THOSE SENATORS never ask the right questions.
At Alexander Haig's confirmation hearing, for instance, Sen. Edward Zorinsky introduced the following radio communication monitored from Air Force One toward the end of the Nixon era:
"This is Clawhammer. Nobody is giving out any tapes until I get back and can talk turkey about whatever it is. Nobody, I repeat, nobody is to have access to any tapes . . . Over."
The White House reply was:
"Al, one other problem. The red safe is now open. The lawyers are ploughing through the materials. Should we put the safe in custody? I do not know what is in it."
Now, what do you suppose our senators wanted to know about this extraordinary conversation? They asked Haig: What was the "red safe?" What turned out to be in it? What kind of turkey was to be talked? And did he, Haig, help Nixon hide tapes?
What silly questions!
The rest of the hearing was equally superficial. They plugged away at the general with questions like: Would he use nuclear weapons? Would he abuse executive power? Was it right to overthrow Allende? And would he do it again?
If they had only asked the right question, they wouldn't have to pester the man with all the minor points.
The real question is: "Why are you Clawhammer?" If a man chooses to call himself Clawhammer, what else do you need to know?
To be fair, these code names are originally assigned by the Secret Service. For instance, David Eisenhower's code name is Howdy Doody. But he doesn't call home and say, "Hi, this is Howdy Doody."
Clawhammer, on the other hand, seems quite comfortable with his secret name.
Historically there's a tradition for such names among great men. Stalin, for instance, means steel.
Many sophisticated Russians (now dead) probably shrugged their shoulders at Stalin's adopted name. "Boys will be boys," they might have said. Just as I joked about Haig and Nixon. "Do they hide their tapes in their tree house? Do they write to each other in lemon juice ink?"
But Stalin's code name proved to be a good predictor of his future executive style. And paranoid as Stalin was, there was at least some historically bona fide reason to have a code name in Czarist Russia.
What is the reason to have a U.S. secretary of state who calls himself Clawhammer? Will this endear him to uncommitted nations: (If you met a man at a party named Clawhammer, would you let him walk you home?)
At past confirmation hearings Cabinet nominees have been grilled about their corporate connections and conflicts of interest:
"Aren't you going to run the national parks for the lumber companies?" "yes." "Yes." "OK, confirmed."
"Aren't you going to run the treasury for General Motors?" "Yes." "OK, confirmed."
"Aren't you going to shape our foreign policy to serve the Rockefeller interests?" "Ya-vohl." "OK, confirmed."
This used to be the significant line of questioning to predict a Cabinet member's future performance.
I would like to propose that from now on, Cabinet nominees be required to file not only financial statements but their code names.
If the future Cabinet roll call is going to be "Clawhammer, Jackhammer, Sledgehammer, Tackhammer, Vise, Winch, Screw," then we have some reasonable way to predict what our government will be like.