Chapter 112: Stayin’ Alive - Shoring Up the Democratic Alliance; The Fall of Former State Senator BundyAbove: Two of the more moderate to conservative Democrats in the Senate, Jimmy Carter (D - GA) left, and Joe Biden (D - DE), right, often took issue with some of the more progressive stances held by President Udall and his supporters. Right, President Udall, photographed from the Oval Office.
“I think the Democratic Party could stand a liberal George Wallace—someone who's not afraid to stand up and offend people, someone who wouldn't pander but would say what the American people know in their gut is right.” - Senator Joe Biden (D - DE), when asked about what qualities he would like to see in a Democratic nominee in 1976 by a reporter from The Washington Post.
“It is better to light even one candle than to do nothing but curse the darkness.” - President Mo Udall, in his Inaugural Address.
Mo Udall’s first year as President of the United States was a spectacular success. Few but the new President’s most ardent critics could contend that his administration was not taking bold steps to remedy the problems facing the nation. Universal, single-payer health care was finally a reality for Americans, with Medicare-for-All helping to ease the financial burden on families already stricken by the Great Recession. The environment, including the Alaska Land Use Act and another law to reclaim land formerly destroyed by strip mining across the American West; energy policy which aimed to completely eliminate dependence on fossil fuels in 40 years’ time, employment programs, infrastructure, and a bold return to a Kennedy-inspired foreign policy centered once again on human rights, not realpolitik; these were but some of the President’s early achievements. He had many to thank for his victories, which the ever modest Udall did with earnestness. The vast popular support he received in the polls helped, as did his charming personality and razor sharp wit. Even William F. Buckley was forced to admit, in a 1976 episode of Firing Line with Udall on the campaign trail, that the then-Congressman, “Had a manner of speaking which could convince just about anyone of just about anything.” Shortly after Denis Healey’s election to Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1978, it often remarked by pundits that the Special Relationship was “now in the hands of, perhaps, the two wittiest men in politics today.” Udall and Healey would become fast personal friends, but more importantly for his domestic agenda, the President used his sense of humor to prop up the “common sense” nature of his proposals, and to tactfully disarm those who stood against them. Udall told his brother, White House Chief of Staff Stewart Udall, that his goal was “never to hurt anybody. Just to convince the American people that they were wrong on policy.” A reputation swept the nation of Mo Udall as “the People’s President”.
But it would be remiss of any student of history to ignore the “power politics” happening behind the scenes in Washington as the new administration fought intense, cutthroat battles in the halls of Congress that were anything but easy.
For starters, though the Democrats had grown their majority in the ‘76 elections by riding Mo’s coattails, the Republicans still held 44 seats in the Senate and 174 seats in the House, in other words, enough to maintain a fair deal of influence, especially with veterans Gerald R. Ford (R - MI) and Senator Howard Baker (R - TN) at the helm as Minority Leaders. While Ford and Baker were relatively moderate as Republicans went, and were willing to play ball with Udall’s people for the good of the country, they weren’t going to do so without throwing their own weight around first. Anywhere they could, Ford and Baker scored points by appearing “reasonable” in the Minority, holding Democrats to task by asking about where funding for new programs was to come from and the like. Unfortunately for both the GOP and their Democratic rivals, both parties were suffering from their own “big tent” nature which had allowed their respective victories in recent elections over the years. For the Republicans, the divide between “Romney Republicans”, (socially liberal and fiscally moderate), neo-liberals (socially liberal, fiscally conservative) and Buckley-ite conservatives (socially and fiscally conservative) remained open. While it was possible for the various wings of the party to work together, their differing beliefs on issues often led to open conflict, such as at the 1976 Republican National Convention, when a clash over the issue of abortion in the party platform almost led to fistfights on the floor. In the end, President Bush and Vice President Reagan had compromised to a “neutral” position - neither fully pro-life or pro-choice - which condemned the practice in theory, but proposed no meaningful federal efforts to overturn Doe v. Bolton. Of course, this failed to fully please either wing of the party, but it was a temporary solution to a deeper problem.