates. After the election, Carter hired Schlesinger as energy secretary. But Carter fired Schlesinger in 1979 in part for the same reason Gerald Ford had—he was unbearably arrogant and impatient with lesser minds who disagreed with him, and hence inept at dealing with Congress.
Similar disasters lurk among the respectable candidates for appointment in a new Democratic administration. Each of the five people on our list represents a tendency of establishment Washington that a Democratic president would have to challenge if he or she hopes to govern well enough to win reelection in ’92. Several have an additional liability: character flaws that might not hamper their ability to win a seat at the cabinet table but, once there, could prove damaging to their president. All have some fine qualities, and after eight years of watching conservative rockheads in top federal jobs, almost any Democrat is going to seem refreshing. But that’s hardly an argument for giving them some of the most important jobs in America.
It may seem a little early to be sorting resumes for a Democratic cabinet a year before the party has even chosen a nominee, let alone taken the White House. But by next fall it will be too late; when “that avalanche, that onslaught” comes, the harried president-elect will start turning to those people who helped him early in the campaign. With each passing day, these troublesome courtiers are winning valuable brownie points. Putting a few establishment resumes in the “reject” pile right now might be the next step towards making the Democratic party something the nation can be proud of.
To understand what’s wrong with Pat Caddell, take a sip of New Coke and then a sip of Classic Coke. If you’re like me, you’ll wonder how on earth Coca-Cola thought changing the formula was a great new idea. Yet it makes perfect sense that Caddell was a marketing consultant on the New Coke campaign. It was, after all, new. A change. And Caddell is the official strategist/ pollster/Svengali of those on-the-move-and-lookin’-for-a-change baby boomers. “Coke was very receptive,” Scott Miller, Caddell’s partner on the Coke contract, told The Wall Street Journal before the product bombed. “It’s ironic that Pat and I have been beating our heads against the wall for the last two years with the Democratic party to get them to embrace change, and then go to corporate America and it accepts our concepts.” The people at Pepsi must have delighted in that irony, and in the long run, if Pat Caddell is influential, the Republicans will too.
There is no doubt that despite the slump of his current candidate, Joe Biden, Caddell knows how to win elections—he helped George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Gary Hart stun political pundits. Caddell has shown brilliance in analyzing the Democratic party’s problems. He saw the need to come up with a “better approach for the Democratic party than constantly trying to glue together another version of the New Deal coalition every four years,” as John McEvoy, a Hart adviser and Caddell fan, puts it.
But there is an aspect to his thinking that is bad not only for his candidates but for governance. Caddell believes the key to winning contemporary elections is appealing to “alienated” voters—that ever-growing group of mostly younger voters who are not easily identified as liberal or conservative and don’t trust government, politicians, or the parties. You can’t lure these voters with programs and stands on specific issues, so the theory goes. Rather, you must remain as uncommitted as they are. You lure them by attacking that which caused their alienation: the Establishment. Even if he were inclined to help his candidate address the nation’s substantive problems and articulate a coherent package of solutions, he’d have trouble. Caddell understands polling, public opinion, and campaigning, but his knowledge of and interest in government is scant. As a result, Gary Hart, a man with at least some substantial views on major issues, became, under Caddell’s control, open to the charge, “Where’s the beef?” A good bit of beef was there; Caddell simply had no urge or facility for conveying it. He helped express only that part of Hart’s appeal he understood and thought was important—his youth, newness and independence from “the failed politics of the past.”
Promising disaffected voters or soft-drink guzzlers something you can’t deliver is more than just cynical, it’s reckless. “Basing politics on appeals to alienated voters,” writes Sidney Blumenthal in The Permanent Campaign, “seems self-defeating, since as a politics without a fixed position, it creates more alienated voters. Carter may have been able to win the presidency on this basis, but he has found it difficult to govern.”
