James Schlesinger died on March 27, 2014 in a Baltimore Hospital at the age of 85. Schlesinger was an economist who made powerful allies and enemies throughout the U.S. government during his time in politics. James Schlesinger’s death is sure to bring about stories of government power struggles and political maneuvering that have long been forgotten.
James Schlesinger grew up in a Jewish home in New York City where his Lithuanian mother taught him the value of hard work. James would go on to graduate from Harvard University and earn a Ph.D. in Economics. His intelligence, bold style, and passionate stubbornness caught the eye of Richard Nixon in the late 1960s.
Those who knew James Schlesinger often referred to him as “self-righteous, a quibbler, and stubborn.” But it was these very qualities that led President Richard Nixon to take an economics professor and strategist and put him on the White House staff. Schlesinger’s first official role under Nixon was deputy director of the Bureau of the Budget. His primary job? Find out how to cut the Pentagon’s budget in the midst of the Vietnam War. Needless to say, Schlesinger made very few friends during those days.
But he had one friend that mattered, President Nixon. And when Nixon was re-elected in 1972, he pushed out CIA director Richard Helms and inserted ally James Schlesinger. The move was surrounded by the Watergate Scandal, and Schlesinger only served as CIA chief for 17 weeks to accomplish one unenviable task. Eliminate one tenth of the current CIA staff. And he did it.
It was also during Schlesinger’s time as the director of the CIA that he led one of the most controversial CIA investigations in history. Later called the “Family Jewels”, Schlesinger ordered the investigation of CIA involvement in activities outside of their charter. The move was a direct response to the Watergate Scandal and led to a massive report linking CIA involvement to 18 different counts of legal concern. The report was not fully released to the press until 2007, despite many requests throughout the years.
As the list of Nixon’s friends began to shrink, James Schlesinger found himself only a few steps from the most important position in the United States. He was appointed to Secretary of Defense. However, after the Nixon resignation, Schlesinger became a master politician. Flip flopping with the best of them, he opposed Gerald Ford’s bid for re-election, backing Ronald Reagan. When Jimmy Carter was elected president, James Schlesinger, a life long Republican, suddenly became a champion for the Democratic golden boy from Georgia.
Unfortunately, the James Schlesinger and Jimmy Carter partnership was short lived. Schlesinger served as the Secretary of the Department of Energy (created by Carter). Most of the Democratic Congress disapproved of Schlesinger’s focus on nuclear energy and called for his resignation regularly. In the late 1970s, one of the worst energy crisis ever hit the United States under Schlesinger’s watch, and Jimmy Carter eventually moved him out of his cabinet. James Schlesinger’s official political career was effectively dead at that point, but he would remain an integral voice in the energy conversation into the 21st century.
James Schlesinger married his wife Rachel in 1954, and they had eight children together. Rachel passed away from cancer in 1995. James Schlesinger died from Pneumonia according to his daughter Ann.
[Image via Wall Street Journal]