Big Buddy

For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington

by Donald T. Regan
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 347 pp., $21.95

Ronald and Nancy Reagan
Ronald and Nancy Reagan; drawing by David Levine

For some Reagan aides, resignation was just an opening bid. General Haig, who learned (imperfectly) the art of resigning from Henry Kissinger, mismanaged his series of resignations so that finally—what in Kissinger’s scheme is never supposed to happen—his offer was accepted.

George Shultz, Haig’s successor, put himself on a ration of resignations; his two known ones were turned down. Where he might have been accepted—on the Iran affair, when Casey wanted him out—he resisted any impulse to resign.

Bud McFarlane, according to Donald Regan’s new book, seems to have resigned inadvertently, or one time too many:

On December 2, reports appeared in the press that Bud had called on the President in Los Angeles and offered his resignation. The President’s response must be described in the tortured language that suits Reagan’s style best: the President had not refused to accept it. Whether McFarlane, who had hinted at resignation on other occasions, was surprised by this result, I do not know.

Regan himself knew that resigning, done right, was the way up, not out. Infuriated by a leak of his remarks at a cabinet meeting that came, he believed, from James Baker at the White House, Regan, in November 1981, sent over his letter of resignation as secretary of the treasury. Reagan called him and said, “If you go, I’ll have to get my hat and go with you.”1 At last, Regan had accomplished what all such resignings were supposed to effect—he had caught the President’s attention, which came in intervals of varying brevity.

Up to the time when he used a threatened departure as his mode of advance, Regan was frustrated. Appointed secretary of the treasury by a man he had met only at two fund-raisers, he did not see Reagan during the transition period; he got no instructions from him when he took office; he was not granted a private discussion with him; and when he addressed him in group meetings, he got no questions or specific responses. “In the four years that I served as Secretary of the Treasury I never saw President Reagan alone and never discussed economic philosophy or fiscal and monetary policy with him one-on-one.” Left without guidance from the top, Regan had his aides collect Reagan’s public statements on the economy, and found out from them what policies he should be implementing. Inside the government, he had to go outside it to find what was expected of him. You can only read the billboard on your house if you go outside to read it—out was the only way up.

Regan’s experience was shared in other departments of Reagan’s government. Haig’s description of his isolation in the State Department is similar to Regan’s, as is Terrel Bell’s description of his post in the Department of Education. Only David Stockman at OMB was busy with a plan of his own,…

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