This explains the fallout from the infamous “malaise” speech that Carter and Caddell wrote based on a long Caddell memo. Carter spoke eloquently about leadership and national angst but offered no compelling plan of action. Although most people remember the speech as a disaster, Carter’s approval rating shot up immediately afterwards. It was only disastrous a few days later when Carter’s solution—some awkward cabinet firings and haphazard policy proposals—gave the (correct) impression that he wasn’t in control. “Having diagnosed the patient’s moral neurosis, Dr. Carter was unable to provide the cure,” writes former Carter speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg. “He’d raised expectations so high that when he proved unequal to the task of meeting those expectations the public took a terrible revenge.”
Joe Biden is now learning the same lesson. Caddell has modified his boilerplate “outside insurgent” strategy to fit the fact that his candidate has been a U.S. senator for 15 years; Biden is now “an inside insurgent,” leader of that fiery rebellion known as the “coming of age of a new generation.” Biden’s rhetoric, his promise of a renewal of idealism, can draw thundering applause. But already the gap between promise and delivery is showing. “What’s Biden Saying?” was the headline of a David Broder column about a campaign speech Biden gave outlining his foreign policy. After interviewing members of the audience, Broder concluded that “Biden’s speech really demonstrated more of the temptation to fuzz the issue than to give a straight answer.” The New Republic‘s Morton Kondracke found the same reaction in Iowa, where Biden in August was “doing nothing in the polls and is gaining the coffee shop reputation as a ‘big mouth, not serious.’”
Just suppose Biden picks up in the polls and wins the election thanks to Caddell’s strategy. Having failed to offer alternative views and positions, Biden, like Carter but unlike Reagan, will arrive in office with no mandate to do anything in particular except maintain his popularity in the polls—a job for which he would need the assistance, obviously, of Pat Caddell. During the 1976 Florida primary, Caddell’s polling showed that the public thought Carter was unclear on the issues. “The problem,” Caddell told Blumenthal, “was that the fuzzy issue had caught up with Carter.” The campaign put out a series of pseudo-substance ads that corrected the “fuzzy issue” at least enough to get Carter into the White House. Thanks, Pat.
Is it really Caddell’s fault if Carter had no program, Hart couldn’t articulate his, and Biden’s a windbag? Of course not. And a president with a coherent program and message might make good use of Pat Caddell’s strategic mind. But it says something about Caddell that he has not tended to drift to people like that. If a solid candidate did manage to sign him on he or she had better be careful: Pat Caddell, in his personal behavior, is a PR disaster waiting to happen. He either gets his way or, well, he has a tantrum. “He’s like a lot of people who make it very young,” Frank Mankiewicz, executive vice president of Hill & Knowlton and a Caddell ally, has said. “He’s certainly had a late adolescence.” As a consultant to Gary Hart’s 1984 campaign, Caddell would thunder and moan and threaten resignation again and again when he felt his strategy wasn’t being followed, oblivious to how his public whining hurt the candidate. During a key fundraiser on the night of the New Hampshire primary, he stormed past perturbed potential donors and out the door, leaving Hart to make the best of a bad public scene. “You can’t believe a grown man would behave that way,” observes a member of Hart’s campaign staff who maintains a friendship with Caddell. “He’s like a parody of some temperamental movie director.”
He’s no less persistent when his ideas are dumb. In the 1980 campaign, Caddell urged Carter to attack Reagan as a racist and a warmonger. The plan backfired when the press made Carter’s “meanness” a major campaign issue. “Pat would frequently come into my office with some off-the-wall idea that we needed to implement ‘right away,”’ recalls one senior White House official. “I’d usually sit there and listen and then not do anything, and the idea would usually just go away.” Unfortunately, Caddell is such a dynamic, persuasive, and relentless character that too many of his bad ideas just don’t go away.
No, not the Chicago Bear. And if this William Perry were to be given a kitchen appliance nickname it would not be “refrigerator” but “self-adjusting-all-weather-nasally-attentive microwave oven.” William Perry is Mr. High-Tech of the defense world. His license plate reads “HI TECH.” And he’s on the short list to be secretary of defense. He’s already advised several candidates (expressing “the greatest admiration” for Al Gore), is a regular conference-goer, a habitual commission-joiner (he was on both the Scowcroft and Packard commissions), and is a trusted adviser to defense god Sam Nunn. He was Carter’s Undersecretary of Defense for Research, Engineering, and Acquisition, and, as the title implies, understands the complex technologies that go into modern weapons. But his record of having helped build an arsenal of weapons that don’t work shows he knows quite a bit less about the unpredictable realities of combat.
