Kennedy’s Court Appointments Kept World of Judiciary at Peace

This copy of PT 109, signed by John F. Kennedy, author Robert J. Donovan and surviving crew members, sold for $13,750 at a December 2016 Heritage auction. The book tells the story of one of the most important episodes in Kennedy’s life.

By Jim O’Neal

When war broke out in 1939, all the Rhodes Scholars in England were sent home and this included Byron “Whizzer” White. He went back to Yale and graduated from its law school with honors. Then, in 1942, he enlisted in the Navy, as so many others did. He was serving in the Solomon Islands as PT boat squadron skipper and intelligence officer when John F. Kennedy was a PT boat officer. It was White who personally wrote the official account of the battle events that were later portrayed in the book and movie PT 109.

Flash forward 20 years and there was a famous photo of a smiling Kennedy, now president of the United States, pointing at the front-page headline of the New York Herald Tribune – “WHIZZER WHITE TO SUPREME COURT – LAWYER, NAVAL OFFICER, FOOTBALL STAR.” It was JFK’s first appointment to the Supreme Court.

In August 1962, President Kennedy got a second bite at the same apple. Justice Felix Frankfurter, once styled as “the most important single figure in our whole judicial system,” bowed to the effects of a stroke and announced his retirement. The president acceded to his request and called a press conference to announce he had chosen Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg as the replacement.

This was not a great surprise, since the 54-year-old labor expert was well-qualified and eager to join the court. The only slight reluctance was his close personal relationship to the president and the loss of a highly valued cabinet position. However, both Chief Justice Earl Warren and Frankfurter himself supported the decision and it was made.

The nation’s reaction was universally favorable and the Senate Judiciary Committee was in total agreement. Goldberg was confirmed by the full Senate, with only Senator Strom Thurmond recording his opposition. Thus the new justice was able to take his seat on the court in time for the October 1962 term. The world of the judiciary was at peace, even after the tragic events in Dallas in November 1963 and the Warren Commission investigation that followed.

However, after a mere three years on the Supreme Court, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided that Justice Goldberg should resign from the court and become ambassador to the United Nations, succeeding Adlai Stevenson. It now seems clear that LBJ’s motive was the naive hope that someway Goldberg might be able to negotiate an end to the nightmare in Vietnam. Goldberg was strongly opposed to the move, but as he explained to a confidant, “Have you ever had your arm twisted by LBJ?”

Supposedly, there was also a clearly implied understanding of an ultimate return to the court, which obviously never materialized. Neither did an LBJ suggestion that Goldberg might be a candidate for the 1968 vice-president slot – another false hope that was mooted by LBJ’s decision not to seek reelection.

Lost in all of this was the fact that Goldberg’s intended replacement on the court, Abe Fortas, had repeatedly declined LBJ’s offers to be a Supreme Court justice. In fact, poor Abe Fortas never said yes. The president simply invited him to the Oval Office and informed him that he was about to go to the East Wing “to announce his nomination to the Supreme Court” and that he could stay in the office or accompany him.

Fortas decided to accompany the president, but to the assembled reporters he appeared only slightly less disenchanted than the grim-faced Goldberg, with his tearful wife and son by his side. Goldberg had reluctantly agreed to become ambassador to the United Nations and commented to the assembled group, “I shall not, Mr. President, conceal the pain with which I leave the court.”

It was a veritable funereal ceremony – except for a broadly smiling LBJ, who had once again worked his will on others, irrespective of their feelings. The man certainly did know how to twist arms – and I suspect necks and other body parts – until he achieved his objectives.

He was sooo good at domestic politics, it seems sad he had to also deal with foreign affairs, where a different skill set was needed.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Public Intrigued by Private Lives of Nixon Daughters

This signed family portrait of the Nixons, showing the first daughters and their husbands, sold for nearly $200 at an April 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

By most accounts, Patricia “Tricia” Nixon was the most beautiful of all White House brides. She was featured alone as the cover story on Life magazine not once but twice. By January 1971, the public was fascinated by her romance with Edward Finch Cox, a young Harvard Law student who had once worked with consumer activist Ralph Nader and written for the liberal New Republic.

