Frontlines

Hawk in search of a perch

Ian Urquhart September 3 1979
Frontlines

Hawk in search of a perch

Ian Urquhart September 3 1979

Hawk in search of a perch

Frontlines

PORTRAIT

Ian Urquhart

John Bowden Connally leans his six-foot, two-inch frame over the lectern and fixes his eyes, set in a permanent squint, on his audience of Orange County, California, businessmen. America, Connally says, with his right fist slamming into his left palm to emphasize the point, is entering a “decade of danger.” It is being pushed around by OPEC, the Soviet Union, the Japanese, and just about everybody else. And things are going to get worse instead of better unless somebody turns the country around. Connally, as a presidential candidate, is offering himself for the job, but he is also asking the businessmen for help. “You’re the inheritors of a great legacy of courage and vision in this nation,” he tells them. “Is it enough that you just enjoy the fruits of the trees of freedom? Or are you willing to plow back something in order to plant new trees in the orchards of freedom so that your children and their children might also one day have the right to decide?”

His audience—a blue-chip crowd of about 600 which includes David Eisenhower as well as a roster of prominent West Coast businessmen—is brought to its feet cheering by Connally’s rhetorical question; afterward many enlist in his campaign. He is their man: a former secretary of the treasury under Richard Nixon, secretary of the navy under John Kennedy, recipient of a bullet from Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle while governor of Texas, aide to Lyndon Johnson, naval officer, oilman, broadcaster, lawyer and rancher. With his Texas drawl, his speech littered with “y’alls,” his rightwing rhetoric, his 10,000-acre ranch, and his shifting allegiances (he switched from the Democrats to the Republicans in 1973), Connally is a sort of American Jack Horner. But there is a big difference. Unlike Horner, who made a hapless run for the Conservative leadership in 1976, Connally has a real chance of winning the Republican nomination next summer and of becoming the next president of the United States.

For Canadians, and the rest of the world, that could be bad news. Connally

is, above all, a jingoist, a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt who would speak loudly as well as carry a big stick. At the Canadian embassy in Washington, Connally is still remembered as the treasury secretary who slapped a 10-percent surcharge on all imports and then refused to exempt Canada despite strenuous pleas for special consideration. Today he is advocating a CanadaU.S.-Mexico common market for energy. He tells his audience that Canada has oil, gas, tar sands, coal and uranium, and holds out the hope that more of these resources would be available to the U.S. under his proposed common market. He is not deterred by the fact that Canada is committed to a policy of energy self-sufficiency and might not have any surplus energy to sell to the U.S. Why, then, would Canada want to join an energy common market? “You can start with the fact that about 70 per cent of your exports come to this country,” Connally told Maclean’s. Is that a threat to curb those exports, as he did in 1971, if Canada won’t play ball? “No, no, no. I’m just saying we have a mutuality of interest.” Beyond that, he would not elaborate.

While Connally’s designs on Canadian resources are vague, his plans for the rest of the world are clear. Vows the 62-year-old Texan: “We’re not going to be abused, run over, or taken advantage of anymore.” He says he will simply deny access to the American market to countries that are not “fair” to U.S. goods. Japan is singled out as a country that has been unfair. Connally would tell the Japanese to wipe out their huge trade surplus with the U.S. in just 12 months—or else. “You’d better be prepared to sit in your Toyotas on the docks of Yokohama eating your own mandarin oranges and watching your own television sets,” he tosses off.

In addition to his hard line on the trade front, there are hints that Connally sees for the U.S. a return to its role as the world’s policeman, abandoned after the Vietnam War. “The United States has to be the defender of freedom and the advocate of freedom wherever we go in the world,” he told the Orange County businessmen. Connally’s definition of freedom is quite

narrow; even the British do not measure up to it. “We like to think of them [the British] as a free society,” Connally told a group of American broadcasters this summer shortly after his Orange County speech. “But they don’t have the broadcast industry that we have. It’s all government-owned,” he said, giving new life to an old misconception. “We’re one of the few countries in the world where we have this kind of ability to speak as we choose, to say what we like, to take positions that reflect our own attitudes, our own biases, our own prejudices.”

But while Connally may worry foreign observers of his campaign he is wowing Americans, many of whom yearn for another Teddy Roosevelt. In Connally’s own analysis, Americans “think we’ve been a pushover for other nations. They’d like to see the United States’ interests more zealously guarded and more aggressively pursued.” Connally certainly fills that bill.

The man he must beat for the Republican nomination is Ronald Reagan, the runner-up (to Gerald Ford) in 1976. A former governor of California and Bmovie star, Reagan has been running for president, off and on, for 10 years. He is an arch-conservative and, with the country swinging to the right, the feeling is general that this is his turn for the Republican nomination, if not the presidency.

Connally is cutting into Reagan’s base of support, however. The inroads were evident during a week-long swing through Reagan’s home state of California in July. There, he did not tackle Reagan on the issues but pointed instead to his own experience in Washington (Reagan has had none) and famil-

iarity with the issues (defence, energy, inflation). He did not have to point out, because his audiences were already aware of the fact, that he is also six years younger than Reagan.

But Connally carries with him, as well, a lot of baggage that may, in the end, sink him. He has switched parties. (Connally likes to point out that Winston Churchill and Reagan also switched.) He is associated, in the public’s mind, with Nixon, and indeed, still keeps in touch with the disgraced president he once served. (“Guilt by association,” growls Connally.) He was indicted in 1974 for taking a bribe from dairy farmers seeking an increase in federal price supports. (Connally notes he was acquitted by a jury made up of 10 blacks and two whites in the District of Columbia, which voted overwhelmingly against Nixon in the 1972 election.) He is a millionaire in a country where great wealth arouses supicions. (Connally prefers to talk about his poor background as the son of a tenant farmer.) And he has links, through his business dealings, with the Arabs, who are about as popular in the U.S. as the British were during the Boston Tea Party. (Says Connally: “By and large, I think people of this nation will feel comfortable in knowing that I understand the mutual problems in our relations with the Middle East.”)

Comments South Dakota’s Democratic Senator George McGovern: “I wouldn’t trust Connally within a mile of the White House. He combines the worst of both Watergate and Vietnam. He’s the perfect symbol of the doubletalking, double-crossing politician. He doesn’t even know what party he belongs to. The fact that Connally never

went to jail along with the rest of the Watergate gang is positive proof that Ed Williams [Connally’s attorney] is the best criminal lawyer in the country.”

Connally has trouble with the issues as well as his image. He is on the wrong side, politically, of two major issues in the U.S. today: nuclear power and oilcompany profits. Since the breakdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, most American politicians have called for a more careful approach to nuclear power if not an outright ban on new plant construction. But Connally has advocated a speed-up in development of nuclear plants. Oil-company profits have also become a target for American politicians, notably President Jimmy Carter, with some companies reporting profits way up this year. Carter has proposed a windfall profits tax on the companies and has considerable public support for the measure. But Connally, who made much of his fortune indirectly from the oil business, has defended the companies and opposed the tax.

Connally is fatalistic about the ramifications of his stands. “I’m going to talk about the problems of America,” he says. “If that doesn’t sell, then I’m not going to sell.” He says Americans want their president to lead and to take unpopular positions, and scorns politicians who won’t as “poll-watchers.” If his reading of the public’s mood is correct, the world may be „in for its roughest ride from America since Teddy Roosevelt led the charge up San Juan