That’s too bad because the next secretary of defense will have to be a particularly good one to help guide our military out of the mess created, in part, by William Perry. After all, the Reagan arms buildup was primarily a radical increase in purchases of weapons designed and developed during the Carter administration. As Under Secretary, Perry effectively controlled which emerging technologies and weapons systems would receive R&D funds and which systems the Pentagon would procure. Among the regrettable high-tech weapons systems he gave the green light to: the MX missile (still no basing system), the TV-guided Maverick missile (fighter pilots become sitting ducks when they launch them), the F-18 fighter (costs more, performs worse than the planes it replaced), the Aquila Remotely Piloted Vehicle drone (worse than the Israeli version, 16 times as expensive), the DIVAD gun (no amount of money could make it work), and the Apache helicopter (the Pentagon recently grounded the entire fleet).
Many a fine man might have succumbed to the pressures of the services lobbying for these duds. The trouble is that Perry is devoted to the idea that the U.S. can throw technology at its defense problems. This is not surprising given that his military experience is almost entirely of the chalkboard variety. Trained in mathematics, he worked in the California electronics industry, where he co-founded a defense electronics R&D firm before going to the Pentagon. Since leaving government he’s been working as an investment banker specializing in high-tech and defense companies.
When faced with questions about the high costs and inconvenience of high technology weapons, he whips out his calculator metaphor. Calculators, he points out, used to be clunky devices that took up half your desk and cost several hundred dollars a piece. Today they fit in your palm and run $5.99. True, the microelectronics used in modern weapons are better and cheaper than they used to be. But the price of the microelectronics-laden weapons themselves—not to mention their operating costs and the rate at which they break down—has skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the price of comparable consumer items, like cars, with all their fancy new electronics, has dropped slightly in real dollars over the past five years. That’s because in the defense market—unlike the consumer market—a handful of producers sell a small number of units to one buyer—the Pentagon, whose perverse bureaucratic tendency is to demand ever more expensive and complicated products.
Perry argues that high-tech is good tech because it’s the best way to compensate for the Soviets’ numbers advantage; they have four tanks deployed for every one of ours, for example. Our only hope, he says, is to make use of our country’s technological superiority. Rather than match the Soviets tank for tank, Perry promoted something called Follow on Forces Attack (FOFA), a strategy that, in theory, uses guided missiles, heat-seeking “smart” munitions, and complicated radar targeting systems to destroy Soviet forces before they get to the battlefield.
A few minor problems. According to the Office of Technology Assessment, no one can say how much FOFA will cost, though the whole premise is that it will be cheaper than building more battlefield weapons like tanks. No one can say if the plan will work, because no one has figured out how to test all the systems working in tandem. The more money we spend on FOFA, of course, the less we have to buy tanks, giving the Soviets an even bigger advantage. Yet FOFA, dubbed “the 13 miracles weapon” by Pentagon skeptics, has moved ahead under the Reagan administration and would probably get a big boost if Perry returned.
It’s not that technology can’t improve weapons. The cruise missile is an example of a worthwhile high-tech weapon Perry helped bring about, though it too has problems. But the best way to determine, short of battle, when technology is improving weapons and when it is not, is a system of rigorous testing. This is where we should really worry about Perry. His most infamous accomplishment in office was to quash the Office of Testing and Evaluation (OTE). Created in 1977 by Perry’s boss, Defense Secretary Harold Brown, OTE was to be a much-needed independent check on Pentagon weapons procurement. This was a direct threat to the weapons developers inside Perry’s office of research and engineering and conflicted with Perry’s vision of beating the Russians by speedily incorporating new technologies into the American arsenal.
Perry initially succeeded in reducing the OTE’s staff to eight, but even then the office raised embarrassing questions about some Perry-backed weapons. So he teamed up with defense industry executives to convince senior Pentagon officials to limit the office’s role to review tests conducted by the individual services, and later, to have all review functions transferred back to Perry’s Research and Engineering Office.
