Government & Politics

By The Editors / November / December 2000
October 24th, 2007

Bobby Jindal ’92

At 29 years old Bobby Jindal seems too young to be a college president. But at the age of 27 he seemed too young to be executive director of a bipartisan presidential commission on Medicare. At 24, when he was made Secretary of Health and Hospitals for the state of Louisiana, he seemed downright precocious.

Now head of Louisiana’s university system, Jindal is reinventing education in his home state. His first project, creating a system of two-year community colleges, is making his parents proud. Growing up, “education was always a priority,” he says, “and there was a strong ethic of giving back to the community.”

After graduating with a degree in biology and public policy, Jindal went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After returning to the United States and taking a position with McKinsey & Company, he began jotting down ideas about fixing up Louisiana’s troubled health-care system. Soon these jottings took the shape of a proposal that, when it landed in front of governor Mike Foster, turned into an offer to become Secretary of Health and Hospitals.

During his tenure, Jindal not only eliminated a $400 million deficit in Louisiana’s health-care system, he created a $170 million surplus—big enough to catch the eye of the White House, which asked him in 1997 to head its Medicare commission.

Charles W. Colson ’53
E. Howard Hunt ’40

Some might say that Chuck Colson and E. Howard Hunt destroyed the American presidency—but that wouldn’t be the whole story.

In 1971 Colson, then special counsel to Richard Nixon but better known as the president’s “hatchet man,” hired Hunt, an ex-CIA operative, to assist with the reelection campaign by wiretapping the Democratic National Committee’s suite in the Watergate Hotel. Ever since then, U.S. commanders in chief have struggled to recover the lost integrity and dignity of their office.

In the months leading up to the Watergate trial Colson experienced a religious conversion. His new faith, combined with seven months in a federal penitentiary, convinced him of the need to reform the criminal-justice system. Crime must be seen as an offense against individuals and against God—not against the state, he said; victims should be compensated. Further, he argued, punishment should aim to restore criminals to society, not merely to lock them away.

In the late 1970s Colson founded Prison Fellowship, an evangelical Christian ministry that mobilizes volunteers from all denominations to work within prisons worldwide. Twenty years later Prison Fellowship operates in eighty-three countries and in almost all 1,600 U.S. prisons. Last year the group gave Christmas gifts to a half million children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. And since 1997 Prison Fellowship has been putting its philosophy to the ultimate test, running a wing of a Texas prison. The state provides security and Colson’s staff provides worship, work, and schooling, even meetings with crime victims.

For his efforts Colson received the 1993 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, an award shared by Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Martin E. Marty, the eminent historian of American religion, has credited Colson with recovering “a great reform tradition, the tradition of William Wilberforce in England, and the abolition movement in America.”

Howard Hunt’s reformation has been a little less spiritual. After serving thirty-three months in prison, this former White House aide began writing spy novels, assuming a series of noms de plume and drawing on an espionage career highlighted by the Bay of Pigs and the 1954 coup in Guatemala. Ironically, the best known of his aliases may be a television character based on his exploits—Jim Phelps from Mission Impossible, played by actor Peter Graves. That cover was blown when the show was made into a film; the Phelps character was renamed Ethan Hunt and played by Tom Cruise. E. Howard Hunt’s first name, incidentally, is not Ethan, but Everette.

Charles Evans Hughes 1881

The only serious presidential candidate to have graduated from Brown, Charles Evans Hughes started his political career in 1906. Then a New York City lawyer, he attracted national attention by defeating the wealthy and influential publisher William Randolph Hearst in a hotly contested race for governor of New York.

After reelection in 1908, Hughes opted out of politics when he was appointed an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court by President Taft. In 1916 he left the Court for another tight political race—this time against Woodrow Wilson. With the endorsement of the Republican and Progressive (or Bull Moose) parties, Hughes collected 254 electoral votes to Wilson’s 277. The race was so close that Hughes went to bed thinking he had won, but he later learned he had lost California and the race.

Appointed Secretary of State in 1921, Hughes engineered the U.S. entry into the League of Nations and negotiated history’s first arms-reduction agreement. In 1930 he returned to the bench, this time as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Theodore Francis Green 1887

When he was sixty-five theodore francis green became governor of Rhode Island—on his third attempt. “They seemed to think they could wear me down,” he told the Providence Journal. “Well, they couldn’t!”

Governor Green—who is known at Brown as the man who first suggested the bear as its mascot—orchestrated a reorganization known as the Bloodless Revolution of 1935. The coup resulted in the replacement of the entire supreme court and a new organizational structure for the state government that remains in place today. Not everyone applauded Green’s actions: the editor of the Chicago Daily Tribune ordered Rhode Island’s star cut out of the American flag.

In 1936 Green was elected to the U.S. Senate, where at the age of eighty-nine he became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He stepped down from that post in 1961 at the age of ninety-one—the oldest senator in U.S. history.

Richard Holbrooke ’62

Most diplomats do their best to avoid hopeless cases; Richard Holbrooke has spent a career seeking them out. As twentieth-century diplomacy has grown ever more cautious and bureaucratic, Holbrooke has relied on ambition, coercion, sleight of hand, blunt persuasion, and the force of his relentless will. Best known as the architect of the 1995 Dayton Accords, Holbrooke built a surprisingly lasting peace from what had been a desperate situation in the Balkans.

Holbrooke joined the U.S. Foreign Service when he graduated and immediately asked to be sent to Vietnam, where he worked as an aide to General Maxwell Taylor and as an assistant to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. He was also a member of Averell Harriman’s staff during the early Paris peace talks. After stints directing the Peace Corps in Morocco and editing Foreign Policy, Holbrooke became assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs during the Carter administration.

