Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Alexander Haig was right (sort of)

Even in obituaries, Alexander M. Haig got grief for saying, “As of now, I am in control” after the attempted assassination in 1981 of President Reagan (pending the return to Washington of the vice president).

If that didn’t show Haig to be a megalomaniac, as so goes the conventional wisdom, it showed that he was a legal illiterate. Haig prefaced his supposed power grab with this misstatement of the law: “Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of State in that order.”

Well, a federal statute -- not the Constitution -- did provide for that line of succession from 1886 to 1947. But at the time Haig spoke, the line of succession was vice president, speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate.

This means that if President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were to die simultaneously, the president would be a former Ku Klux Klansman, West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

At the time Haig spoke, the president pro tem was South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, once a fierce segregationist.

Haig may have been wrong on the facts, but he was right about what should have been.

-- Michael McGough


Comments () | Archives (6)

The comments to this entry are closed.


General Alexander Haig, I have always remember you as a True Soldier, I served under your Command in Europe, and you are a such of a strait talk and tough soldier,I served with proud under your Command, I retired after 24 years plus, but I always love to hear and read about you sir, and you retired and became a Secretary of State, I love that phrase of yours when you are the Secretary of State, Now I am in Control, yes sir, I salute you, and thank you so much for your service in the Military and the Nations. May you rest in peace.


This is one of the stupidest opinions I've read on the LA Times. Haig wasn't right AT ALL. What's the argument here, anyway? He saved us from Strom Thurmond from taking over? What happened to Speaker of the House?

Ron O'Brien

All these years later, people still don't know the difference between the Chain of Command and the Order of Succession. Which one applied in Haig's case? Here's a hint: Reagan wasn't dead.

Michael McGough

David: I didn't say Strom Thurmond would succeed if Reagan died. It would have gone to Bush then Speaker Tip O'Neill then Strom. But the scenario I presented was that the president, veep and speaker died at once. (Obama-Biden-Pelosi, or Reagan-Bush-O'Neill). And, yes, President Haig would be better than President Thurmond (or President O'Neill).

Lou Bricano

The distinction of "chain of command" vs "order of succession" is bogus and meaningless. The constitutionally provided order of succession is all that legally matter, and it only comes into play if the president is unable to discharge his duties, temporarily or permanently.

Haig was never "in charge", either constitutionally or practically. As a practical matter, until George H.W. Bush returned to Washington from Texas, the White House Chief of Staff, James Baker, was the de facto president.

This oh-so-PC maundering by a bona fide moron, Michael McGough, is laughable. McGough would toss out the Constitution - presidential succession is a constitutional provision, after all - just to score a cheap political point. First of all, Bush and also House speaker Tip O'Neill were ahead of Thurmond at the time of the assassination attempt against Reagan. It's pretty obvious that a snarky punk like McGough would have found the Democrat O'Neill completely to his liking. Second, McGough seems to think that one's past creates permanent stains on one's present. I doubt that his own record is unimpeachable.

Michael McGough

Lou: The line of succession isn't in the Constitution; it's in a statute.



In Case You Missed It...



Recent Posts
Reading Supreme Court tea leaves on 'Obamacare' |  March 27, 2012, 5:47 pm »
Candidates go PG-13 on the press |  March 27, 2012, 5:45 am »
Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform |  March 26, 2012, 5:20 pm »


About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

In Case You Missed It...