Perry also kept more and more defense projects outside congressional oversight by enlarging the Pentagon’s top secret “black budget.” Before coming to Washington, he and his company had prospered by working on black projects for U.S. intelligence agencies. “He liked black projects from a management point of view,” recalls Robert Komer, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. “He was terribly pleased to have Congress out of his hair.” But pleasant as its programs are to administer, the black budget, according to some insiders, has become a hiding place for the biggest boondoggles around, such as the Stealth bomber and the forward-thinking program to have roving robots fight World War IV. (See “The Dark Secret of the Black Budget,” Tim Weiner, May 1987.)
You’d hope that if he doesn’t like extra testing or congressional oversight, he would at least encourage vigorous internal debate. “Perry didn’t like brouhaha, he didn’t like debate around the table,’ recalls Charles Myers, who worked under Perry as Director for Air Warfare. “It’s natural for these guys who come from private industry. They’re used to working with people who share the common goal of making a profit. They don’t realize that in government people have competing interests. . . . For weaknesses in proposals to surface, you need to demand fierce adversarial debate.”
Creating controversy and making enemies, however, is not the Perry style. James Schear, executive officer of the Aspen Strategy Group, which Perry co-chairs with Brent Scowcroft, says Perry remains on good terms with people in the defense industry, the R&D community, and throughout the Pentagon—the very people a good defense secretary should rile. Adds Schear, “I honestly can’t think of a single person who dislikes him.”
If a Democrat is elected president, Anne Wexler will likely rise to the level of her incompetence. The brilliant business lobbyist who served as Jimmy Carter’s Assistant for Public Liaison (chief cajoler of interest groups), is now eyeing a cabinet level post, most likely Commerce or Transportation, according to friends and associates. As probably the Democratic party’s most plugged-in and powerful female activist, she’s got a good shot at it. If the president happens to be Michael Dukakis, whom she advises regularly, Wexler’s chances will increase.
It would be a troubling sign if a Democratic administration put a corporate lobbyist in charge of a department whose major constituents are corporations, especially when the person, in the words of one Carter administration official, “has no philosophy, no view, no conceptual apparatus” about regulation, commerce, or economic policy. Her ideas on these subjects “depend on who gets to her last, and her daily friends and informational contacts are big shots in the business world.” Such “open-mindedness” on business matters is the perfect mind-set for a corporate lobbyist, but a cabinet secretary who mistakes the position papers of the Chamber of Commerce for the national interest would fit better into a Republican administration. On many non-business issues, Wexler’s heart is in the right place. Giving her a business-related cabinet post, however, would be folly.
Wexler has had a long career of helping liberal causes. A tireless campaign organizer in the 1960s and 1970s, she excelled at building unlikely interest group coalitions—persuading construction unions to support antiwar Democrats, for instance. She employed her skills for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and landed a job in the Commerce Department, where she stayed until 1978, when she moved to the White House.
The new job required meeting with the myriad interest groups that demand White House attention. Wexler’s predecessor, Midge Costanza, had let her liberal impulses upset the delicate interest group balance, once engineering a meatless White House buffet to celebrate Vegetarian Food Day at a time when cattlemen were complaining about low beef prices. The White House wanted Wexler, among other things, to patch things up with the business community. She did, becoming famous for her “Wednesday group,” in which lobbyists, lawyers, and business people could share their concerns directly with Carter and his aides.
The day after Reagan’s inauguration, she and two other Carter officials followed a well-worn path into the private sector, setting up their own lobbying firm. They soon added a Republican partner, Reagan confidant Nancy Reynolds, making the firm “administration-proof.” She became, in the words of journalist David Owen, the “Rolodex Queen.” She assembled a stable of well-heeled clients, including General Motors, the New England Electric System, Manville, and Aetna Life and Casualty, and quickly earned a reputation for being a shrewd political tactician.
