By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Alexander Haig, 1924-2010

Alexander Haig

Alexander Haig, a longtime Media Nation favorite, has died at the age of 85. My high regard for Haig is based on the three most famous incidents of his career. I can’t pretend to know what Haig was thinking, but my strong suspicion is that his contributions to the nation were never fully understood or appreciated.

First, as Richard Nixon’s chief of staff during the final days of Nixon’s presidency in 1974, Haig paved the way for Nixon’s peaceful departure from office — no sure thing at the time. There have been suggestions, never proven, that Haig was in on secret discussions with the Pentagon to disregard any orders from Nixon that could lead to a military coup or a nuclear strike. At the very least, Haig served as an honest broker between Nixon and then-vice president Gerald Ford, who may have promised a presidential pardon during this tense, dangerous period.

Second, Haig sacrificed his career as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state by reassuring a jittery public following the attempt on Reagan’s life in 1981. Haig may not have realized it at the time, but his words before the television cameras — often misquoted as “I’m in charge” — were misinterpreted by his enemies (deliberately, I would argue) to make it sound as though he was attempting his own coup, superseding then-vice president George H.W. Bush. (Haig’s actual words: “As of now, I am in control here, at the White House.”) Haig deserves credit for stepping up at a moment when others were running around like Chicken Little. As it turned out, that moment effectively marked the end of Haig’s public service; he left office the following year.

Finally, and I say this at least partly tongue-in-cheek, Haig entered the 1988 Republican presidential primaries for the sole purpose of sparing the country from George H.W. Bush. Haig had to know he personally had no chance of winning. Thus my suspicion is that he hoped to do enough damage to Bush in order to steer the nomination to Bob Dole. Haig’s classic putdown of Bush in a 1987 debate — “I never heard a wimp out of you” — was aimed at playing off a famous Newsweek cover story about Bush headlined “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.'” And when Haig, inevitably, pulled out of the race, he endorsed Dole. Bush prevailed, of course. But Haig did what he could.


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  1. It’s hard to overstate the animus that existed in the late ’80s between many of Reagan’s stalwarts – people like Haig and Don Regan – and the Bush family. Though my personal politics tended, then and now, to moderate-liberal, it was hard not to like Al Haig when you got to know him (as I did on the ’88 campaign trail), nor to respect the selflessness with which he served.

  2. BP Myers

    Couldn’t agree more with your analysis, though you left out the part where Haig literally thought he was next after the Vice President in succession.

    Anyway, I always thought that was more than forgivable and understandable given the circumstances.

    PS: I long suspected he was “Deep Throat” as well

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: I believed Haig was Deep Throat right up until the moment that Mark Felt came in from the cold.

  3. The choice in 1988 was between George G. H. Bush and the execrable Michael Dukakis. Dukakis, of course, represents the entire spectrum of tax and spend Massachusetts politics that you represent.

    So, who was saved from what in this election?

    Dukakis became a cartoon satire of the Massachusetts left. He never heard of a tax that he didn’t like. Favored every welfare entitlement that could be created. Hated the military, and bought (in a softened form) the Mass. left’s knucklehead belief that the U.S. is an evil force in the world. Favored leaving criminals out on the street and disarming honest citizens.

    So, Bush the Senior was the better choice. We don’t get a choice between perfect good and perfect evil.

    Note to politicians who didn’t get the message, which seems to include just about all of them: Bush lost in 1992 because he did not keep his pledge to refuse to raise taxes.

    No matter what you think of Bush the Senior, to call him a wimp… well, that’s vicious nonsense. He was a highly decorated pilot in WWII. His courage and service to his country cannot be questioned by any sane observer.

  4. Lou Gawab

    Wow! I don’t think I ever heard you treat a conservative so respectfully!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Lou: Haig would be a liberal by today’s standards. So, for that matter, would Nixon and Ford.

  5. My brief encounter with General Alexander Haig:

    I used to go to this bar in Andover MA. I guess I was a “regular.” At the time (in the early ‘80’s), it was reported that Haig was thinking of running for President –“testing the waters”. Anyway it was the nice bar, configured in a tight 20’ ellipse, cozy enough for easy crosstalk.. There I am – perched on a barstool- when Haig and his daughter (a student at Phillips Academy) squeeze-in to the two stools next to me.

    Lunch begins, is eaten, and ends. And throughout it all, Haig was talking to his daughter in his very loud raspy voice, dropping numerous famous names all through his meal. Everyone couldn’t help but hear him. When finished, he pays the bartender. At this point he gives me an elbow in the chops, and whispers: “What’s the bartender’s name?” I tell him: “it’s Joe.” He then stands majestically, issues a sweeping wave, and bellows:

    Thanks Joe!!!

    and leaves. In spite of all his noise, most people didn’t know who he was.

  6. Mike Stucka

    This country is insane in regards to politicians who served their nation’s military.

    George H.W. Bush served admirably in a very, very tough situation; try reading “Flyboys” if you want more background.

    Jimmy Carter was not a moron; you still don’t get into Navy nuke school unless you’re really, really sharp, and back in the day you had to meet Rickover’s personal approval.

    John Kerry, by all _real_ accounts, was a brave, thoughtful leader who threw himself in harm’s way.

    James Stockdale may have seemed out his league when he ran for vice president, but he served this country in ways most of us can’t begin to understand.

