The Don: A Look at Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

FROM JUNE 2001: Donald Rumsfeld mended an old family feud to join the Bush Administration as Secretary of Defense, quickly emerging as one of the most powerful figures in Washington. Still, this smart, aggressive, hugely ambitious Chicagoan (New Trier ’50) probably never dreamed that his career would end in the same office he had occupied 25 years ago. Maybe it won’t.

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Donald RumsfeldIn 1969, on the fifth try, President Richard Nixon finally persuaded Donald Rumsfeld to give up his safe North Shore congressional seat to serve as the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. It was a mean job. A legacy of the War on Poverty, the OEO had turned into a target of bitter dissension, clung to by liberals and anti­poverty workers, castigated by conservatives. While in Congress, Rumsfeld had voted against funding the agency, but he had been good on civil rights, and once he took over the OEO, he defied expectations and kept it alive, insisting only on stream­lining it. 

Still, one day a group of enraged community activists stormed the office, forcing Rumsfeld and his aide, Terry Lenzner, to grab a table and barricade the door. Rumsfeld called the police. Another time, more than 40 Howard University law students charged into a meeting that Lenzner was having with private lawyers affiliated with the OEO. The students held Lenzner hostage in the OEO conference room, pledging to keep him until he agreed to send government grants their way. Rumsfeld—a former wrestler who liked to drop to the floor on a whim and show off his one-handed pushups—unsuccessfully tried to bulldoze his aide through the students. Eventually Lenzner gave the intruders an ultimatum: to leave or face legal consequences. Rumsfeld had those who remained arrested, Lenzner recalls.

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