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Leakapalooza: Leaks are Nothing New in the White House

by Rich Rubino on February 22, 2017

Donald Trump is waging a Holy War against information leaks. He recently complained:“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It’s criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time before me.”

Leaking has been a bone of contention between Presidents and maverick government officials throughout the existence of the Republic. While Presidents attempt to keep private information private, moles regularly disclose the information to the media. Contrariwise, when the President actually wants to get the information out, he will sometimes leak the information himself.

In 1870, U.S. Attorney General Ebenezer R. Hoar of Massachusetts was asked by President Ulysses S. Grant to resign his Cabinet position. Grant told Hoar that Southern Senators were lobbying him to put a Southerner in the Cabinet and also protested that he had too many Massachusetts’ natives in his Cabinet. However, before Grant could publically announce the resignation, Grant’s personal secretary leaked the information to the media, and in the process blindsided Grant’s staff and Cabinet.

In 1874, as the nation was mired in an economic depression, President Grant ordered General George Armstrong Custer to lead a group to what is now known as the Black Hills of South Dakota to identify a good area to construct a military outpost. During the mission, Custer and his team happened to discover gold. When word got out, miners voyaged to the area to prospect for the gold. Many media outlets demanded that Grant annex the land. However, the U.S. had signed a treaty granting the Lakota Indians plenary authority to the land.

Grant publicly maintained that he would not violate the treaty. Yet his administration, seeking to purloin the land from the tribe, created fake grievances against the Lakota’s. Erwin Watkins, who worked as an inspector at the Federal Indian Bureau, was enlisted to issue a report about the Lakota tribe members who did not sign the peace treaty with the Federal Government. The dossier branded the tribe as “wild and hostile bands of Sioux Indians.” The Lakotas were also excoriated for allegedly killing white settlers.

The Report was leaked to the media. The leaker was never exposed. The Chicago Inter Ocean Newspaper reported: “The roving tribes and those who are known as wild Indians will probably be given over entirely to the military until they are subdued.” The administration denied that it was planning for war. However, war did ensue and the U.S. seized the land.

Theodore Roosevelt leaked information to the Press during the anthracite coal strike of 1902, telling the Media that he would nationalize the nation’s coal mines and order federal troops to distribute the coal if a settlement could not be reached. This leak effectuated an agreement by the coal companies to sit-down at the arbitration table with the United Mine Workers. The result was that the coal miners were awarded a pay raise and a shorter workday. Thus the strike was averted.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson campaigned for a full Presidential term in office in part by trying to tether his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, to extremists. When the Goldwater campaign used the slogan: “In your heart you know he’s right” the Johnson campaign cleverly retorted: “In your gut you know he’s nuts.”

Goldwater denied charges that he was “trigger-happy.” He argued that Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had authorized the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Actually, McNamara had ordered the Seventh Fleet to the Gulf of Tonkin, authorizing them to use “whatever force is necessary,” but had categorically discounted the use of nuclear weapons.

In order to combat Goldwater’s line of attack that Johnson was actually more bellicose than him, either Johnson or a subordinate leaked to Chalmers Roberts of The Washington Postthat Johnson had ordered the usage of “conventional ordinances only.” This was proved by listening to Johnson directly giving that order. The President recorded his telephone conversations. The subheading of Roberts’ article read: “Orders now taped.”

When Vice President Gerald R. Ford assumed the Presidency in 1974, after the resignation of Richard M. Nixon, he chose former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to assume the Vice Presidency. However, an allegation was gaining traction that Rockefeller had hired henchmen to disrupt the Democratic National Convention. Hamilton Long, a crusader against Communism, leaked the allegations to the Press. This prompted Ford to instruct the FBI to investigate the charges. Rockefeller was cleared when the accusations against him proved mendacious. Long had claimed that there was a safe deposit box which contained documents proving the accusations. However, the safe deposit box housed no such documents. Ford subsequently announced Rockefeller as his choice for Vice President.

In 1981, Syndicated Columnist Jack Anderson received leaks about potential changes in the cabinet of President Ronald Reagan. U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig was allegedly on Reagan’s “disappointment list.” An inflamed Haig blamed the allegation on a White House aide who was “running a gorilla campaign” against him. The leaker was never unearthed, but the possibility of a rogue aide dispensing this information became a story in and of itself.

There was an instance in 1893 wherein the White House successfully denied a leaked story. Grover Cleveland suffered from a cancerous tumor at the top of his mouth. Doctors told him that it must be removed to save the President’s life. Cleveland agreed to have it removed only if the operation did not get leaked to the press. The nation was enveloped in an economic depression and the President was trepidatious about the potential effect his condition would have on the stock market.

Cleveland and the doctors formulated a scheme wherein the President would tell the media that he was taking a four-day fishing excursion on a friend’s yacht from New York City to his summer home in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. During the trip, six doctors performed the surgery.

