Donald Rumsfeld, Economic Hit Man
Posted by Charles II on February 15, 2007
Tom Englehardt presents an important piece written by Roger Morris.
Bipartisan collusion rescued [Rumsfeld]. By 1968, President Lyndon Johnson’s four year-old Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the heralded antipoverty program with its grassroots “Community Action” and its Legal Services for the poor, had become a potential success story — and thus anathema for powerful Democrats as well as Republicans. … OEO was ultimately doomed when the nascent political, economic, and legal assertiveness it nurtured among the thirty to fifty million dispossessed threatened the hold of vested-interest donors and the mingled power bases of governors and mayors, congressmen and legislators of both parties.
With Nixon’s victory over Humphrey, OEO’s death became a certainty, though a tough infighter was needed as director to take out the agency’s life support systems. Nixon first ignored the appointment; then, later in 1969, at the urging of ranking Senate and House Democrats as well as Ford and Ellsworth, named Rumsfeld to the post. He, in turn, chose as his deputy Princeton pal Frank Carlucci, already off to a buccaneering start in the Foreign Service amid early 1960s CIA coups and assassinations in the Congo. The writ was plain. On Capitol Hill, they called Rumsfeld “the undertaker.”
So it was that a slight, already balding 28 year-old Republican Congressional intern, Richard Bruce Cheney, soon steered to the new OEO Director a 12-page memo setting out how to run the agency in a way that would kill what they all deplored. …
The hiring brought three future Secretaries of Defense — Rumsfeld, Carlucci, and Cheney — into the same office, toiling to abort the unwanted embryonic empowerment of the poor.
[Cheney and Rumsfeld] shared something rarely then so openly admitted on the right: an abhorrence of the liberations sweeping the 1960s, not just the right’s pet scourges of bureaucracy, crime, drugs, social fragmentation, and (however suitably coded) racial integration, but the unsettling ferment of newfound freedoms and honesty, the defiance of cultural and institutional oppressions — especially by minorities and women….
OEO began the Rumsfeld myths. “He saved it,” Carlucci would blithely tell oblivious post-9/11 reporters hardly apt to check the actual fate of the agency. Carlucci would spin an image of an ever-energetic Rumsfeld taking up the cause of the needy, streamlining and fortifying the laggard agency despite the funeral that had been ordered. It was a blasé postmortem lie. Community Action, Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, and most decisively Legal Services (whose leadership Rumsfeld and Cheney together decapitated in 1970) — one by one, each of these beleaguered efforts was stifled or sloughed off to political sterility. This mission, at least, was accomplished. By the time the burial was complete — with the agency’s quiet extinction in 1973, unmourned by the powers of either party — the undertaker had moved on to higher office.
The key lessons here are (1) that the reason the Republicans so greatly hate and fear the 1960s is because that era threatened to bring the freedoms this country boasts about to the poor and marginalized, and (2) conservative Democrats were just as eager as Republicans to bury the poor.
The rest of the article, about Rumsfeld rise to being the horseman on the dark steed, is well worth reading.
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