March 28, 2006

Remembering Quality Men From California

I grew up in California, in Reagan Country. Except for about 2 years, I lived there for the first 41 years of my life. Over the years, I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people. One of the more memorable ones was Howard Jarvis, the author of Proposition 13.

Two quality men from that era in California died today: Lyn Nofziger and Cap Weinberger. They each made a difference in our country. Here are some reflections on the two of them:

Nofziger, in his own words:

I am a Republican because I believe that freedom is more important than government-provided security. Sometimes I wish I were a Democrat because Democrats seem to have more fun. At other times I wish I were a Libertarian because Republicans are too much like Democrats.

What I actually am is a right-wing independent who is registered Republican because there isn't any place else to go. In the future I expect to be critical of both parties and their leadership...

Here is more.

Writing in The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez had this to say about Cap Weinberger:

I'm getting a lot of e-mails like these:
Kathryn I wanted to share with you a story about Mr. Weinberger. As a college senior, I wrote my thesis on SDI and its impact on ending the Cold War. On a whim, I figured I'd call Mr. Weinberger to see if he'd be willing to be interviewed for my thesis. I had no expectation that he'd answer my call, much less talk with me. I contacted his office at Forbes and spoke with his secretary. I explained to her what I was doing and she told me that she talk to him and get back to me. 15 minutes later she called back and asked if I had time to talk with him. He then gave me 30 minutes of his time, answering all of my questions and sharing a few stories as well. He could not have been more generous or gracious. I'm writing in hopes that you can in some way share my story with your readers. Too often it seems that we lose perspective on the human side of those serving in government. Here was a former Secretary of Defense willing to take time out of his day to talk to some no name college student he didn't know. I've always been impressed and somewhat awed by this. Anyway, I enjoy reading The Corner, keep up the good work. Best regards, Mike LaFontaine

Jay Nordlinger wrote this review of Weinberger's memoir In the Arena: A Memoir of the 20th Century:

Of all the men in the Reagan era, few made as deep an impression as Caspar Weinberger. And by "Reagan era," we mean, in this case, Sacramento, too, for "Cap" was there-working by the governor's side. He was also with Nixon and Ford, in Washington...

The boy was always smitten by politics and government. By 15, he was reading the Congressional Record "avidly and daily." He made endless scrapbooks filled with bits about the national conventions and the like. He was an incorrigible Republican, arguing to one and all about the "Soviet menace" and the beauty of small government. In his senior year of high school, he was elected student-body president, promising a new constitution. His graduation speech was entitled "The Honorable Profession of Politics."

With a scholarship to Harvard College, he was really on his way. He majored in government...He spent much of his time in journalism, contributing a column to a magazine back home, and becoming president of the Crimson, the student newspaper. He was intensely idealistic, then as now: The "street side" of Dexter Gate said, "Enter to Grow in Wisdom"; the "Yard side" said, "Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind." "It has been an inspiration to me ever since."

There is no snickering in Weinberger.

He went on to Harvard Law School...He finished law school in June 1941, then signed up with the U.S. infantry in September, still eager, and restless: He idolized Churchill, and saw the conflict as one of pure good and evil. After Pearl Harbor, he was sent to Australia, and ended up a captain on General MacArthur's intelligence staff...

Weinberger always had a perfectly fine job at a law firm, but he was forever looking for ways into public life. "The trouble with Cap," said a friend, "is that he can't stand making money." His all-enduring wife, Jane, would sigh over her husband's "non-profit activities." He was elected to the state assembly, ran for attorney general — losing — and served as chairman of the California GOP. He also kept his hand in journalism, writing a column and hosting a public-TV show called Profile: Bay Area. Among his guests was "an extremely eloquent and persuasive Malcolm X."

When Reagan was elected governor, he called on Weinberger to be the state's finance director. Not long after, Nixon called, from Washington — to ask Cap to serve as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. He did so. Then he became deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (under George Shultz), then director...He ended his Nixon-Ford career as secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Weinberger is engrossing on the various Nixon weirdnesses, and on the major policy debates of the time, including the (pathetic) imposition of wage and price controls. Gerald Ford, he holds in suitably high esteem.

It was when Reagan called again — this time after being elected president-that Weinberger had his real rendezvous with destiny: serving as secretary of defense at a time when the military desperately needed rebuilding; only six years after the helicopters had lifted off from the embassy roof in Saigon; when the Soviet Union was enjoying unprecedented advantage. Weinberger may be seen as the very embodiment of Peace Through Strength, a meaningful slogan for once. He saw things with rare moral clarity, and talked that way, and acted that way. He and Reagan were intent on rollback — musty notion — not detente. In the present volume, Weinberger gives what is probably as good a short brief for Reagan's foreign and defense policies as can be found...

It is, in many ways, a formidable book. It comments incisively on the events, ideas, and political personalities of a very long and difficult stretch...Weinberger is at least as absorbed by domestic affairs as he is by grand world affairs. He has written a deeply personal book, too. He expresses great love: for his parents, for his brother, for his wife, for his children-and that's not to mention other objects of love, such as California and country (and cooking...). The author, throughout, is modest, self-deprecating, amusing, candid, earnest, and naturally patriotic. There is in these pages an overarching sense of decency. Weinberger is a throwback (high compliment). He is a Frank Capra American, though never naive. He reminds one a lot of Reagan: a more detail-oriented Reagan, without the Hollywood past.

The book is far from sugary, and not only with respect to Bill Clinton and other Democrats: Weinberger unquestionably has Nixon's number, and he jabs repeatedly at George Shultz, who was long a rival...This is by no means a score-settling or resentful book, but neither is it docile.

In telling his story, Weinberger is keen not only to pronounce on major events...Although he is "in the arena," he is also the wide-eyed spectator, delighting in the workings and pomp of government. He is wowed at inaugurations, and reverent in the presence of Congressional Medal of Honor winners. At one point, he writes, "Now I, a schoolboy from California, was making decisions that might affect the course of history." OMB was "particularly good fun for someone as fascinated by government as I am." OMB "particularly good fun"? Weinberger is a wonk with a song in his heart.

It is impossible — at least I found it so — not to read this book in the light of September 11. It is also impossible — at least I found it so-not to conclude that this is exactly the kind of man we could use right now, many times over. But then, he is the kind of man this country can always use...

Here is more.