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Former Nixon, Reagan Adviser Al Haig Dead at 85

February 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Gen. Alexander Haig, who served as Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan and as an aide in the Nixon administration, died Saturday at age 85. Robert MacNeil sat down with Haig in 1987 during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: Veteran soldier statesman Al Haig died on Saturday.

We have an excerpt from a taped interview with him in 1987. Haig was running for the Republican presidential nomination. A four-star general, he served three presidents before running himself. Haig was Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, as well as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state.

Now Haig was taking on the sitting vice president, George H.W. Bush.

He talked to Robert MacNeil just prior to announcing his candidacy.

ROBERT MACNEIL, former PBS anchor: Why would you make a better president than, say, George Bush?

ALEXANDER HAIG, former secretary of state: Well, I’m never going to tout my own candidacy, at the expense of another Republican.

I wish George Bush all the luck in the world. I have known George and worked with him for over 20 years. But I wouldn’t be entering this race, Robin, if I didn’t think there was room for Al Haig and a very good prospect for Al

Haig’s turning what now looked like rather substantial odds around. And that’s been the experience of the recent campaigns here in America.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Reading the positions you have enunciated on the standard range of issues recently — and I may have missed something — it seems to me that you are not taking positions that are radically different from other Republicans on those issues.

If I’m right about that, are you saying, “It’s not big differences on policy; it’s the man, Haig, that I’m offering”? Is that — is that what you’re saying?

ALEXANDER HAIG: Well, that sounds rather self-serving. And you’re right. Almost all of the Republican candidates have generally espoused the same basically conservative approach to statecraft. Almost all have wrapped themselves around the very worthy mantle of Ronald Reagan.

And I’m no exception. But I haven’t been a blind advocate either — and I think that’s been pointed out — and nor would I ever be. I don’t think loyalty is telling a leader what you think he wants to hear, but, rather, what your conscience tells him he should.

And that context, I think, is right. The quality of the man is going to be the — very much the overriding criteria, competence, leadership, and demonstrated performance over a measurable period of time…

ROBERT MACNEIL: What other qualities do you think you have as a man that — that qualify you particularly, that you hope the American public will respond to?

ALEXANDER HAIG: Well, I — I know, for one thing, I probably carry more scar tissue on my derriere than any other candidate. That’s political scar tissue.

I have been in the political mix, even though I haven’t run for office. I know what it requires to keep the office of the presidency an effective office. And it’s cooperation with the Congress. And it’s dealings with the press and, above all, it’s communication to the American people day to day.

ROBERT MACNEIL: When you had a heart bypass some years ago, there was a lot of comment to the effect that doctors saying he’s the classic A-type personality.

ROBERT MACNEIL: If — I don’t know whether you agree with that. But, if you do, is the classic A-type personality a good kind of personality to have in the Oval Office?

ALEXANDER HAIG: Well…

ROBERT MACNEIL: Since — if the country is paying more attention to character and…

ALEXANDER HAIG: Not necessarily. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ahandicap either.We have seen the dialectic micromanagement, overcontrol in the Carter years, to the charge today that Ronald Reagan is not running things.

I hope that an effective presidency will be both, can delegate, can recognize that it takes one kind of guy to get you elected and another kind of guy to help you govern once you’re elected, so that you bring the very best our country has to offer into government once elected, and that you do delegate, but always with a very fine feel and a sensitive feel for everything of significance that’s going on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Alexander Haig was 85 years old.