George Bush was much too modest when he listed the qualifications of his new presidential campaign manager the other day.
In describing Fred Malek's background, the president said Malek was "a very successful businessman [and] political associate."
But Bush left out one of Malek's more interesting credentials: Jew hunter.
Malek was forced to resign from his Republican Party leadership post in 1988 because stories surfaced about how he had counted up Jews for Richard Nixon.
Nixon believed there was a "Jewish cabal" out to get him in one government agency and so he wanted someone to make a list of all the top Jews who worked there. He knew just the man for the job.
Malek's nickname in the Nixon White House was "The Ax." And it
was an apt one. Because Malek was a perfect tool. Tools don't ask questions; they just do the job.
A few months after Malek submitted his list of Jews to Nixon, two senior officials in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) who were Jewish were ousted.
Not that Malek wanted to hurt anybody. He wants to make that clear. All he did was his job. All he did was what he was ordered to do.
He was just being a good little bureaucrat.
This bizarre chapter in our nation's history began in 1971 when Richard Nixon became enraged when a top official in the BLS named Harold Goldstein told the press that the new unemployment data were "mixed." Nixon had wanted him to say they were "heartening."
And because of that, Nixon told Malek to hunt down the Jews. Malek did his job, reporting back to Nixon that 13 of the 35 top BLS officials were Jewish.
But how, you might wonder, did Malek find out who the Jews were?
Religion is not listed on employment forms. Jews are not required to wear yellow armbands. So how did Malek find them?
"I don't know how you do it . . . guess the names," an exasperated Malek told the Washington Post after his activities had been uncovered.
Malek admitted to counting Jews, but he wanted to make clear he had nothing to do with firing Jews. In his mind, there was a huge difference.
"I find that kind of action -- or even the suggestion that I engaged peripherally in that kind of effort -- to be morally wrong and totally out of bounds," he said.
After Malek left the Nixon White House, he continued to do very, very well. He went to work for Marriott Hotels and made millions of dollars. He continued his close association with George Bush and ended up running the 1988 Republican National Convention for him.
And Bush made him a deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee in September 1988.
That's when the story of Malek and his Jew hunting resurfaced. And Malek resigned.
Bush said he did not believe Malek was a bigot, but when Bush was asked if he could defend what Malek had done, Bush said: "No, I can't."
And Malek was out. Not that this hurt him financially. He became a merchant banker and president of Northwest Airlines and a business tycoon.
In 1990, Bush asked him to run the economic summit in Houston. This was a trial balloon for his re-entry to the White House. If the press jumped all over having Malek back on the team, the White House would pull back.
But Malek can be an extremely charming man. And the stories about him and the summit glowed with praise.
Malek also requested private meetings with Jewish organizations and charmed some Jewish leaders. He did, in other words, what he was supposed to do before he could re-enter the public arena: He had "cooled out" the Jews.
And when Bush named Malek his 1992 campaign manager at a news conference last week and then took questions from the White House press corps, not a single reporter asked a single question about Malek.
So Malek is back. Relaxed. Refreshed. And rehabilitated.
And I do not think he should be hounded. I only think he should be reminded of something:
In March 1990, Lee Atwater, a former Bush campaign manager, said of Fred Malek: "He's the kind of guy who made the trains run on time."
Malek should remember, however, that efficiency is not enough. As the world found out not all that many years ago in Germany, it is important to find out what the trains are carrying and where they are headed.
In defending Malek's counting of Jews, top Nixon aide and Watergate felon John D. Ehrlichman said Malek was just "doing something the president of the United States instructed him to do and he had no discretion in doing."
That defense was used at Nuremberg. And rejected. We all have discretion over our actions. We all have responsibility for them. We cannot blame them on the orders of others.
And in the months ahead, Malek should learn that there is a second reason for puckering your lips when your boss comes into the room:
You can use them to say no.