Tricia and Ed came from opposite social and political poles. The young Mr. Cox could trace his lineage to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His parents both had social pedigrees and spent their summers at the Long Island estate that had been in the family for six generations.

Richard Nixon was already a lightning rod for an increasingly adversarial media and traveled in much different circles. He had earlier defended himself from using a private fund for personal use by showcasing his modest lifestyle. He bragged that his wife could not boast of a mink coat, but owned a “respectable Republican cloth coat.”

Ed accompanied Tricia to the International Debutante Ball and discovered they had a lot in common. He was “aloof and private,” and she often avoided White House events and was called the “Howard Hughes of the WH” by her popular younger sister Julie. In fact, when Julie married Dwight David Eisenhower II in 1968, it was a small, private ceremony performed by minister and bestselling author Norman Vincent Peale. This alliance of the Nixon-Eisenhower dynasties was intriguing to the public, which naturally assumed Tricia was sure to follow in a more understated manner.

Surprisingly, the private Tricia chose a large White House wedding with a guest list of 400. First Lady Pat Nixon suggested a Rose Garden event and, after a long debate over the risk of rain, the date was set for June 12, 1971. Priscilla Kidder, the “doyenne of bridal outfitting,” designed the dress, and WH pastry chef Heinz Bender produced a 350-pound cantilevered cake that was dissed by some pompous food critics as a “lemony, sweetish non-entity” (tough crowd!).

There was intermittent rain in the morning, but the sun broke through right on schedule. Eighty-seven-year-old Alice Roosevelt was on hand, complaining that her seat was wet. Talking about the Nixon girls, Alice would offer one of her patented biting comments: “I like Julie better than Tricia. I’ve never been able to get on with Tricia. She seems rather pathetic, doesn’t she? I wonder what’s wrong with her?”

It has been pointed out that there were deep reasons and issues behind the famous quips of Alice Roosevelt. Sitting in her damp seat in the Rose Garden, her own glorious moment long forgotten and her famous father now covered over by multiple layers of important personalities and issues, Alice Roosevelt may have been lashing out at the only White House bride whose beauty transcended her own. Pure jealousy is a powerful emotion that takes a long time to dissipate.

The day after the wedding, Ed and Tricia were off to Camp David for their honeymoon. The New York Times broke some story about some “Pentagon Papers” from a little-known military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation. Few probably suspected that this would lead to an even more complex situation that would eventually jar the entire nation.

Fate seems to be indifferent to the emotions of mere mortals.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Nixon Was Firmly in Control … Until Dark Clouds Began Forming

A signed Richard Nixon photograph sold for $657.25 in February 2006.

By Jim O’Neal

By the time 1972 rolled around, the presidential campaign was really a story about President Nixon’s growing invincibility. In the summer, every poll gave him about 60 percent of the vote and even his tremendous financial advantage – $60 million vs. $25 million for the Dems – had little to do with the probable outcome.

Nixon was elected four years earlier on a tide of protest against the Vietnam War, but ending it seemed to be taking an eternity. 17,000 more Americans had been killed while he was trying, but by the beginning of 1972, he had reduced U.S. troop levels from 550,000 to 139,000. Importantly, the Pentagon’s weekly casualty list of 300 had dropped to zero by Sept. 21, 1972.

The sum of Nixon’s skills was a united party, led by a nominee who was now identified as the candidate of peace and détente. He had two superfluous opponents for the GOP nomination and one, Paul “Pete” McClosky from California, became an arcane trivia answer by winning 1 delegate while Nixon swept up all the rest … 1,347.

The convention stagecraft was awesome and Nixon had eliminated all the suspense by announcing his intention to keep Spiro Agnew on the ticket as his VP. (Agnew won 1,345 votes vs. one for TV journalist David Brinkley; NBC staffers quickly started wearing “Brinkley for Vice President” buttons as a joke.)

This marked the fifth time Nixon had been on the ballot – in 1952 and 1956 for VP, and in 1960, 1968 and 1972 for president. This tied FDR, who had one VP (1920) and four straight as president (1932-1944). Ronald Reagan chaired the convention and Nelson Rockefeller put Nixon’s name in nomination. GOP speakers touted their unity and hammered at the disarray on the other side.