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, President Udall’s brand of progressive liberalism may have flooded the country with new feelings of enthusiasm for community-mindedness and collective solutions to America’s problems, but his party too faced internal divides over the burgeoning culture wars which were playing out in the country’s neighborhoods and cities. On the more progressive side were allies of the President like Congressman Harvey Milk of California, the first openly gay person elected to Congress. Milk began his time in Washington with a bang by almost immediately calling for the legalization of marijuana and a constitutional amendment to ban sodomy laws. Such moves were seen as unthinkable for a freshman congressman to propose, but Milk didn’t care. He’d only won election to his seat by only about 100 votes. As far as he could tell, he might never get back to Congress. He wanted his one term to count. Democrats like Milk, Leader and Founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ron Dellums (D - CA), and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (D - IL) represented a “new generation” of Democrats, who believed that identity, abortion, Gay and Lesbian rights, and a continued conversation about race, were all issues worth talking about, in addition to getting the economy back on track. On the other end of the spectrum were folks like Vice President Lloyd Bentsen, Congressman Pat Robertson (D - VA), and Senator Fritz Hollings (D - SC), social conservatives with large power bases in the South and Midwest, who felt that Milk, Dellums, Jackson, and their allies gave other Democrats “a bad name”. Largely successors of LBJ’s “new Southern machine” of the early 70’s, these self-proclaimed “Christian Democrats” largely opposed abortion, or changing the social status quo too much, and were largely supported by a large number of blue collar Americans, who had no idea what their more Progressive neighbors were talking about. Because these divides in the parties could not be fully healed, issues often made for strange political bedfellows. Though Udall personally sided far more often with the progressives than against them, he also recognized the need to maintain the Democratic alliance, and often tried to eschew dealing with social issues in favor of economic or environmental ones, as evidenced in his forced silence about the Death Penalty rulings by the Supreme Court.
Above: Diametrically opposed “rising stars” of the Democratic Party in the 1970’s. On the left, Congressmen Harvey Milk of California and Jesse Jackson of Illinois. On the right, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.
But even this was still too liberal for some Democrats. As Ron Dellums, Jesse Jackson, Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, and their allies were building what would one day be called the “Rainbow Coalition” for progress in a more inclusive and equal America, more conservative members of the party were laying the groundwork for what would become another major wing: the “Communitarians”. Socially moderate, and in favor of only “qualified” economic interventionism, Communitarian Democrats are somewhat akin to the “Christian Democratic” parties of Europe and Latin America. Early leaders of this fledgling movement within the party included two ambitious junior Senators: Jimmy Carter of Georgia, and Joe Biden of Delaware. Carter, a fervently religious Southern Baptist, former Lieutenant in the United States Navy, and moderate Governor of Georgia had considered a run for the Presidency in 1976 after he was term limited in 1975, but decided against it after his wife, Rosealynn, convinced him that a Senate seat might give him the legislative experience he needed to one day make a more effective bid for the White House. Once elected, Carter gained a reputation as an expert on agricultural affairs, given his background as a farmer himself; but also on economic issues, on which he disagreed vehemently with the President and his progressive allies. Carter supported neo-liberal ideas of privatization in several industries, as well as the deregulation of others. The only area of agreement he seemed to share with President Udall was their mutual loathing for the death penalty. But when Udall failed to condemn the Court’s rulings defending the practice, it only served to further the wedge between him and Senator Carter. Though he had only been a Senator for two and a half years by the time Mo Udall had sworn the oath, Carter already saw the lanky Commander in Chief as a rival, someone in the way of his own rise to the top. He was joined in these sentiments by Joseph R. Biden, Jr., a handsome young gun and former City Councillor from Delaware, who had promised his wife Neilia when they’d first met: “I’ll be a Senator by the time I’m 30. And shortly thereafter, I’ll be President.” He aimed to meet this goal in earnest. Coming to Washington with his wife and their beautiful young family, Biden, Irish Catholic and decidedly middle class struck many D.C. insiders as “a figure to watch in the Party”. After his wife narrowly avoided a collision with a tractor-trailer truck in 1972 that would have surely ended her life, Biden “thanked God profusely” and took his wife’s good fortune as a sign that he and his family were destined for greatness in the capital. He immediately set to work getting in the good graces of committee heads, and became something of a pupil and confidant to Senate Majority Leader Russell B. Long (D - LA).
