Carter's Great Purge

Out go five Cabinet members in a shake-up that shocks the country

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"We've burned down the house to roast the pig." Borrowing this image from English Essayist Charles Lamb, an aghast White House official summed up the most extraordinary week in the White House since Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. In four days, Jimmy Carter dismantled the leadership of his Government by demanding the resignations of his top 34 Cabinet and staff aides. And then−the chairs of power theoretically empty−he set about firing those he deemed ineffective, disloyal, political liabilities, annoyances to his closest associates, or all of the above.

On an individual basis, each of the dismissals was not surprising; a few had been long expected. But the sum total of them, and Carter's wholesale slaughter approach, damaged the brave new leader image he is trying so hard to create. At the very announcement of the mass resignations, Washington was rocked by rumors, the dollar plunged around the world, and America's friends abroad asked ever more worried questions about what the President was attempting to achieve, and at what risk to America's stability. Across the U.S., a people who had at first been bewildered by the President's unprecedented ten-day "summit" at Camp David, then relieved by his forceful speeches on energy, which tried also to set a high national purpose, could only ask: Now what?

In the days leading up to his stunning shakeup, Carter had dropped hints about what he had in mind. At Camp David, he remarked to reporters that he was thinking of changing the "structure of my Cabinet." During his TV address on Sunday, he recalled the warning of one summit participant that some Cabinet members "don't seem loyal" and that there "wasn't enough discipline among your disciples."

But almost no one was prepared for what Carter set in motion Tuesday morning: the most thoroughgoing, and puzzling, purge in the history of the U.S. presidency.* His Cabinet had lasted intact longer than those of the great majority of Presidents: 30 months. It took him exactly 72 hours to rip it apart. Out went:

> Joseph A. Califano Jr., the sharp-witted, liberal and independent-minded Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. His replacement, subject to Senate confirmation: Patricia Harris, head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and first black woman in the Cabinet. Her successor at HUD has not been announced.

> Michael Blumenthal, the outspoken Secretary of the Treasury. Nominated to replace him was G. William Miller, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board since 1977. Miller will be succeeded temporarily at the Federal Reserve by Frederick Schultz, a former Florida banker and Carter crony, who was confirmed as a board member by the Senate only last week.

> James Schlesinger, the intelligent but somewhat arrogant Secretary of Energy. He will be replaced by yet another sometime Georgian, Charles W. Duncan Jr., who was the president of the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company before becoming the Deputy Secretary of Defense in 1977.

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