In 1972, campaign material included George Wallace license plates.

The Democrats were still absorbed in savage internecine feuds and the battle to head the party was a melee. George McGovern very adroitly managed to make himself a dark horse to keep the glaring national spotlight off his nascent campaign. In the Florida primary, facing 11 presidential candidates, George Wallace was the big winner as a surprise candidate. He loudly crowed, “We beat all the face cards in the Democratic deck!”

By the middle of May, Edmund Muskie was out of it and the marathon was narrowing to a three-way contest between Wallace, McGovern and Hubert Humphrey. Then in May 1972 while in Maryland, Wallace was hit by a brick in Frederick, eggs in Hagerstown and six bullets in Laurel. He won both Michigan and Maryland, but for him, wounded and paralyzed, it was all over.

Then Humphrey proceeded to destroy McGovern’s chances by pointing out his quixotic stands on Israel, defense spending, welfare, labor law, unemployment compensation, taxation and even Vietnam. In three bruising debates, Humphrey obliterated any chances of McGovern to mount even a mild challenge to Nixon. The election was a blowout, with Nixon winning 49 states and nearly 62 percent of the popular vote.

McGovern rationalized his defeat by saying, “I want every one of you to remember that if we pushed the day of peace just one day closer, then every minute and every hour and every bone-crushing effort in this campaign was worth the entire effort.” I suspect he died on Oct. 21, 2012, still believing these self-delusional words.

At about the same time, the seeds of Watergate had been planted. A small unobtrusive dark cloud was forming somewhere in the atmosphere, and it would end up unraveling the entire Nixon presidency and legacy. The arc of fate is long and never-ending.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Newspapers Have Been Rushing to ‘Break News’ for 150 Years

A Nov. 21, 1863, edition of the New York Tribune, which reprinted President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, sold for $632.50 at a June 2005 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Today’s occasionally frenetic journalism began during the Civil War, for two basic reasons.

The first was the telegraph, since this was the first instant-news war in history, and the issue was much like we have with today’s internet. Reports could be filed almost immediately and it resulted in a mad rush to be first with “breaking news.”

The other was steam, used for steam-powered locomotives and the relatively new steam-powered printing presses. Reporters could hop on a train and return to their offices quickly if a telegraph office wasn’t handy. Either way, the demand for timely and accurate news from the front lines transformed American journalism. It was a culture of “Telegraph all the news you can get, and when there is no news, send the rumors.”

They did a lot of that, and the competition was ferocious. New York had 18 daily newspapers, with four or five focused on the war – including the New York Tribune (Horace Greeley), The New York Herald (James Gordon Bennett), and The New York Times (Henry J. Raymond). Of the three, Greeley was the acknowledged celebrity and well-known for his erratic views as opposed to straight news.

He would later challenge President Grant’s reelection in 1872 by splitting the Republican Party, which resulted in the Democrats cancelling their convention and throwing their support to Greeley. So it was Republican Grant against Liberal Republican Greeley … and no Democrats. Grant won easily and Greeley died before the Electoral College could vote (Greeley actually received three posthumous electoral votes).

Bennett may have been the first great genius in American journalism. He had migrated from Scotland after being trained as a Catholic priest, had the finest education, and was devoted to a balanced approach to the news. However, even he occasionally fell victim to rushing to print too fast.

An interesting feature of the “war newspapers” was that each copy was handed around and read by dozens of people. Another is that the armies – both sides – did not report casualties. There were no official lists of those killed, captured or wounded. This was done by individual reporters, who compiled lists and published them. This enhanced reader interest immensely when a reporter was covering specific units where loved ones were involved.

As a group, Civil War correspondents were a motley group of ruffians who called themselves the “Bohemian Brigade.” There was lots of criticism, particularly of The New York Herald, for sending out these hard-drinking characters into the field. Even so, simply substitute today’s gossipy and irresponsible websites for the Civil War telegraph and it becomes perfectly clear how little reporting the news has changed in 150 years.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Presidential Sons a Complex, Dark Addendum to First Family History

A pair of baseballs signed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, from the collection of baseball legend Stan Musial, sold for $2,629 at a November 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After favored son John Quincy Adams became president of the United States, there was an unspoken feeling that – like the sons of kings and monarchs – he might be destined for greatness. However, it would be a surprising 176 years before another president’s son, George W. Bush, would be sworn in as president.

