Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who Will Be the Last One Standing?

William Saxbe died yesterday at the age of 94.

If you aren't old enough to remember the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford presidencies, you might not recognize that name. But Saxbe was Nixon's attorney general during the final year of the Watergate scandal, and he remained in the Cabinet to serve as the attorney general under Ford — at least for the first six months of the Ford presidency.

Now, I'm old enough to remember much of the Nixon administration. And I can tell you that, for many reasons, Cabinet members seemed to be cheap and plentiful when Nixon was president. Twenty–nine different men held the 12 unelected Cabinet posts that existed during Nixon's 5½–year administration. Two of them served in two different Cabinet posts.

Nixon was a complicated man, a man whose own insecurities, fears and suspicions loomed over all the activities in his White House. And one of the clear underlying themes of everything in those days — from Woodward and Bernstein's reporting for the Washington Post to the Senate hearings to Nixon's famous transcripts — was how paranoid everyone in Nixon's administration became.

Even the people who voted for Nixon didn't particularly care for him. One of my earliest memories of Nixon was of his supporters describing him as "the lesser of evils."

And I must admit that I felt discouraged when I heard that. I had read inspiring stories of other presidents — George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt. I had heard my parents speak admiringly of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. And I hoped that, one day, America would elect a president who would inspire me during my lifetime.

But that president was not Richard Nixon.

There was a sense of fear that surrounded Nixon's presidency, a sense that anyone who spoke against him publicly was finished in Washington. So a shroud of enabling silence descended over the Nixon White House.

But his presidency ended 36 years ago. Nixon himself passed away 16 years ago. You would have to think that, even from a group of men as large as the one that served in his Cabinet, there would be few left after 36 years.

So, when I saw that Saxbe had died, it got me to wondering. Was he the last? Or was anyone left from the Nixon years?

I guess, if I had stopped to think about it, I would have realized that at least one Nixon Cabinet member — Henry Kissinger — is still living. He's 87.

Most of the notorious members of Nixon's Cabinets are gone now — John Mitchell, for example, who was one of Saxbe's predecessors at the Department of Justice, and John Connally, who served at the Department of the Treasury.

But I was astonished to learn that more than one–quarter of the men who served on Nixon's Cabinet at one time or another are still alive.

Kissinger is probably the best known of the bunch, but one of Nixon's Labor secretaries, George Shultz, also was prominent in the early days of the Reagan administration as Al Haig's replacement at the State Department. Shultz is 89 now.

Another name that some people will recognize is that of James Schlesinger. He was Defense secretary under both Nixon and Ford, then went on to serve as the head of the newly created Department of Energy during Jimmy Carter's presidency. Schlesinger is now 81.

Those who remember the Nixon presidency also may remember the name of Melvin Laird, who was Nixon's first secretary of Defense. He, too, is still living. Like Kissinger, he is 87.

The other four probably aren't very well known to most Americans. I doubt that they were very well known to most Americans even when they were serving in the Cabinet. They are:
  1. James Hodgson, 94, former secretary of Labor;

  2. Frederick Dent, 88, former secretary of Commerce;

  3. Peter Peterson, 84, former secretary of Commerce; and

  4. James Lynn, 83, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Who do you think will be the last one standing from the Nixon administration?

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