Two months after the surgery, E.J. Edwards of the Philadelphia Press wrote a story about the operation, telling readers that one of the doctors had leaked the information about the operation to him. Cleveland vociferously denied the story, and it soon died. However, the scheme was revealed in 1917 (24 years later) when one of the doctors, William keen, admitted the entire story and thus exonerating Edwards.

The aforementioned examples are just a small sampling of the leaks which occur in Presidential administrations. David Axelrod, a former aide to Barack Obama, averred during the President’s 2012 re-election campaign: “There are leaks out of every administration.”

Jody Powell, who served as Press Secretary to President Jimmy Carter informed the Washington Post of the process he employed to leak information to the media. “If I wanted to leak something I would get somebody else to do it. Generally speaking, the higher up the leaker is, the more credibility he has; except that, again, it might be better to have a staffer at the National Security Council do it than the National Security Adviser, because it would seem more exciting to the reporter and less like the party line.”

Donald Trump is now learning about the leaky culture which permeates the political-media landscape in Washington D.C. Leaks are not aberrations by rogue government employees, but fairly regular occurrences that have existed at the Presidential level since the founding of the Republic. The Journalist William Greider averred: “Leaks and whispers are a daily routine of news-gathering in Washington.”

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Trump Was Not First to Use Slogan “America First”

by Rich Rubino on February 1, 2017

In his Inaugural Address, President Donald Trump repeated a theme from his Presidential Campaign, telling the world: “From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.” Many Trump critics point to the fact that this was a watchword for those who opposed U.S. intervention in WWll before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Actually, the phrase has a longer history.

President Woodrow Wilson, a hardened internationalist, ironically coined the term today associated with Nationalism. In 1916, Wilson was running for re-election, by promising to remain neutral in WWl. His campaigns slogan was: “He kept us out of War, America First.” Once Wilson was safely re-elected, he ordered troops into what was at the time called “the great war.”

Once the U.S. was enveloped in the war, Newspaper Publisher William Randolph Hearst, a vociferous critic of Wilson, used the slogan against the President. Hearst was sympathetic to Germany, and warned the U.S. not to aid the allies in the fight against Germany. Hearst exclaimed: “Keep every dollar and every man and every weapon and all our supplies and stores at home, for the defense of our own land, our own people, our own freedom, until that defense has been made Absolutely secure. After that we can think of other nations’ troubles. But until then, America first!”

This slogan soon became an imprimatur for non-interventionists in both major political parties. Once WWl ended, the Americans became weary of foreign intervention. Wilson had failed in his effort to garner the requisite 2/3 majority needed in the U.S. Senator to ratify the Treaty of Versailles which included allowing the U.S. to join a collective security alliance called “The League of Nations.” Some Senators would have supported the agreement if the President agreed to certain reservations. However, the bi-partisan group that steadfastly opposed the treaty came to known as “the irreconcilables.”

After the War, the electorate harbored non-interventionist and Nationalist sentiment. A first term U.S. Senator from Ohio named Warren G. Harding exploited this message and won the Presidency in 1920. He called for a scaled back foreign Policy and high tariffs on foreign imports. For Harding that meant “absolute control of the United States by the United States.” Harding often simply called for “Americanism.” In 1919, journalist Talcott Williamsasked U.S. Senator Boise Penrose (R-PA): “What is going to be the great keynote of the Republican Party in the next presidential election?” Penrose replied: “Americanism.” Williams asked Penrose what that meant. Penrose responded:“Dam’d if I know, but I tell you Talcott, it is going to be a damn good word with which to carry an election.” Harding adopted the phrase, delivering an address surveying American history called: “Americanism.”

Harding is the clear ideological antecedent to Trump. In his 1921 inaugural address, Harding proclaimed: “America can be a party to no permanent military alliance. It can enter into no political commitments, nor assume any economic obligations which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.” Similarly, Trump averredat his Inauguration: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

Harding shared Trump’s belief in limited immigration. He signed the Emergency Quota Act into law, which limited immigration through the application of a quota system. Harding also shared Trump’s economic nationalism. He signed the Emergency Tariff Act, which increased tariffs on many agricultural products imported into the U.S.

This three-pronged nationalistic America First Policy of limited intervention in the world coupled with limited immigration and high tariffs on foreign imports at home was the reigning ideological orthodoxy of the GOP throughout the 1920’s.

After Harding’s death in 1923, his Republican Successor, Calvin Coolidge, signed the all-encompassing Comprehensive Immigration Act, which leveled quotas on each nation based on their percentage of the population in 1890. Coolidge, after signing the legislation, vocalized: “America must remain American.” Like Trump, Coolidge was also an ardent economic nationalist who borrowed a catchphrase from Republican President William McKinley (1897-1901), calling for “the full dinner pail,”meaning that the effects of protective tariffs would be advantageous for the entire nation.”

The term America First is also equated with a group formed in 1940 called “The America First Committee.” The group urged the U.S. to stay out of WWll. At its high water mark, the group included over 800,000 members. The group’s most prominent spokesman was the famed aviator Charles Lindberg. The assemblage disbanded after the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor.