The stories of presidential sons between these two bookends make up a complex and slightly dark addendum to the First Families of the United States. Some historians have a theory that the closer the male child is to his father, the more likely he is to die or self-destruct. Whether it is fact or coincidence is open for debate.

  • George Washington had no biological children, but was stepfather to a notorious young man, John Parke Curtis, who ruined his estate and died prematurely at age 26.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s only son died shortly after birth (unnamed).
  • James Madison’s stepson was an alcoholic, gambler and womanizer. After Madison died, he cheated his own mother (Dolley), and Congress had to intervene to help the former First Lady.
  • James Monroe’s only son died in infancy.
  • Andrew Jackson Jr. was an adopted son who mismanaged the Hermitage. He died of tetanus after shooting himself in a hunting accident.
  • Martin Van Buren Jr. died from tuberculosis in a Parisian apartment with his father sitting helpless by his bedside.
  • James Polk’s nephew and ward – Marshall Polk – was expelled from both Georgetown and West Point, ending his life in prison.
  • Calvin Coolidge Jr. died of blood poisoning from an infected blister after playing tennis.

A number managed to live longer lives, yet seemed to be cursed with a plethora of issues:

  • John Tyler Jr. was an alcoholic.
  • Ulysses S. Grant Jr. got caught up in an investment fraud scheme.
  • Chester A. Arthur Jr. was a playboy with an unaccountably suspicious source of “easy money” and investigative reporters hounded him and only stopped when his father’s term of office ended.

Franklin Roosevelt Jr. was the first of two sons named after their father and died suddenly after birth. The second namesake, married five times, was banned from the prestigious New York Social Register. Then, the powerful Tammany Hall machine became irked and ended his political career, as well.

Remarkably, when this terrible scourge progressed, fate would sometimes (greedily) step in and run the table. This happened to Franklin Pierce, who lost all three eldest sons in a row. It also happened to Andrew Johnson when first-born Charles Johnson died in a horse accident, Richard Johnson likely committed suicide at age 35, and younger brother Andrew Johnson Jr. died at a youthful 26.

Intuition says this phenomenon is more than random chance or a curse. Perhaps it is the pressure of being the first born, or something that drives the children of powerful figures to escape through substance abuse or risky behavior. Even President George W. Bush admitted to fighting alcoholism for years.

Mine is not to psychoanalyze, but simply to point out a series of eerie similar situations for your interest and speculation.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Her Fearless Tongue Made Alice Roosevelt the Most Popular of Presidential Children

Albert Beck Wenzell (1864-1917) painted this gouache on paper, titled Theodore Roosevelt and His Daughter Alice. It went to auction in May 2006.

By Jim O’Neal

To describe Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) as a handful would be a gross understatement. She was the only child of Teddy Roosevelt and Alice Hathaway Lee. Her mother died two days after her birth of Bright’s disease – a catch-all term for kidney diseases. Eleven hours before her death, TR’s mother, Martha “Mittie” Roosevelt, had died of typhoid fever. It was a traumatic time in the Roosevelt home and it would haunt Teddy for the rest of his life.

Young Alice never founded a school or hospital, never ran for public office, and was terrified of public speaking, but she became unquestionably the best known and most popular of presidential children.

She was 17 when William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, which vaulted her vice-president father into the White House. When she learned of the news, she reportedly let out a war whoop and danced on the front lawn. Years later in an interview with reporter Sally Quinn (third wife of Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post), Alice described her feelings as “utter rapture.” This kind of candor made her almost irresistible to the American public, and the press dubbed her “Princess Alice.”

One infatuated biographer described her as the “first female American celebrity of the 20th century.” Her cousin Joseph Alsop – the famous syndicated columnist whose robust opinions appeared in national newspapers for five decades – referred to her as “Washington’s other memorial.” Her celebrity started early, as people all over the country were talking about her antics, her clothes and her fearless tongue, which all delighted the average citizen.

