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Letter: Haig’s Statement Was Distorted

Letter to the Editor:

— In the June 6-12 Gazette Packet, Katy Cannady challenged Councilmember Justin Wilson for "jokingly addressing Vice Mayor Alison Silverberg as 'Alexander Haig' while she was presiding at a Council meeting" during the Mayor's brief absence. Ms. Cannady's point was to quote then-Secretary of State Haig, a few hours after the shooting of President Reagan on March 30, 1981, as saying: "I am in charge here at the White House."

Like Mr. Wilson, I too am "old enough to remember Haig," and I recall his saying more than those few words, though almost all repetitions edited them down to that sound-bite, which to his critics suggested a power grab. However, his full sentence was:

“… As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending the return of the vice president and in close touch with him ….”

Vice President George (Herbert Walker) Bush was even then flying back to Washington from Texas, and Haig (as he sought to explain later) was simply trying to reassure the public … especially as it had been less than 18 years since President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

While Haig's opening reference to the Constitution ("Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order ….") was technically incorrect — as President Truman's Presidential Succession Act of 1947 had designated the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate as third and fourth in line, with the Secretary of State fifth — Haig was third in line within the Executive Branch, and with his crisis management experience under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, highly qualified to handle any ensuing emergency at the time. Moreover, his clear deference to Vice President Bush should have absolved him of any ambitious intent ... had the media not distorted his public persona.

Jonathan Myer

Alexandria