During his first years in the Senate, Biden focused his work on legislation regarding consumer protection and environmental issues. He also called for “greater accountability” on the part of the government in the aftermath of the Hoover Affair. In mid-1974, freshman Senator Biden was named one of the “200 Faces for the Future” by Time magazine, in a profile that characterized the Senator as "endlessly self-confident" and "compulsively ambitious". He also began to fill out his political resume with more positions. He became one of the Senate’s most vocal opponents against “forced” busing as a means to desegregate de facto segregated schools, and further worked with fellow Southern Democrats and conservative Republicans to try and limit the scope of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to prevent what Biden considered “federal overreach into our nation’s schools”. Biden also went on to call busing: “a bankrupt idea that violated the cardinal rule of common sense.” Because of his stances on these issues, Biden became a divisive figure among the African American community, though he gained the support and admiration of conservative, blue collar white workers who opposed the practice. He also gained notoriety for his calls for the government to get “tough on crime”, as rates of theft and murder soared across the nation throughout the mid to late 70’s. This, once again, did little to endear him to minorities, but made him a great rallying figure for more conservative Democrats. To his credit, Biden did support integration measures in housing, employment, and welfare, and claimed that he considered issues faced by the African American community “very close to home”.
While Mo Udall was on a roll in 1977, passing progressive legislation, Biden, Carter and their allies were working together to grow their own influence in the party as well. They wanted the party to have a real reckoning on issues many Democrats had avoided in the past, being willing to risk the fissures between the party’s members such a move would cause if the President was going to keep relying on their votes. The Communitarians, along with the Southerners, Christian Democrats, and other more conservative factions of the party were coming back for “their” day as well. They would not be ignored forever.
Above: Congressman Ron Dellums (D - CA), a leading social democratic voice in the Democratic Party and Chairman of the House’s Armed Services Committee (left). A proto-type model of the B-1 Bomber (right).
Meanwhile another new issue was appearing for the President - the B-1 bomber. Originally envisioned in the 1960’s as a platform that would combine the Mach 2 speed of the B-58 Hustler with the range and payload of the B-52, the so-called “B-1” was being designed by Rockwell International with the eventual goal of replacing both bombers. Though the R&D behind the project came back with strong results, the high cost of the project (which experienced numerous delays and went WAY over budget by 1977), the high projected cost of the finished aircraft, the introduction of new AGM-86 cruise missiles which largely flew the same profile and served the same purpose, not to mention early tests on a stealth bomber that would eventually replace the B-1 anyway, all contributed to a firm but unpopular decision by President Udall - the cancellation of the B-1 Bomber project. In a statement explaining the President’s decision, his press secretary pointed to a series of “open lambasts” at its expense made by Senator William Proxmire (D - WI). The Senator publicly and repeatedly mocked the project calling it an “outlandishly expensive dinosaur”. Immediately after coming into office, Udall had ordered a complete review of the program. By then, Pentagon experts were predicting that each new B-1 bomber would cost more than $100 Million to the American taxpayers. Pentagon officials also assured him that if the Air Force’s existing B-52 fleet were upgraded with the new AGM missiles, they would have the same effective range as the proposed bombers. With new stealth planes under development anyway, it seemed to Udall’s practical mind a senseless waste of money to continue to fund the soon to be obsolete project. On June 30th, 1977, Udall announced that he was pulling the plug on the project. No mention of the stealth bomber project was made to the public of course, meaning the President’s political rivals immediately had a new line of attack to make on the popular Commander in Chief. While Democrats, with the exception of Scoop Jackson largely lined up in support of the President’s decision, Republicans immediately set to attacking him as being “weak on defense”. Congressman Bob Dornan (R - CA), a paleoconservative bomb thrower led the pack when he boldly declared that in response to Udall’s decision, “They’re breaking out the vodka and caviar in Moscow.” Udall countered these and other claims about perceived weakness by announcing new investments on ICBMs and the updated fleet of B-52’s, as well as emphasizing that “Money we save on building bombers can and will be used to better the lives of the American people here at home.” Ron Dellums (D - CA), ever an ally of the President on many fronts, also defended his decision, saying as a guest on William F. Buckley’s television program, Firing Line: “We have unemployment like we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. We have rising rates of poverty and crime. We have real issues faced by working families here at home, issues which the government has the ability to step in and do something about. You’re going to tell me our biggest concern is having a new toy for the military to fly bombs in? Mr. Buckley, I served in the Marine Corps. Let me assure you, the Soviets aren’t getting the leg up on us just because we canceled the B-1.” While the public largely agreed with Udall’s decision (about 56% according to a poll conducted by Gallup), many more conservative Americans used this as their hill to stand against the very liberal President. Among these were Senate Minority Whip Donald Rumsfeld (R - IL), seen as a leading expert on Military issues on Capitol Hill, and a former Secretary of State and Vice President, who just so happened to begin a flurry of new Sunday show appearances in the aftermath of the B-1’s cancellation. His name? Richard Nixon.
