Sunday, February 21, 2010

"I am in control..."

With the recent passing of Alexander Haig, a famous old soundbite has been dragged up once again, and misinterpreted once again. 

On the day when President Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt there was, understandably, a fair amount of confusion in Washington. Al Haig spoke at a press briefing in the White House to explain what was happening.

One of the things he said was "I am in control, here at the White House, pending the return of the Vice President." I remember it well. I watched it on live TV. He was trying to reassure everyone that in the President's absence White House affairs were being attended to even though the president was in the hospital and Vice president Bush was en-route and temporarily unavailable. 

In the days that followed, the only part of the quotation anybody talked about was the "I am in charge" part. By taking the phrase out of context, Haig was widely criticized for assuming Presidential powers in violation of the Constitution. 

But somebody had to be in charge of White House operations under those circumstances. As Secretary of State, the highest ranking official in the building at the time, it was perfectly natural for Haig to take charge. He tried to choose his words carefully, limiting his authority to one building and only until Vice President Bush could arrive, yet still his words were twisted to make him look bad. 

And some commentators are doing it again today. Don't pay any attention to them, because most of them weren't even paying attention at the time it happened.

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