Saturday, December 11, 2010

What He Said And What He Did

The New York Times figures out that Richard Nixon thought differently about Israelis and predominantly liberal American Jews. Back in May 1994, when former chief of staff Bob Haldeman's White House diaries were published, I ventured the politics-based argument myself, as I had on other occasions. It got to be a bit much in the spring of 1997, when Nixon's son-in-law Ed Cox and former speechwriter Ken Khachigian, a loyal Cox water carrier, attempted to designate me as official Nixon foundation spokesman on the anti-Semitic statements of Nixon family friend Elmer Bobst, whose widow was a library contributor and Cox legal client. I told Cox I wouldn't be on the wrong side of anti-Semitism for him or anyone else and hung up the phone.

I still believe the preponderance of Nixon's unpleasant racial commentary had to do with his being born in 1913. As for the rest, it will be up to history to balance his loose talk -- which he made the massive error of tape-recording between February 1971 and July 1973 -- with his pro-Israel, pro-African-American, pro-Native American policies. To paraphrase John Mitchell, don't just pay attention to what he said. Remember what he did.

Henry's Bad Idea

Jeffrey Goldberg on a excerpt from newly-opened Nixon tapes (thanks to the Nixon library in Yorba Linda) in which the president and Henry Kissinger take a discussion of realpolitik way too far. Goldberg wonders whether Kissinger's distasteful speculation about what the U.S. would do, or not do, in the hyper-hypothetical case of a Soviet holocaust will be his epitaph, but that seems unlikely. Like many of these recorded conversations, it's just hot air.

There's one small irony, however. After Nixon died in 1994 and I was negotiating with Stanley Kutler and the National Archives about the Nixon tapes, I had several conversations with Kissinger in which he expressed concern that, when they were finally opened, he would appear to have been too agreeable when Nixon said outrageous things. This time, it went the other way around.

When We Do What Is Right For Palestine

"The Economist":
[E]vidently [Netanyahu's] hawkish instincts, for the moment, have got the better of him. Israel, says the right, is under no immediate threat, except from Iran. The Palestinians are weak and divided. The Arabs’ bark is worse than their bite. Fortress Israel has no visible cracks.
Richard Nixon used to say that Israel should make a deal because, while it would probably win the next war, it would be harder to win the war after that. Since he last said it, Israel's won at least two, in Lebanon and Gaza, and it will probably win the next two.

So Nixon would understand its reluctance to deal now. His point was that nations, like stubborn young people, make choices because of their own conception of their best interests, not because someone else thinks they should act in the service of some higher principle. The Palestinians' friends around the world see the issue by and large in moral terms. They deserve a homeland, and so Israel should give to to them. So far, Israel's response amounts to "make me."

What Israel's critics should understand is that this is basically a sound position. And yet most nations that make cold, hard choices, as Israel is apparently doing, can stand on their own. Because it is young and has for its entire life been beset by enemies, the U.S. had provided massive support over the years. In 1973, Israel's late prime minister, Golda Meir, said that Nixon's aid during the Yom Kippur war saved the day against Arab aggressors.

So what Israel should understand is that someday a U.S. president -- perhaps this one before too long -- may decide to make our full financial, diplomatic, and military support contingent on Israel making a deal with the Palestinians. None has done it so far because it hasn't been in his or our own nation's interests. If we ever really do stand up for the Palestinians, it will be of a piece with Harry Truman recognizing the new state of Israel in 1948. As for Israel, it may well be thinking that until we act in that fashion, we don't actually mean what we say.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that the British ambassador to the Vatican warned that the Pope's shepherd-stealing could lead to anti-Catholic discrimination and violence in England.

Ike's First Term

President Eisenhower was sure he wanted to say "military-industrial complex."

100-Year Flood

A view on Wednesday of the flooded village of Kujava, 40 km north west of Montenegro's capital Podgorica. People across Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro have struggled with a torrent of floods experts have called the worst in a century. Authorities in Serbia and Montenegro had to evacuate thousands of people from flooded villages. (AP Photo and caption/Risto Bozovic)

Looking Pretty Good At 50

The Jaguar E-Type

Center Right, Not Wrong

While she thinks President Obama's in a pretty good position to be renominated in 2012 by virtue of the Democrats having no one substantial enough to challenge him, Reagan-Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan also thinks he has a long way to go before he's standing astride the great American center as Bill Clinton was:

The president must have thought that distancing himself from left and right would make him more attractive to the center. But you get credit for going to the center only if you say the centrist position you've just embraced is right. If you suggest, as the president did, that the seemingly moderate plan you agreed to is awful and you'll try to rescind it in two years, you won't leave the center thinking, "He's our guy!" You'll leave them thinking, "Note to self: Remove Obama in two years."