Above: Senator Donald Rumsfeld (R - IL) expresses his concern over President Udall’s decision to cancel the B-1 Bomber during a press conference (left); Former Secretary of State Richard Nixon begins an interview with British Newsman David Frost at his home in London. During this historic interview, Nixon would explain his disagreements with President Bush and President Udall regarding foreign policy, and all but announce, to anyone reading between the lines, that he would be running for the White House in 1980, (right).
...The 1976 Election had been yet another political disappointment for Theodore Robert Bundy, Washington State Senator and hardcore Romney Republican. Despite his best efforts and a vigorous, door-to-door campaign, not only had President Bush failed to carry Washington State or hold the White House, but Bundy actually lost his seat in the State House as well, albeit narrowly. Bundy, whose ambition only seemed to grow by the day, was devastated. Returning to private law practice after several years in Olympia, sounded like absolute torture, especially given the personal distance developing between Bundy and his hitherto “perfect” wife, Stephanie. She’d gotten pregnant the year before and had never really lost the weight after giving birth to their firstborn, a son they named Ted, Jr. Bundy disturbed his staffers whenever he brought Stephanie up in conversation, calling her “Miss Piggy”, and even mentioning offhandedly that he “thought about killing her” once, “just to get her to shut the hell up.” Though the former State Senator quickly reassured his staff that he was “only kidding around”, Bundy’s comments disturbed and disgusted them nonetheless. Claiming that he needed to “clear his head”, Bundy told Stephanie shortly after leaving office in February of 1977 that he would be going on a road trip down the West Coast, alone. By this time, Stephanie could feel the love slipping away from their marriage, and was already considering filing for a divorce. The road trip seemed to her to be a good thing. Maybe when Ted returned, she reasoned, his head would clear and he would be able to love her again like he used to. Little did she know, she would never see her husband as a free man ever again. As with many psychopaths, Bundy did not handle rejection well. His loss, and Bush’s defeat by Mo Udall prompted Bundy to not only drive out of state in isolation. It also led to an attempted murder.
Leah Cooke was a 19 year old sophomore at Oregon State University, hitchhiking on the interstate in the middle of a March evening with her friend, Aspen Sloan, when a modest American Motors roadster slowed down to the side to pick her up. The driver was a handsome, lightly bearded man in his early 30’s. He appeared to be injured, with his right arm put up in a sling when he idled the car and asked the girls if they needed a ride someplace. Aspen immediately felt like something was off and declined the man’s offer, but Leah was always the more adventurous of the two. She informed the stranger that she and Aspen had just come from a party, but had no way back to campus, about 15 miles away, because Aspen’s boyfriend had left without warning to tend to a sick friend. Sympathetic, the man said he’d be glad to drive them back. Aspen said she’d rather walk. “Suit yourself.” The man leered, with a devilish grin. Aspen started walking in the direction of the University, while Leah climbed into the car’s passenger side.
Bundy, who Cooke would later report “started at me with this unsettling gaze” for the entirety of the ride, would drive several miles down the highway before thankfully being pulled over by an Oregon state trooper for a busted tail light. As the officer approached the car, Leah noticed the .32 revolver Bundy was retrieving from the driver’s side door. Screaming and lunging at the strange driver, Leah was able to restrain Bundy long enough for the State Trooper to open the driver’s door, notice the weapon himself, remove Bundy from the vehicle and get him in handcuffs. Originally taken to a local jail for “unlicensed possession of a firearm”, Bundy would eventually be charged in connection with a series of unexplained murders over the last several years throughout the Pacific Northwest. Though the former State Senator viciously battled for his freedom in court, as details emerged and the case against him mounted, hope for his absolution started to slip, and ultimately vanished. Though Bundy would become infamous throughout the country for his crimes, as well as his truly chilling appearance and total lack of remorse, most Americans had no idea how lucky they were that this psychopath was apprehended and locked away before even more innocent people were harmed...
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