She has used her skills to fight some seamy battles. Soon after starting her firm, Wexler represented Foothills Pipeline Company, a Canadian energy firm. Foothills was part of a consortium Congress said could build an Alaska natural gas pipeline, provided the costs weren’t passed on to consumers until after the pipeline was up and running. When those costs skyrocketed and banks refused financing for the project, the consortium hired Washington’s top Democratic power brokers—Robert Strauss (former chairman of the Democratic party), Charles Manatt (then chairman of the Democratic party), and Wexler. They lobbied Congress to let the consortium bill customers for the costs of construction—potentially $37 billion—even if the project were never completed and no gas delivered. The consortium hoped this would lure the banks back.
Consumer groups led by Ralph Nader counterattacked. Rep. Tom Corcoran, a conservative Republican, called the legislation “potentially the greatest consumer rip-off in the history of the United States.” Wexler and her partners organized Alaska interest groups to pressure congressmen, and the consortium backed it up with $80,000 in campaign contributions. They won the vote, but, thankfully, the banks still didn’t trust the pipeline enough to fund it.
Last fall, Wexler had a chance to demonstrate to skeptics that she still had a liberal core on business issues. The midterm election had broken all records for campaign spending, with Senate candidates spending an average of $3 million and House candidates $300,000 each, to win their seats. PACs, most of which are affiliated with a business, accounted for a third of all that money. But a consensus was finally building to take some major action. The Senate was considering legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd and Senator David Boren, that would give public money to candidates who voluntarily limited their total campaign spending, thereby reducing the impact of PACs and reversing the fundraising wars that bid up campaign costs.
A group of Washington lawyers and lobbyists asked Wexler to join them in backing Byrd-Boren, but rescinded the invitation when they found out about Wexler’s latest venture. The Washington representative of one of her firm’s clients was head of a group called the National Association of Business Political Action Committees (NABPAC). Wexler agreed to help coordinate the group’s efforts to fight Byrd-Boren. As an alternative, NABPAC offered a package of worthy little reforms—more financial disclosure, a higher limit on personal contributions—that left PAC power intact. While the Byrd-Boren forces were trying to stave off defeat of their bill, Wexler was helping NABPAC marshal Republicans for a filibuster.
Wexler’s strong association with liberal causes, her Jewish-mother charm, and her pioneering as a woman in the world of big-stakes lobbying, gives her a reputation as more than just a deal-cutter for big business, a Robert Strauss with pearls. She promotes this image by publicly expressing her concerns about the problems of the Democrats, having lamented in 1983, “I worry about the impact of special interest groups.” It’s a legitimate point, so legitimate that Anne Wexler shouldn’t be in the next Democratic cabinet.
Mary Frances Berry
For a Democrat looking to appoint blacks and women to high government posts, Berry’s resume is a special treat. She’s an author, lawyer, academic, and experienced federal bureaucrat. She was assistant secretary for education in Jimmy Carter’s HEW and is a member of the Civil Rights Commission, where she has led smart and merciless attacks against the clownish chairman, Clarence Pendleton. “Mary Berry’s name will surely be on the list any Democratic president looks at when he’s picking a secretary of education,” says Roger Wilkins, the black former assistant attorney general. Insiders agree Berry also has a good shot at a top job in Health and Human Services or at the chairmanship of the Civil Rights Commission. But many of Berry’s colleagues know that the scrappiness she showed in her battles with Pendleton has an ugly side—a vitriolic, uncompromising style she uses against both conservatives and liberals to promote her ideas, which are sometimes downright weird.
Although the assistant secretary job was mostly a figurehead position, she managed to earn a reputation as someone who simply couldn’t be dealt with. “Abrasive and not interested in compromise” is how a former HEW official describes her; “a bull in a china closet,” says another. Officials of various ideologies learned to avoid involving her in policy decisions out of fear she’d shatter consensus and jeopardize initiatives. “She found herself isolated. She so distrusted people as to not be trustworthy herself,” explains yet another former HEW colleague. “The question was always ‘What do we do about Mary?’ Eventually they just sent her out on speaking engagements.”