Yorba Linda Sky

While listening to the great Loretta Lynn singing about her late husband in her song "Miss Being Mrs.," with Jack White on guitar

Obama's Brilliant Move

Charles Krauthammer gets it. But he sure doesn't like it.

You're Welcome

At 12:38 p.m. Eastern time, I left this comment at the Wall Street Journal about its Nixonite personnel error:
You’ve got the personnel wrong on the July 1971 Haldeman notes. Haldeman was then chief of staff; Haig was Kissinger’s aide.
By 1:20, when I checked back, reporter Louise Radnofsky had modified her copy to read:

Mr. Nixon ordered his aides to exclude all Jewish-Americans from policy-making on Israel, according to formerly classified notes taken by then-chief of staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman on a meeting with the president in July 1971. “No Jew can handle the Israeli thing,” the notes read. Later in the one-page excerpt, Mr. Haldeman writes, “Forget the Jews — they’re against” the administration.

That stipulation explicitly includes then-national security adviser Henry Kissinger, with accompanying plans to keep him out of the loop. The notes say that “whenever K calls — [then-aide Alexander] Haig should notify P.” and, later, “get K. out of the play — Haig handle it.”

Kathy, No More Meetings With People, Please

From the Wall Street Journal's anthology of items from yesterday's release of documents and tapes by the Nixon library in Yorba Linda:
A five-page memo by Mr. Nixon describes his personal habits for dissemination to “friendly columnists and authors,” and sets out the president’s loathing for social breakfasts, social lunches, social cocktails and social dinners, because they take time away for “long-range, broad-scope thinking,” and that he doesn’t feel he can afford to spend five hours playing golf for the same reason.
So Nixon didn't like people? On the contrary. But social interactions, except for those that made almost no demands on his emotional energy, were exhausting, as with all strong introverts. This listing ranks Nixon as an ENTJ on the Myers Briggs scale, but that can't be right. RN was definitely INTJ:
[M]any INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk...
And then there's small-minded talk. The Journal and others interpret a page of chief of staff Bob Haldeman's notes as a presidential order that the administration's Jews be banned from working on Middle East issues. Nixon's passions about Jews and their politics are well-documented and not pleasant to behold. And he was at his worst when talking with Haldeman. In this case, it sounds like Nixon was sounding one of his leitmotifs, which was that his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, who was Jewish, couldn't be objective about the struggles and negotiations between Israel and the Arabs. Unless someone can dig up evidence of an order being issued and carried out, it's probably just hot air, plus an additional insight about the fascinating collaboration-cum-rivalry between the two towering strategists of detente.

As these releases continue, and we get further away from Nixon days, reporters will need to brush up on their history. Here's what the Journal says about the newly released page of Haldeman notes. Note that they have the personnel all wrong. Haldeman was chief of staff; Alexander Haig was Kissinger's aide:
Mr. Nixon ordered his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, to exclude all Jewish-Americans from policy-making on Israel, according to formerly classified notes taken by White House aide H. R. “Bob” Haldeman on a meeting with the president in July 1971. “No Jew can handle the Israeli thing,” the notes read. Later in the one-page excerpt, Mr. Haldeman writes, “Forget the Jews — they’re against” the administration.
They should check this stuff with Rupert Murdoch. He knows.

Hat tip to Maarja Krusten


Ever noticed, when you're talking to someone and happen to look away for a moment, the person looks in that direction, too? Those with an eye on the data think they're seeing clues about political vision:

Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.

Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives' value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts....

Liberals may have followed the "gaze cues," meanwhile, because they tend to be more responsive to others, the study suggests.

