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Remembering George Shultz: Washington Insider and Infighter

Remembering George Shultz: Washington Insider and Infighter
Secretary of State George Shultz, center, walks with President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush upon his arrival at the White House in Washington, after two days of arms talks with the Soviet Union in Geneva in January 1985. (AP)

John Gizzi By Sunday, 07 February 2021 06:16 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

In the days and weeks ahead, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz will be remembered and lauded as one of the premier statesmen of the last half of the 20th century.

Princeton graduate (he reportedly had his alma mater's nickname Tiger tattooed on his backside) and University of Chicago economist Shultz served in high positions under four Republican presidents, including the top Cabinet spots of Secretary of the Treasury (Nixon and Ford) and as Secretary of State (for 7 years of 8 years Ronald Reagan was president.)  

When I interviewed Shultz shortly after he briefed Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush in 1999, his assurance of Bush's acumen and understanding of the world seemed to dispel the dismissiveness of many that the Texas governor was a foreign policy featherweight.

"[Bush] knows quite a lot and he was asking all the right questions," Shultz told me, spicing our interview with quotes from Reagan and fellow University of Chicago economist (and mentor) Milton Friedman.

George Shultz was indeed the wise-but-amiable professor and consummate Washington insider.  But there was a lesser-known-but-equally important side to the onetime U.S. Marine Corps captain: he was a fierce infighter who knew how to win turf battles and remain in power when rivals were dispensed and dispatched from government.

In 1969, Shultz was a surprise pick to be Secretary of Labor.  Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, President-elect Nixon's first choice for the Labor portfolio, was unacceptable to AFL-CIO President George Meany.  So Nixon turned to Shultz, who had served on President Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisers and was dean of the University of Chicago School of Business.

"The one important surprise to emerge out of the Cabinet was George Shultz, a stranger to Nixon and to politics, scholarly to the point of pedantry," recalled syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Bob Novak, "[H]is quiet, well-organized style, summarizing and synthesizing arguments, was precisely what would most impress the president."

In a Republican administration where may officials abjured the incendiary issues of civil rights and school administration, Schultz embraced both.  Although these issues had little to do with his Cabinet portfolio, Shultz became de facto chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Education and sought an answer to the conundrum of school desegregation.

Sitting at lunch in 1970 between Mississippi Manufacturers Association President Warren Hood and Biloxi NAACP President Gilbert Mason, Shultz was trying to persuade them that if they joined the advisory panel to his Cabinet committee, they could make "anything happen."

The two left the room to talk alone, leading Shultz to explain to others that "when parties get that close to a decision, there's only one way they can complete it — by themselves."

They did, and this led to the Nixon administration quietly but successfully completing the desegregation of the Southern schools.

When Nixon sacked Office of Management and Budget Director Robert Mayo in 1971, Shultz had become the president's closest economic adviser and was the natural to move into the job. Named as his deputy was Caspar Weinberger, once California Gov. Ronald Reagan's finance director, whom Nixon felt could handle the budgetary details while Shultz focused on the "big picture" of the economy. 

But Shultz felt that power derived from oversight over budgetary questions and quickly established himself as "Number One" on budget and management issues.  The relationship with Weinberger was strained.

Schultz, Weinberger later recalled, "was hard to read and rarely expressed his opinions until late in a conversation if at all — all of which I found frustrating."

Weinberger's marginalization by his superior became evident at a meeting of the Defense Policy Review Committee in the White House when National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger "fixing his gaze on me, growled 'I thought this meeting was for senior officials only.'"

Weinberger finally got to be OMB chief himself in 1971, when John Connally moved out of the Nixon administration and George Shultz got his "dream job" as Secretary of the Treasury.

He and Weinberger got to work together again in 1981, when Secretary of State Alexander Haig resigned after less than a year on the job and President Reagan turned to Schultz as his replacement. Weinberger was already firmly established as Secretary of Defense under longtime friend Reagan. 

Schultz proved the axiom of survival for Washington insiders that "my enemy in the last turf war is my friend in the next."

"I had known George Schultz a long time and had worked with him many times," Weinberger later wrote, "and in spite of our differences of opinion, we both did our best to carry out the president's desires."

Every Wednesday when they were both in Washington, the two would have a working breakfast alternating between the State Department and the Pentagon.

Another close friend of Reagan's from California was not so fortunate in dealing with old infighter Schultz.  Former State Supreme Court Judge William P. Clark, who had been Reagan's gubernatorial chief of staff and was his national security adviser in 1982, was someone Shultz viewed as a rival when he got to the State Department.

In his memoirs, Shultz freely admitted how he used the press image of Clark to turn first lady Nancy Reagan against him.  After reading a critical piece on Clark in "Time," Mrs. Reagan called Shultz and, as he wrote, "She was furious.  She thought Clark ought to be fired."

Although he realized Reagan would never fire Clark, Shultz also felt that "at some point, Nancy would prevail upon him to act in his own interest."

Clearly growing uncomfortable in the job, Clark in 1983 requested and received appointment as Secretary of the Interior. He later told friends he never realized how Shultz felt about him until he read his memoirs — and then wondered if the former Secretary of State actually wrote the book himself.

George Shultz will be remembered as a figure of consequence in the latter part of the 20th century, notably in working with Ronald Reagan to defeat communism.  But to those who knew him and reporters who covered him, he will also be remembered as one who mastered the art of Washington infighting.

Richard Nixon may have said it best of Shultz: "He didn't get to be Secretary of the Treasury because of his nice blue eyes."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

In the days and weeks ahead, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz will be remembered and lauded as one of the premier statesmen of the last half of the 20th century.
george shultz
Sunday, 07 February 2021 06:16 PM
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