Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nelson Rockefeller

I thought I'd round out of my VP kick this week with a modern one before I moved on to something else! So here's some background on Nelson Rockefeller, Ford's VP:
Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller inherited both a vast family fortune and a family image that he had to live down in order to achieve his political ambitions—because even as a little boy he wanted to be president of the United States. "After all," he reasoned, "when you think of what I had, what else was there to aspire to?" The third of five brothers, Nelson was the energetic, outgoing leader within his own family. He and his brothers grew up in the family home on West 54th Street in New York, which was so filled with art that his parents bought the town house next door just to house their collection. Eventually the Rockefellers gave the property to the Museum of Modern Art. Nelson attended the progressive Lincoln School of Teachers College at Columbia University, but dyslexia hindered his schooling and prevented him from attending Princeton. With the help of tutors he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth in 1930. Shortly thereafter, he married Mary Todhunter Clark, known as Tod, whose calm reserve seemed to balance his boundless enthusiasms. After a round-the-world honeymoon, they settled in New York and Nelson went to work for the family business.

Nelson Rockefeller proved so successful in renting out space in the newly constructed Rockefeller Center that his father made him president of the Center. He earned negative publicity after he ordered the removal from Rockefeller Center of murals painted by the noted Mexican artist Diego Rivera, which contained a heroic Lenin and a villainous-looking J.P. Morgan. Otherwise, Rockefeller won high praise for his executive abilities. He became a director of the Creole Petroleum Company, a Rockefeller subsidiary in Venezuela. He learned Spanish and began a lifelong interest in Latin-American affairs. Art was another of his passions, and during the depression he served as treasurer of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1939 he became the museum's president, encountering such intense infighting that he boasted, "I learned my politics at the Museum of Modern Art."
In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed the thirty-two-year-old Rockefeller to the new post of coordinator of the Office of Inter-American Affairs. It was a shrewd move on Roosevelt's part, designed to mute the Rockefeller family's support of Wendell Willkie for president that year. Although his brothers served in uniform, Nelson held civilian posts throughout World War II, becoming assistant secretary of state for American republics affairs in 1944. He played a key role in hemispheric policy at the United Nations Conference held in San Francisco, developing consensus for regional pacts (such as the Rio Pact and NATO) within the UN's framework. Although President Roosevelt tried to lure Rockefeller into the Democratic party, he remained loyal to his family's Republican ties. When Roosevelt died, his successor showed less appreciation for Rockefeller's talents. In August 1945 the failed haberdasher Harry Truman fired the multimillionaire Rockefeller, in order to settle a dispute within the State Department.
And some information on Vice Presidency:
Gerald Ford told the nation that he wanted his vice president to be "a full partner," especially in domestic policy. "Nelson, I think, has a particular and maybe peculiar capability of balancing the pros and cons in many social programs, and I think he has a reputation and the leadership capability," Ford explained. "I want him to be very active in the Domestic Council, even to the extent of being chairman of the Domestic Council." But during the months while Rockefeller's nomination stalled in Congress, Ford's new White House staff established its control of the executive branch and had no intention of sharing power with the vice president and his staff. One Rockefeller aide lamented that the "first four month shakedown was critical and he wasn't involved. That was when the relationship evolved and we were on Capitol Hill fighting for confirmation."
Rockefeller envisioned taking charge of domestic policies the same way that Henry Kissinger ran foreign policy in the Ford administration. Gerald Ford seemed to acquiesce, but chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld objected to the vice president preempting the president. When Rockefeller tried to implement Ford's promise that domestic policymakers would report to the president via the vice president, Rumsfeld intervened with various objections. Rockefeller shifted gears and had one of his trusted assistants, James Cannon, appointed chief of the Domestic Council. Rumsfeld responded by cutting the Council's budget to the bone. Rockefeller then moved to develop his own policies independent of the Domestic Council. Tapping the scientist Edward Teller, who had worked for Rockefeller's Commission on Critical Choices, he proposed a $100 billion Energy Independence Authority. Although Ford endorsed the energy plan, the president's economic and environmental advisers lined up solidly against it.

Usually, Ford and Rockefeller met once a week. Ford noted that Rockefeller "would sit down, stir his coffee with the stem of his horn-rimmed glasses and fidget in his chair as he leaped from one subject to another." Nothing, Ford observed, was too small or too grandiose for Rockefeller's imagination. Beyond the substantive issues, the two men also spent much time talking over national politics. Yet Ford and his staff shut Rockefeller out of key policy debates. In October 1975, when Ford proposed large cuts in federal taxes and spending, the vice president complained, "This is the most important move the president has made, and I wasn't even consulted." Someone asked what he did as vice president, and Rockefeller replied: "I go to funerals. I go to earthquakes." Rockefeller had disliked the vice-presidential seal, with its drooping wings and single arrow in its claw. He had a new seal designed with the eagle's wings outspread and multiple arrows in its clutch. As one of his aides recalled, "One day after a particularly long series of defeats, I walked into the Governor's office [Rockefeller's staff always referred to him as "Governor"] with yet another piece of bad news. The Governor turned to me and pointed at the new seal and flag, sighing, `See that goddamn seal? That's the most important thing I've done all year.'"

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