Last week, the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College ran another of its “V&V Q&As,” this one with Peter Schweizer, whom I interviewed on his new book, Makers and Takers.
(Read FrontPage Magazine's review of the book.) As noted in the interview, Schweizer dedicated the book to his late
colleague Cap Weinberger, a superb secretary of defense—the man who
presided over the Reagan defense build-up of the 1980s—and one of the
instrumental figures in the squeeze and surrender of the Soviet Union.
In that interview, Schweizer talked about what Weinberger meant to him
and to the country, and emphasized that Weinberger was a true
gentleman—a kind, civil man who was often a victim of the vituperation
by the left that Schweizer documents in his book.
Schweizer’s observation jogged my memory.
Having lived through the period, I remember how Weinberger was
constantly under fire in a vicious way, but somehow always responded
with aplomb. I could cite examples from the run-of-the-mill extremists
who today populate the web, or who, in Weinberger’s time, made their
home at angry publications like The Nation. Yet, for
Weinberger, one need go no further than his testimonies before the U.S.
Senate—a staid body where the members refer to one another as
“gentleman” and “gentle-lady.”
Here is one of the more vivid examples,
compliments of Senator Don Riegle (D-MI) during a February 3, 1983
hearing on the defense budget:
Senator Riegle: Mr.
Weinberger, I have served in the Congress now for 17 years under five
presidents, as both a Republican and a Democrat, and for the first
time, I think we have a secretary of defense whose basic judgment is
dangerous to our country. You give every appearance of being an
inflexible ideologue who has lost any sense of rational proportion when
it comes to assessing the defense needs of our country. By your really
fanatical insistence on defense increases that are larger than needed,
larger than we can afford, I believe that you are damaging our national
Secretary Weinberger: Well, Senator, I have to –
Senator Riegle: Now, I beg your pardon, sir! I did not interrupt you –
Secretary Weinberger: Yes, that is right, but you are –
Senator Riegle: I did not interrupt you! And when I finish – I have the floor! –
Secretary Weinberger: Yes, but you are making an attack on me personally, and I have to say –
Senator Riegle: I have the floor! I do not feel that I am, sir, and I have the floor! –
Secretary Weinberger: Well, I would let anybody judge that –
Senator Riegle: Mr. Chairman, I would ask that the secretary –
Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM): Would you both refrain for a moment? All right, senator, would you start over now?
Senator Riegle: I believe that
these policies and this approach is damaging our national security and
I want to repeat it for emphasis: I think you are making America
weaker, not stronger, and I think this perverse reality is actually
serving the interests of the Soviet Union, which is the most dangerous
irony of all.
Sadly, this was not unusual treatment for
Weinberger, and it is rather tame compared to other instances of
demonization of the man in the 1980s. Though Riegle may or may not have
said it here, I’m not exaggerating when I say that much (if not most)
of the American left considered Weinberger a greater danger than the
Soviet Union, and a man of more fanatical ideas. The left was more
troubled by Weinberger’s anti-communism than Soviet communism.
Aside from Riegle in the Senate, liberals in
the press fanned the flames around Weinberger every chance they could,
demanding that the president fire him. To Ronald Reagan’s credit, he
stood by his secretary of defense. In fact, two years after the Riegle
exchange, President Reagan was asked by an enthusiastic reporter if he
was about to fire Weinberger. Reagan calmly replied by asking the
reporter if he wanted a one-word or two-word answer. When the reporter
said he preferred the more lengthy two-word option, Reagan replied
tersely, “Hell, no.”
Weinberger always smiled, offered his hand, and moved on, often leaving his detractors livid. They hated him—how could he simply grin and continue his business? How dare he!
This is another reminder of the enduring
incivility of political debate in America, which seems even worse
today, as evident in any visit to one’s email box or the internet. It
is also an apt example of how to respond with grace. As for young
people who recoil at the prospect of public service: fear not,
persevere. Follow Cap Weinberger’s example of responding to incivility