She wasn’t much help on the lecture circuit either. In one speech, Berry embarrassed the Carter administration by praising major aspects of the education system in communist China. That students chosen by the government to receive higher education “must develop what they call socialist consciousness and culture,” was no cause for criticism. “It would be both cheap and easy for us here in America to denounce that approach.”
A momentary flight of harmless cultural relativism? Consider what Berry and co-author John Blassingame wrote in their 1982 book, Long Memory: The Black Experience in America. In one chapter she gave an interesting revisionist interpretation of Great Society efforts to promote family planning in black ghettos: “Although most historians have dismissed the claims of Afro-Americans that the United States had inaugurated a campaign of genocide against black people in the 1960s as unfounded, hysterical charges, the threat of genocide was real. It was roughly comparable to the threat faced by Jews in the 1930s.” And on why American blacks remained cool to communism in the twenties and thirties: “Subjected to a massive barrage of propaganda from American news media, few of them knew about Russia’s constitutional safeguards for minorities, the extent of equal opportunity, or the equal provision of social services to its citizens.” The guys at the Ukrainian-American League must have loved that one.
Berry holds in contempt not only “white moderates who claim to be our friends but try to tell us how to think” but liberal blacks who don’t happen to share her take-no-prisoners political style. A Washington reporter recalls, “She would call me up and just castigate me for reporting a David Stockman speech or a White House statement regarding the Civil Rights Commission. She uses the most hateful, obnoxious language, telling me I’m a black reporter so therefore I’m being irresponsible.” Berry would rather burn a bridge than build one. She decided not to endorse the call by Civil Rights Commission moderate John H. Bunzel for chairman Clarence Pendleton to resign. Principle is all very nice, but to Berry having an easy target was more important.
Her bitter single-mindedness makes her not just unpleasant but incapable of guiding policy on difficult and controversial issues about which liberals themselves—not to mention the nation as a whole—have strong disagreements. In advocating the standard civil rights remedies—affirmative action, busing, minority set-asides, comparable worth—she shows unwillingness to concede that some of the civil rights groups’ ideas aren’t completely on target. Berry last year tried to quash a Civil Rights Commission report that suggested discrimination was only one of many causes of the persistent gap between the incomes of black and white males. (She regularly attacks the research quality of reports she happens to oppose on ideological grounds, a practice for which Pendleton is justifiably assailed but Berry is not.) She acts as though anything opposed by conservatives is by definition laudable, a formula guaranteed to leave bad policies intact. Just because conservatives attack set-asides doesn’t mean such programs aren’t a lousy way to encourage minority entrepreneurship.
The folks at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she was chancellor, know what can happen when Berry is put at the helm of a large organization. In 1977 English professors had decided that minority students should not receive credit for summer courses given by the Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) because the classes were “remedial.” The faculty argued that “high-risk” minority students, though helped by the courses, were still entering fall classes seriously deficient in language skills.
Minority students and EOP officials protested. Berry and the English department reached a compromise under which the students would receive credit for the summer courses but would also have to take freshman English. Simple enough, until 25 minority students barricaded themselves in the dean’s office. Berry, who had already left for Washington, came back to campus to negotiate. (She had told the university the federal job would last only a year and the U.S. Senate that she expected to stay in Washington indefinitely. Angry officials in Washington and Colorado were just discovering the conflicting statements when Berry flew back to Boulder to defuse the crisis.) Outside, according to The Denver Post, minority students led a rally to support the “struggling masses” inside, calling the course compromise “racist” and demanding “destruction of the capitalist system which the University of Colorado represents.”
After meeting with the students, Berry announced a new policy: if the students would be nice enough to leave the building without tearing it apart, the university would grant all their demands—no freshman English requirements; EOP, not the English department, gets control of the classes; amnesty for the protesters. English professors were beside themselves with anger and drew up a petition demanding that she be censured. But Berry was already back in Washington, leaving the university to clean up the mess.