On Inauguration Day in 1905, she was so exuberantly waving to her friends in the crowd that her father chided her by saying, “Alice, this is MY inauguration!” She was a flirt who smoked cigarettes in public and when her father declared that no daughter of his would smoke under his roof, she devilishly climbed to the roof of the White House to smoke on top of his roof. A perplexed TR told renowned author Owen Wister (“The Virginian”): “I can either run the country or attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both!”

After her 1902 society debut, the press constantly speculated on her romantic links with most of Washington’s eligible bachelors. She finally married Congressman Nicholas Longworth (future Speaker of the House) in one of the most famous weddings in American history, with front-page coverage across the country. Longworth was a notorious philanderer. William “Fishbait” Miller, doorkeeper of the House, described him as the “greatest womanizer in the history of Capitol Hill.”

Their marriage was an open sham and Alice was rumored to have had a child with William Borah, who became a senator after Idaho became a state in 1890. He was a perennial contender for president and was responsible for killing President Wilson’s attempt to approve the Treaty of Versailles.

Alice delighted in skewering prominent politicians. Calvin Coolidge “was weaned on a pickle.” Speaking of Herbert Hoover, she said “the Hoover vacuum is more exciting, but of course it is electric.” New York Governor Thomas Dewey, with his slick black hair, reminded Alice of the little groom on the top of a wedding cake. When FDR ran for a third term, she declared, “I’d rather vote for Hitler!”

Her acidic commentary on the rich and famous delighted and amused the public for four generations. Alice Roosevelt died of pneumonia on Feb. 20, 1980. At age 96, she had outlived the children of every other president.

She was a handful.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Only Four Presidents Never Appointed a Supreme Court Justice

An 1840 silk banner depicting William Henry Harrison realized $33,460 at a May 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Donald Trump’s appointee fills the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the chief executive will escape from a small group of presidents who did not appoint a single nominee confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s pick will join the other 117 justices, 17 chief justices and four women who have served on the court.

Presidents without a Supreme Court appointee:

  • William Henry Harrison (1841) – Died only 31 days after being inaugurated.
  • Zachary Taylor (1849-50) – Died 16 months after inauguration.
  • Andrew Johnson (1865-69) – Victim of a hostile Congress that blocked several nominees.
  • Jimmy Carter (1977-81) – The only president to serve a full term with no vacancies during his four years in office.

It seems clear that the Founding Fathers did not spend a lot of time considering the importance of the Supreme Court as an equal branch of government. That would come later during the tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall, who many credit with providing the balance to ensure that our fragile democracy survived.

One example is there are no legal or constitutional requirements for a federal judgeship. There does exist an unwritten prerequisite to have practiced law or to have been a member of the bar, but it is not mandatory. As a matter of historical record, no non-lawyer has ever been a member of the Supreme Court – and it is a virtual certainty that none ever will.

And, although the methodology for judicial appointments was subject to intense debate, the criteria for such appointments was apparently not a matter of significance. Those few delegates who did raise the issue of criteria did so by assuming merit over favoritism. Congress also did not foresee the role political parties would very soon come to play in the appointment and confirmation process.

Only John Adams clearly anticipated the rise of political parties but, of course, he was not a member of the Constitutional Committee. He summarized it rather well: “Partisan considerations, rather than the fitness of the nominees, will often be the controlling consideration of the Senate in passing on nominations.”

I suspect they would all be disappointed by the dramatic, partisan “gotcha” grilling that nominees face today.

Personally, I would prefer the old process the Scots used to select Supreme Court justices. The nominations came from the lawyers, who invariably selected the most successful and talented members of the legal community. This effectively eliminated their most fierce competition, which then allowed them to solicit their best customers. The court would then truly be assured of getting the best-of-the best, while the profession competed for clientele.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Appointments to Supreme Court Have a Long History of High Drama

Chief Justice Earl Warren swears in John F. Kennedy on the cover of the Jan. 27, 1961, edition of Time magazine. This copy, signed by Kennedy, sold for $1,135.25 at a December 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On June 25, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced Chief Justice Earl Warren’s intention to retire and the nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace him. However, after three months of acrimonious, partisan debate, the Senate refused to vote on the Fortas nomination. When Fortas asked the president to withdraw his nomination, Chief Justice Warren withdrew his resignation. “Since they wouldn’t confirm Abe, then they will be stuck with me!”