A Democrat, Holbrooke left government altogether during the Reagan and Bush administrations, working first at Lehman Brothers and then at Crédit Suisse–First Boston. After being passed over for top jobs in the state department, Holbrooke was picked by President Clinton as ambassador to Germany. Next came a post as assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, a job that helped prepare Holbrooke for his shuttle diplomacy in the Balkans, which he described in his diplomatic memoir, To End a War, as “a high-wire act without the net.”

Holbrooke was named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 1998. He is rumored to be a top candidate for secretary of state in a future Democratic administration, despite his take-no-prisoners personality. As his friend Leslie Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the New York Times earlier this year: “To achieve truly important things you have to be willing to put your personal reputation on the line in a very skillful way, and Dick is one of the few people I’ve met in my life who has the courage to do that. It’s not nutso ambition; it’s courage.”

George Lincoln Rockwell ’42

Arguably the most infamous graduate Brown ever produced, George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, was known on campus as the off-beat art editor of the student publication Sir Brown!, where he contributed cartoons and such articles as “Revolting Episode of What Two Fiendish Ghouls with Dripping Fangs Did on Arbor Day and Also What Happened in the Garage Hi-Yo Silver.”

Not until the Joseph McCarthy era did he find revelation in Mein Kampf. At first Rockwell bounced from group to group within the conservative movement, landing briefly at William Buckley’s National Review. But Rockwell’s ideas were too radical even for such groups as the Ku Klux Klan, states-rights separatists, and segregationists. After his second wife left him, he founded the American Nazi Party (ANP) in Arlington, Virginia.

In the turmoil of the 1960s, Rockwell saw himself as a lone soldier, holding the line against the enemy—the “communist” Jews in New York who were leading the civil rights “revolution.” Unfortunately, his rhetoric for a return to the America of old—the traditions, prejudices, and social conventions that were under attack— struck a nerve among some citizens. Enough people responded to allow the ANP to begin conducting guerilla protests against politicians, liberal activists, civil rights leaders, communist organizations, and student demonstrators.

Rockwell delivered his message at more than 100 universities across the country—including his alma mater. His talks were unambiguous: he despised Martin Luther King, praised Malcolm X, ridiculed Sammy Davis Jr., loathed Barry Goldwater, and sneered at the feeble John Birch Society. He was jailed, assaulted, spat upon at rallies, and committed to a mental hospital.
The Brown appearance required more finagling than Rockwell was accustomed to, and he wrote the BAM to voice his displeasure: “My own university treats me like a colored step-child. I believe the reason for this is the capture of a grand old New England college by Jewish and communistic radicals who are turning our kids into arrogant, ignorant, hell-raising peace-creeps; willing traitors to the greatest nation ever to appear on earth.”

In 1967 Rockwell shifted from attacking “communist Jews” to a more successful “White Power” approach. He wasn’t able to exploit this new strategy very long; a disgruntled former ANP member assassinated him that August. -- William H. Schmaltz

William Beck Widnall ’26

Brown’s only twentieth-century graduate to earn a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, William Widnall was a New Jersey congressman for a quarter century.

Widnall’s first election, in February 1950, was called after his predecessor was convicted of corruption. A moderate Republican, Widnall was known as a conciliator. After becoming the ranking member of the House Banking and Currency Committee, he was especially influential in brokering compromises on housing and community-development issues.

After a lifetime of loyalty to his party, he withdrew his support for President Nixon in 1970 over the bombing of Cambodia. Two years later, when Nixon intensified the bombing of North Vietnam, Widnall sent the president a telegram saying, “For God’s sake, stop looking for a place in history. The only way that can be achieved is by a cease-fire.” Observers attributed his 1975 defeat to general disillusionment over Watergate and President Ford’s pardon of Nixon.

Thomas Corcoran ’22

President Franklin Roosevelt gave him the nickname that stuck: Tommy the Cork. Thomas Corcoran was widely recognized as the member of Roosevelt’s “brain trust” who had the savvy, influence, and toughness to get New Deal legislation written and passed by the Congress. The Washington Post once called him a “New Deal Moses.”

To Corcoran, working for Roosevelt was a twenty-four-hour-a-day job. Marriage and domesticity, he believed, would only get in his way. “You can’t marry and keep your intellectual honesty,” he liked to say. “The way you deal with a husband is to schedule the conference for the evening. Then you come late and dawdle. Around midnight he is anxious to get home, and probably afraid of being scolded. By one o’clock in the morning he is ready to agree to anything.” His philosophy notwithstanding, Corcoran married in 1940 and eventually had six children.

When he left government in 1941, the New Deal programs Corcoran had guided through Congress had created a bigger and more complex federal government than ever before. Now he set about exploiting this size, becoming Washington’s first big-government influence peddler. According to Post reporter Alva Johnston: “Big Business clasped him to its bosom and poured fortunes into the hand that had so often cudgeled it.” In his private law practice, Corcoran defined the art of power brokering. He knew just how to use his wide network of government connections to further the causes of his mostly corporate clients. His dealings on behalf of big oil and drug companies earned him the wrath of Congress, which held hearings on his actions four times. Four times Tommy the Cork escaped unscathed.

Even in 1960 Corcoran was still making connections. According to Mutual Contempt, a book about Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy by Clinton speechwriter Jeff Shesol ’91, Corcoran caught John Kennedy alone in an elevator during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that year and, with the door slamming repeatedly on his foot, asked Kennedy for permission to sound out Johnson, who was then Senate majority leader, for the vice presidency. Kennedy gave him permission to approach Johnson. “Tommy,” he said, “you have peculiar abilities.”

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