One of the members of the America First Committee was U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft (R-OH) who was a successor in the Senate to Harding, and shared his America First Ideology. Taft sought the Republican Presidential nomination three times. He came the closest in 1952. Taft led the fight against the U.S. joining NATO. Today, Trump is a critic of the organization, pledging during the campaign to “aid NATO allies only if they fulfilled their obligation to us.” Taft lost the GOP Presidential nomination to internationalist Retired General Dwight D. Eisenhower. As the Cold War was proliferating, the Republican Party became unified in favoring U.S. intervention against Communism. Thus the America First ideology was marginalized within the party.

In 1991, as the Cold War was ending and the Soviet Union was splitting into 15 nations, the party came asunder again with “neoconservatives” supporting the policy of “benevolent hegemony” where the U.S. leads a unipolar world based on “universal values and principles.”

Others including Republican President George H.W. Bush, subscribed to the “practical realist” school. It takes the realpolitik view that each country pursues its own interests and that nations work together based on their common goals, not based upon a common ideology.

On the other side were “paleoconservatives” who believed that with the Cold War over, the U.S. must bring its tentacles home, and institute a “non-interventionist” foreign policy. A leader of this school of thought was conservative activist Pat Buchanan who ran for the GOP Presidential nomination in 1992. Buchanan revivified the term “America First,” declaring in his Presidential announcement speech: “We call for a new patriotism, where Americans begin to put the needs of Americans first, for a new nationalism where in every negotiation, be it arms control or trade, the American side seeks advantage and victory for the United States.” This is strikingly similar to Trump’s message today.

Buchanan ran again for the GOP nomination in 1996, declaring: “When I walk into that Oval Office, we start looking out for America first.” Buchanan lost both races, but in 2016 Trump won the nomination and the Presidency by declaring “America First.”

The internecine feud continues in the GOP. Today, members of the GOP establishment, including U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are urging an alternative vision to Trump. They support multilateral trade agreements, including the Transpacific Partnership, which Trump withdrew the United States from in his first week in office, and continue to call for U.S. interventions overseas.

Trump is the first President since Harding and Coolidge to pledge “America First.” He will now battle with members of the GOP establishment for the dominant ideological viewpoint of the Party.

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Presidential Transition Day: Some Interesting Stories

January 11, 2017

Protocol dictates that the outgoing President leaves a note to be read by his successor upon taking office. This practice began when Ronald Reagan left a note for his successor George H.W. Bush, admonishing him: “Don’t let the turkey’s get you down.” The President then welcomes his successor to the White House. The outgoing and […]

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Split Voter Syndrome

January 4, 2017

In 2016, Vermont voters selected Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by more than 26 percentage points over Republican nominee Donald Trump, while also choosing Republican Gubernatorial nominee Phil Scott by over eight points. Contrariwise, West Virginia voters chose Trump with an overwhelming 68.7% of the vote. This was his biggest win in the country. However, […]

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Congressman Tim Ryan: From Political Obscurity To Rustbelt Renegade

December 7, 2016

A year ago, U.S. Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) was an obscure backbencher Congressman. He has since become a national figure, first for his consideration by Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her Vice Presidential runningmate, and second for his role in unsuccessfully challenging House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in her bid for re-election to […]

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Donald Trump’s Democratic Allies?

November 23, 2016

Donald Trump won the Presidency not only by appealing to the Republican Party’s core conservative constituencies, but also by winning the support of many blue-collar workers who had marked ballots for Democratic Presidential nominees in the past. Trump did this by running as a populist insurrectionist candidate whose appeal ran beyond traditional Republicans who champion […]

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Slim Victories and Narrow Defeats: Razor-close Elections In American Politics

November 4, 2016

In politics, most candidates would probably rather lose in an electoral avalanche than lose by a razor-thin margin. A candidate will always have second thoughts regarding what he/she could have done to win the election. A mishap or day off the campaign trail can haunt candidates for the rest of their lives. Richard M. Nixon […]

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Like Nixon In 1968, Pence Could Become The Consensus GOP Candidate in 2020

October 18, 2016

Before Donald Trump selected Mike Pence to be his Vice Presidential Runningmate, Pence was locked in a tight race to retain his job as Indiana Governor, sporting job approval ratings of under 50 percent. If Pence had run for re-election and lost, his expiration date as a viable Presidential candidate would likely have passed. On […]

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Hillary Plays Into Hands Of Trump With ‘Basket Of Deplorables’ Remark

September 28, 2016

Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently stated at a New York fundraiser: “You can put half of Donald Trump’s supporters into what I call a basket of deplorables.” While she was referring to the most extreme Trump supporters, her characterization is an exhibition of why Democrats are losing white blue-collar voters, some of whom share […]

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Bernie Sanders Could be a Thorn in the Side of President Hillary Clinton

September 14, 2016

After a divisive primary challenge, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has taken to the campaign hustings urging voters to mark their election ballot for his former foe, Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Sanders tells voters Clinton is “the superior candidate” and that her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is a “Pathological liar.” Sanders is following the […]

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