And, true to his word, Chief Justice Warren did not retire until June 1969, when President Richard Nixon replaced him with U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Warren Earl Burger.

In a bizarre twist, Justice Fortas had come under intense scrutiny and it was revealed that he had a questionable relationship with Louis Wolfson, the first modern corporate raider, according to Time magazine. This led to the resignation of Fortas – the first Supreme Court Justice to do so under these ethical circumstances.

Nixon was ecstatic that he would get to make a second nomination and he carefully chose judge Clement Haynsworth from the U.S. Court of Appeals-Fourth Circuit as part of a “Southern Strategy.” Congress seemed supportive, but to the president’s anger, frustration and embarrassment, the Judicial Committee found clear evidence of financial improprieties. Like Fortas, nothing illegal, but he went down 55-45 in a display of principled equality.

The president quickly countered with Judge Harrold Carswell, an undistinguished ex-District Judge with only six months of experience on the U.S. Court of Appeals. It was clearly an act of vengeance, intended to teach the Senate a lesson and downgrade the Court. Then, suspicious reporters dug up a statement to the American Legion in 1948: “I yield to no man in the firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy.”

Oops, there went the Southern Strategy, and the Senate voted him down.

It was another bitter defeat for the president, so Nixon turned North and picked Harry Blackmun of Minnesota and an old friend of Chief Justice Burger. He sailed through 94-0 and there would be no further vacancies for 15 months, when Nixon found himself in yet another imbroglio.

In September 1971, terminal illness compelled the retirement of Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II, the two most influential figures and veritable giants of the law. Rather than a diligent search, Nixon tried the trial-balloon strategy and floated the name of U.S. Representative Richard Poff of Virginia, but his civil rights skeletons were easy to uncover and he withdrew. Then Nixon sent six nominees to the American Bar Association for review, but they quickly criticized them as manifesting “a relentless pursuit of mediocrity” and urged the president to “add some people of stature.”

In a dramatic television broadcast, Nixon revealed his “formal nominees” … Lewis F. Powell Jr. and a youthful (47) William Rehnquist (approved after three months of wrangling), who would serve on the court for 33 years – 19 as Chief Justice.

Whew! Next stop: March 20, 2017. Good luck, Judge Neil Gorsuch. This is a tough crowd.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

McNamara a Fascinating Executive with a Fascinating Career

A large photograph of John F. Kennedy and his original cabinet, signed by cabinet members including Robert McNamara (fourth from left), sold for $7,500 at a December 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Lieutenant Colonel Robert McNamara had planned to return to Harvard after his stint in the military since he truly enjoyed the Cambridge lifestyle and teaching statistics was his first love. However, in a bizarre twist of coincidence, he and his wife Margaret contracted polio. They were still hospitalized in August 1945 when World War II. His mentor, Tex Thornton, persuaded him to consider a new, higher-paying career in the private sector to help with the family hospital bills.

McNamara and the other Whiz Kids excelled at the Ford Motor Company by utilizing the skills they honed in the Army: control the organization by converting facts and numbers into meaningful information that was actionable. This was particularly valuable at Ford and its archaic operations … pitted against its main competitor General Motors and its classic style of highly accountable, decentralized profit centers. McNamara became the unofficial leader when Thornton left Ford for greener fields in aerospace.

McNamara rose quickly, as Henry Ford II was new and unsure of himself. To Ford, McNamara offered reassurance; when questions arose, he always had answers, not vague estimates, but certitudes, facts and numbers … and a lot of them. On Nov. 9, 1960, McNamara was promoted to president at Ford. It was the first time someone outside the Ford family was in charge.

As fate would have it, the prior day, on Nov. 8, John F. Kennedy became president-elect of the United States. Their careers would soon be joined in a truly unexpected way.

