Thursday, October 27, 2005

H.R. Haldeman


While we await a possible announcement regarding indictments in the Plame Leak investigation (or not), it is perhaps fitting and appropriate that we remember H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, President Nixon's chief of staff and convicted Watergate conspirator, who was born on this day in 1926 in Los Angeles.

The son of one of the California businessmen who contributed to the private political expense fund which inspired Richard Nixon's famous "Checkers" mea culpa in 1952, Haldeman was an ad executive who helped to engineer Nixon's winning image during the 1968 presidential campaign. After the election, Nixon appointed Haldeman as his White House chief of staff.

The lynchpin of Bob Haldeman's administrative approach was the cultivation of an image for himself, one of ruthlessness to front-line adversaries and constituents outside the White House as well as among the hired help. Sporting a military-style crew-cut long after it had fallen out of fashion, Haldeman was an arrogant, cold-blooded field marshal who enforced his sense of order upon White House calendars and to-do lists in the service of Nixon's objectives, and he reveled in press descriptions of Nixon's "efficient Prussians" (Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, Nixon's domestic adviser) building a "Berlin wall" around the Oval Office.

As the White House puppet-master he knew about the covert plans of the Watergate burglars and participated in the cover-up; the infamous "18-1/2-minute gap" in the White House tapes contained a conversation he had with Nixon which many believe would have shown that Nixon had known all along about the entire Watergate affair.

After the Watergate story broke and he was forced to resign in April 1973, Haldeman grew his hair to a neat and somewhat fashionable length in a last-ditch attempt to soften his public image; nevertheless he was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice and served 18 months in prison.

Afterwards, Haldeman went into the real estate development business and published two memoirs, The Ends of Power (1978) and The Haldeman Diaries (1994) in which he took responsibility for the paranoiac atmosphere which prevailed in the White House. He died in 1993.

After Bob Haldeman, the position of White House chief of staff became a public one, reserved in large part for ex-officeholders -- ex-Senator Howard Baker, ex-Governor John Sununu, ex-Congressman Leon Panetta, ex-Secretary of Transportation Andrew Card, etc. In effect, it became a position demanding as much public trust as most elected positions -- while positions such as deputy chief of staff and chief of staff to the vice president have, until the recent scrutiny of the press, been faceless to the public at large.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Hank H H said...

There are so many misstatements and misconceptions in this article that it is tough to know where to begin. Perhaps it's best to just address the most egregious.

"The son of one of the California businessmen who contributed to the private political expense fund which inspired Richard Nixon's famous "Checkers" mea culpa in 1952...." This is untrue. In fact, this is the first place that any such allegation has ever been asserted.

"he reveled in press descriptions of Nixon's "efficient Prussians" " While the descriptions were, indeed, those of the press of the time, what documentation can be offer that Haldeman "reveled" in these?

"As the White House puppet-master he knew about the covert plans of the Watergate burglars" In actuality, it has never even been ALLEGED, much less documented or provedn, that Haldeman "knew about" the plans of the buglars. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!

" Haldeman grew his hair to a neat and somewhat fashionable length in a last-ditch attempt to soften his public image" How on earth can you pretend to know why he grew his hair. The arrogance of this statement approaches that of which you ascribe to Haldeman!

"After Bob Haldeman, the position of White House chief of staff became a public one, reserved in large part for ex-officeholders.... In effect, it became a position demanding as much public trust as most elected positions." In fact, the COS remains a position that the President has absolute and unbridled authority to appoint. This commetn implies that there is some constraints upon this position, which is entirely incorrect. It further fails to reflect the fact that EVERY successor to Haldeman in this position has recognized the salutory role that Haldeman played in defining the position in every administration since 1968.

1:16 AM  
Blogger RSchuler said...

Hank --

Thanks for your note. I appreciate your comments.

This short remembrance of Bob Haldeman is certainly not one of my favorite pieces, but it is one that I crafted with some care. I was 9 years old, a kid living right next to Nixon's hometown, when the Watergate story broke. My parents were Nixon supporters in 1972 -- as I was, too, by extension. Congressman Charles E. Wiggins, our congressman, was one of the last Republicans to break from supporting Nixon during the final days of the Watergate episode. I think that, overall, my experience with growing up with Watergate was one of heart-felt disappointment, and not one of partisan sniping.

I agree that Haldeman's knowledge of the specifics of the Watergate burglary prior to its occurrence was never proven in a court of law. Fortunately, however, a generation later we have some ability to acknowledge the clarity of other inferences, including those given to us by Haldeman himself. It was Haldeman who recommended to the president, on the basis of Egil Krogh's memo, that the White House "plumbers" group be created to deal with special investigations, such as the one involving Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers; he certainly knew generally about some of the activities of the burglars in that connection. It was Haldeman who later recommended that John Dean to coordinate covert intelligence gathering for the Committee to Re-Elect the President. The "plumbers" unit later merged into the re-election intelligence effort, and Haldeman rightly took responsibility in his autobiography for creating the White House atmosphere that stimulated covert operations, and for the circumstances that resulted in Watergate specifically. It was an honorable admission on Haldeman's part, and one which reveals something of the scope of his belief in his own culpability, even if it stopped short of admitting further criminal behavior or advanced knowledge of certain superficial details. Finally, Jeb Magruder, Haldeman's aide, has stated that Haldeman knew.

If I am mistaken on some of the other facts, then so is the Washington Post. Although many might wish to take the Post's declarations with a grain of salt given the Post's enthusiastic reporting on the Watergate scandal back in the day, the Post's obituary of Haldeman does say the following:

(Regarding his attitude toward press descriptions)

"He relished his role in the White House as what he once called 'the president's son-of-a-bitch.' Critics made fun of his German name, short haircut, arrogance and capacity for detail."

(Regarding his father's contributions to Nixon's private political expense fund)

"In 1952, when Nixon was Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate, Haldeman's father was one of the businessmen who contributed to a private political expense fund for Nixon. When the existence of the fund became known, Nixon gave his famous "Checkers" television speech, which saved his place on the GOP ticket."

The Post even mentions Haldeman's subsequent hairstyle, by the way.

Ultimately, I believe Haldeman graciously acknowledged his own role in the development of the public attitude toward the office of White House chief of staff. I did not say that any legal limits have been imposed upon the president's ability to make his own choice to fill the role -- but presidents are often guided by public perceptions in making their decisions, and in light of the microscope that was turned upon the role of chief of staff in 1973, it is obvious that a significant majority of those who have held the position since Haldeman have been public, high profile men. To fail to acknowledge the connection between the two would be to operate with blinders on.

If my humble blog were meant to be an encyclopedia, it would in fact be superfluous; there are plenty of clinically objective renderings of history out there for those who seek them. My blog is not meant to be an encyclopedia, and I hope it is not completely superfluous, even if what I have to say is not always particularly creative, new or insightful.

Once again, I appreciate your comments!

R.

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate you. How dare you speak of a man like this. You make grand assumptions and rude comments. Hank H H is 100% correct here. As for you, pure rubbish putting a bad name to journalism. Do you even realize who Hank H H is (or most likely is??). Be respectful, report the truth- the known facts.

11:44 PM  

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