    And the list can go on, really it can.

    But instead we’d rather worship cinema-only heroes who avoided combat, like John Wayne and Ronald Reagan; or we’d rather admire “tough guys who know when to stand up and draw a line” like Dick Cheney.

    Glenn Greenwald wrote a book on this. I thought he gave painfully short shrift to the attacks on Republican heroes like George H.W. Bush, but it overall was insightful.

  7. Michael Pahre

    During Haig’s presidential bid, I remember the deference the other Republican candidates showed to him whenever the topic of military policy came up. The other candidates would basically first ask what Haig thought, and then they would nod in agreement with whatever he said and go on to another topic. You rarely see that kind of respect in presidential races.

  8. @Mike Stucka,

    Ronald Reagan is not admired for being a “cinema-only” hero.

    He was probably the greatest president of the 20th century.

    If you want to know the way out of the current recession, look to the policies of President Reagan. Cut taxes. Cut regulation. Reduce the size of government. Cut welfare entitlements. It worked. We enjoyed a 20 year period of prosperity as a result of those policies.

    What Reagan is really remember for, however, is his role in helping to bring about the end of the Soviet Union. He favored the opposite of Dan’s current appeasement strategy with the Jihadists. Reagan, despite being branded by as an idiot by the left, decided to stare down the Soviet Union and called its bluff.

    Reagan defied the conventional wisdom of our “progressive” betters and declared that we should seek to defeat the Soviet Union and drive it out of existence. Our “progressive” betters, like our host, thought we should learn to live with the Gulags and the extermination campaigns. Remember? Reagan was supposed to have been stupid because he had the clear moral vision to condemn the Evil Empire. Our nuanced, progressive, complex thinkers knew better.

    Reagan was the great visionary of the 20th century. That’s what we remember him for.

    And, Dan, when I was young and idealistic, I thought that Ronald Reagan was an embarrassing fool. You might learn some day, too. There’s always hope.

  9. Amar S Duggal

    Gen Haig was a funny but lovely man. Always fresh and innovative. Full of courage and advanture. He will be remembered for his unique style, and his dedication to men and women in the armed forces.

  10. Mike Benedict

    I would wonder whether Stephen Thomas has ever heard of Harry Truman, but then again, that would be a waste of a thought.

  11. Mike Stucka

    Stephen: I was speaking of the context of their military records, not inviting a lengthy discourse on the non-military-service-related efforts of any of those people. But thanks for playing.

    I’d still encourage you to read the Glenn Greenwald book.

  12. Mike: Thanks for the condescension.

    Ronald Reagan did not “avoid combat.” He made propaganda movies throughout the war.

    This was, I’m quite sure, a better use of his abilities than combat.

    The “chickenhawk” card you’re playing is pretty trite. What does it prove? Seems that you think it proves something.

    Leftists employ all these snide little remarks as if they settled something. What is it, Mike, that you believe you’ve proved with this standard leftist poke? This “chickenhawk” tactics is the equivalent of a facial tic, Mike. It’s a habit you’ve acquired that signifies nothing.

    Incidently, Dan, your reader who persists in leaving obscenity laden tirades on my site seems to take particular pleasure in declaring that I’m gay. This is a common tactic among crazy progressives. If progressives are such fervent advocates of gay rights, why do they always resort to vicious accusations of deviant gay behavior when they’re angry at somebody who doesn’t agree with them?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Incidently, Dan, your reader who persists in leaving obscenity laden tirades on my site seems to take particular pleasure in declaring that I’m gay.

      Just took a look at all the comments on the front page of your blog, @Stephen. Nothing even mildly offensive. In fact, almost no comments at all.

  13. I’ve been removing the offensive comments, Dan.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Stephen: Well, I’d take a page out of your book, but then I’d have to say goodbye to you. And parting would be such sweet sorrow.

  14. I haven’t left an offensive comment on your site.

    Your readers, and you, find it almost impossible to respond to what I write, but that’s because of the inherent dead weight of the progressive ideology.

    What frustrates you and your readership is that my comments are based on 60 years of real world experience, instead of airy theories.

    By the way, have you read todays story about the continuing collapse of the global warming… er… climate change… er… global weirding crisis?

  15. Mike Benedict

    @Dan: lol!

  16. Mike Stucka

    Stephen: So if you disagree with you, it’s condescension? I was speaking of the wartime combat service of American politicians. You went off on a tangent about Reagan’s presidency.

    But can you please read this line one more time? “Ronald Reagan did not “avoid combat.” He made propaganda movies throughout the war.”

    Again, I’d encourage you to read the Glenn Greenwald book. I’ve already highlighted a significant flaw within it that you would likely discover as well.

  17. BP Myers

    “Your readers, and you, find it almost impossible to respond to what I write, but that’s because of the inherent dead weight of the progressive ideology.”

    I have responded to you a number of times asking you to support your positions.

    I specifically remember asking you to support your contention that “Dan has a plan to save the world” because I don’t remember one, and also asked you to provide a link to what you described as “Obama’s financial advisory board,” a board I am unfamiliar with and which you claimed was staffed with nothing but former Salomen Brothers executives.

    Alas . . .

  18. Mike Benedict

    @BP: Not to mention, he claims to be anti-government and anti-socialist, yet he went to public schools. Figure that one out.

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