Brzezinski? What newly elected Democrat would be crazy enough to appoint the guy responsible for Jimmy Carter’s national security policy? All those who play the credibility game. It is common practice for a president to appoint someone who represents the opposite wing of the party in order to gain credibility for a particular policy. No one is more despised by right-wing Republicans than Henry Kissinger, that proponent of (and they spit out the word) detente. But as head of Reagan’s bipartisan commission on Central America, Kissinger was able to give the report credibility with groups beyond the right wing of the party and still come out tough on the Sandinistas. Brzezinski has positioned himself well to be useful to a Democratic president by maintaining a continuous barrage of conservative opinion pieces, speeches, and books. Painful as it may be—”the whole topic stirs up an animal I thought I had put down,” says former State Department spokesman Hodding Carter—we cannot be reminded too often of just what a bad choice Brzezinski would be.
First, right now he is just about in sync with the right wing of the Republican party. He supports Star Wars and the contras, is suspicious of even Reagan’s arms control negotiations, and has heartily endorsed the administration’s efforts to use American ships to protect Kuwaiti tankers carrying Japanese oil from attacks by Iran—all to keep the Soviets out of the Persian Gulf. (I say “right now” he’s too conservative because in the beginning of the Carter administration he was quite the advocate of a “multi-polar” worldview. But when it became clear that such a view wasn’t politically popular, he returned to his natural fixation on East-West relations.)
During the Carter administration he was the master of counseling “bold” action to be “tough” on the Soviets even when reality dictated another course. He argued for sticking by the Shah long after it was clear the Shah had lost his nerve and his internal support. He pushed plans for an Iranian military coup, while reports from the field said the military wasn’t prepared to stage one. Even his support of the hostage rescue mission was rooted in geopolitics. Fourteen hours before the mission began, Brzezinski wrote, “If it is a success it will give the United States a shot in the arm which it has needed for 20 years.” On human rights, “except for one speech on Human Rights Day at the White House, Zbig was nothing but a roadblock,” recalls Patricia Derian, the assistant secretary of state for human rights.
In theory, any Democratic administration could have a token adviser to habitually boil down all international situations into an East-West struggle—sort of a hard-line ombudsman. But such a role requires a certain self-control, a maturity Brzezinski does not possess. This is a man, according to Hamilton Jordan, so insecure that he would put positive press clips on himself into the president’s “in” box. Even in his own memoirs, he didn’t bother to hide his own petty insecurities, sprinkling the pages with bitter playground comments. In Power and Principle, he mentions that Cyrus Vance “had a way of . . . blinking his eyelashes” in the presence of the president. Walter Mondale, another Brzezinski foe, had a “loving way he would comb his hair in front of the mirror.” West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt wore elevator shoes.
Even after Iran-gate, nobody is looking back wistfully to Brzezinski’s tenure as NSC chairman. Let’s just say he was no “honest broker.” Indeed, he relentlessly exploited the main built-in advantage of the office—instant access to the president—to waylay his opponents. He put himself in charge, for example, of writing reports summarizing NSC meetings for the president. But he convinced the president that in order to control leaks he should not let those reports circulate among insignificant players like the Secretary of State, who had also attended the meetings. This allowed Brzezinski to put his own spin on other people’s arguments, as Vance would often discover when he finally got a copy of the report—after Carter had made his decisions, of course. “Mr. Vance did not understand until very late that it was total war,” Hodding Carter says.
Brzezinski even proved willing to damage his own administration in order to further his policy goals. Take, for example, the 1978 policy fight between Vance and Brzezinski over events in the Horn of Africa. Brzezinski believed the presence of Cuban advisers in Ethiopia during a border dispute with Somalia should hinder the SALT II talks. Vance was adamant that it was a local issue that could be worked out in regional negotiations and that it was absurd to endanger arms control over such a minor matter. Carter listened to the arguments, then sided with Vance, and made the position public. Later, on Meet the Press, Brzezinski blurted out that the Soviets were engaged in an effort “to encircle and penetrate the Middle East [and] to stir up racial animosities in Africa” and implied that these transgressions should be linked to SALT II. Carter was furious when headlines in The Washington Post and The New York Times the next day announced both a tougher American attitude towards the Soviets and a serious dispute within the administration. Brzezinski, a man obsessed with the need to present a tough image to the Soviets, had made his own president look indecisive and weak.