After the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in March 1981, his Secretary of State Alexander Haig went into the White House press room to address the inevitable anxieties. The Vice-President was travelling in Texas, and he is the highest ranking executive-branch official in Washington D.C. When a reporter asked who was making the decisions, Haig (above) declared, “As of now, I am in control here in the White House.” Although the full speech acknowledged the constitutional requirements, some immediately thought he was a megalomaniac, while for others he was a legal illiterate. The press, which had previously pinned on him the word “arrogant”, had a field day. On the cover of Time, Haig, chin high and arms akimbo, appeared above the words “Taking Command”.
Whatever your interpretation was, this incorrect statement of the chain of presidential succession forever disqualified him from further high office. The bottomline was that Haig lacked linguistic clarity, which didn’t help when he tried to defuse the Falklands crisisin 1982. His clumsy mediation and mishandling of the crisis eventually led to his dismissal from the Reagan Administration, the group which he came to view as conspiring against him.
Alternately the man who as the Chief of Staff held the presidency together during the darkest days of the Nixon White House, and the self-serving aggrandizer who aimed for the imperial presidential powers, Alexander Haig lived as a man of epic contradictions, and died as one yesterday. He mused that “the third paragraph of his obit” would be about his disastrous press conference. In this assessment, he was correct.