Kennedy sent Sargent Shriver to offer McNamara either the Secretary of Treasury or Secretary of Defense cabinet position. McNamara was disdainful of Treasury, but eager to take on something much more exciting, assuming his boss would agree (it had been only six weeks since he had taken the reins at Ford).

We all know how this turned out, but perhaps not the financial sacrifice involved. By accepting the Defense position, McNamara left $3 million in stock options.

Robert Strange (his mother was Clara Nell Strange) McNamara served as Secretary of Defense under two presidents (JFK and Lyndon B. Johnson) from 1961 to 1968, the longest tenure in history (10 days longer than Donald Rumsfeld), and during the important build-up years in Vietnam. In 1968, he sent a letter to LBJ advising him that the war was unwinnable and recommending the United States end it. The president never replied and McNamara was finished.

Later, he told his friend, Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, he wasn’t sure if he quit or was fired. She replied, “Are you crazy? Of course you were fired!”

In 2003, Errol Morris produced the documentary The Fog of War, which captures these war years, including a poignant ceremony when McNamara retired and LBJ awarded him the Medal of Freedom. McNamara was so emotional that he had to defer on his acceptance remarks. It is a good flick and recommended since it uses archival film with contemporary comments from McNamara.

A fascinating man and career. He served as president of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981 before dying in 2009 at age 93.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

McCarthy Exploited Vulnerabilities of Frightened Public by Simplifying Complex Issues

A copy of Joseph McCarthy’s McCarthyism: The Fight for America, 1952, signed by the senator, sold for $206.25 at an October 2013 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

It’s rather interesting to compare the 1930s with the late 1940s and the transition from the era of the New Deal – when liberal ideas were ascendant, and communism, while not popular, was hardly the abhorrent demon it would become.

To Whittaker Chambers (whose 1952 book Witness became a bestseller) and many other Americans, communism was more than a system of government. It had morphed into a campaign for control of the mind and the masses.

Too many Americans seemed to have fallen victim to the “Soviet Experiment” and were infatuated by its promise of egalitarianism, while ignoring the crimes of its authoritarian leadership. Chambers was a gifted intellectual writer, but the anti-communists were to find their most vocal champion by accident. And he was a buffoon.

Joseph McCarthy

Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was a hard-drinking, coarse man who later said he knew so little about his crusade that he would find it hard to distinguish Karl Marx from Groucho Marx. In a May 1950 speech to Republicans in West Virginia, he claimed to have a list of 205 communists working in the State Department. He had no list, but in subsequent speeches the number grew to thousands and then four.

But, with self-aggrandizement being his real personal goal, he soon realized he was onto something big when reporters started asking for more information. He played along and became anti-communism’s most captivating spokesman. By suggestion, innuendo and diversion, McCarthy pointed his finger at labor and liberals, at America’s elite, its prominent educational institutions, and at FDR and the New Deal.

Soon, he was not the only one ruining careers and smearing reputations. Around the country, untold numbers of civil servants, schoolteachers and scientists were driven from their jobs by witch-hunts just as vicious as the Wisconsin senator’s. The hysteria included schools banning the tale of Robin Hood for its communist themes; the Cincinnati Reds changing their name to the Redlegs; and Mickey Spillane having his tough private eye going after communist subversives instead of gangsters. Jackie Robinson was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to testify about communism’s influence in the black community. Even Hollywood had its own “blacklist” of writers, directors and actors.

Only when McCarthy challenged the character of President Truman’s Secretary of Defense George Marshall did his public opinion begin to sour.

There were plenty of communist agents or sympathizers in America, but it is unlikely that McCarthy or his followers ever found any. What they did was exploit the vulnerability of frightened or insecure people by simplifying complex international developments into language that tapped into cultural divisions. McCarthy helped them find someone to blame.

Fortunately, it didn’t last long after the Senate censored him … twice. He died a hopeless alcoholic at age 48.

The 2005 movie Good Night, and Good Luck with David Strathairn and George Clooney does a terrific job of capturing the era of McCarthyism through the lens of TV journalist Edward R. Murrow’s experience. It’s among my top 20 favorite movies.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].