Hat tip to Mark Shier

Thursday, December 9, 2010

French Tries

From records opened today by the Nixon library, an example of how quickly loose talk can get to the president's desk. On Aug. 11, 1970, Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon's secretary, sent him a memo describing a dinner attended a few days before by, among others, Wiley Buchanan, President Eisenhower's chief of protocol; Herve Alphand, the former French ambassador; and Winston Guest, famous for being Churchill's second cousin, playing polo, and marrying socialite C.Z. Guest. Woods continued:
Alphand said some of the French wonder why nobody has ever done anything about the fact that Haiphong is seven feet below sea level and exists on a series of dikes. If those dikes were bombed there is nothing they could do.
Nixon underlined the idea and put one of his trademark exclamation points next to it, adding a note to Henry Kissinger, his national security advisor: "K -- Give me a report on this." Whatever Kissinger's response was, nothing happened. The Johnson and Nixon administration considered various schemes for trying to destroy the extensive system of dikes and related structures along North Vietnam's Red River delta, but they never did it.

A Bush, Not A Clinton

It's fashionable to say that President Obama has borrowed Bill Clinton's post-1994 playbook. Jon Meacham says Obama's playing a much riskier, gutsier game:

It was in 1990 that Mr. Bush broke one of the most celebrated promises in modern American politics —“Read my lips: no new taxes,” as he put it in 1988 — in order to control federal spending. In the same way that Mr. Obama struck his deal to secure lower tax rates for the middle-class and win an extension of unemployment benefits, Mr. Bush gave on tax rates to get “pay as you go” rules — meaning that no further spending could be approved without compensating budget cuts or revenue increases. It was the beginning of the fiscal discipline that helped create the budget surpluses of the 1990s.

While Mr. Obama’s immediate concern is stimulus and Mr. Bush’s was deficit-reduction, both gave way on issues critical to the true believers within their parties. For Mr. Bush, it was political death. He had never been fully trusted by a Reaganite Republican base. Like Mr. Obama — who is unhappy with his “sanctimonious” left wing — Mr. Bush was no ideologue.

In The Beginning, There Was Evil

Paul Pillar is a former high-ranking CIA analyst who believes "the more that religion is infused into public life, the more that mankind suffers." Newly provoked by the State of Kentucky's financial support for a Bible-based theme park and the latest trendsetting comments by Sarah Palin, Pillar, blogging at "The National Interest," writes:

Religious beliefs inherently contain the seeds of intolerance, and thus of conflict and extremism, in ways that most secular belief systems do not. If one believes one's dogma comes from divine will and providence, it can less readily be compromised in good conscience than beliefs of more mundane origin. And those on the other side of a conflict can be seen not just as in opposition but as evil.

Religious belief, because it deals with the unknown and unknowable, must quite literally be a matter of faith. And questions of faith, because they cannot be resolved through public debate, appropriately dwell in the realm of the personal and the private. Once injected into the public realm and more specifically into matters of state, then they become one more form of the tyranny over the mind of man against which the deist Thomas Jefferson swore eternal hostility upon the altar of God.

Well, except for the secular belief systems of communism and National Socialism, which mass-produced intolerance and extremism in a magnitude of which al-Qaeda and the Taliban can only dream. Closer to home, just this week, the secular left seems pretty intolerant of President Obama's idea that rich people should be allowed to keep a little more of their own money so they can goose the economy for the next two years. Their rage is palpable, and while I don't hear them saying those who disagree with them are necessarily evil, I sometimes hear them coming pretty close.

It seems to me that intolerance and extremism are inescapable expressions of human nature, the natural byproducts of pain, fear, pride, or, usually, some mixture of the three. Far from being the root cause of these inclinations, faith practice at its best helps people notice and control them. If instead religion reinforces or encourages what is worst about people, it means that religious leaders and institutions aren't doing their jobs. They've let their own pride and certitude (or fear and pain) prevent them from appreciating the awe and humility with which any sane person approaches the altar of the Almighty.

Around the world, there are all too many such religionists. That religion must do better is an axiom that many of its practitioners readily accept. But the idea that humanity is safe when it ignores the Creator's judgement perished in the death camps and gulag, in Cambodia and Rwanda. Of course that prideful idea has perished many times in the many thousands of years of human history that preceded all those modern savageries, but the idea keeps being resurrected. Even when people betray God by wreaking havoc and pretending it's for his glory instead of their own, there's a certain deviousness involved in saying that the crime was committed by God or even by religion, when the blame really belongs to the human creature acting as it has since before anyone could even mouth God's name.

Snow White? Take A Hike

Disney to fairy tale characters: Go climb a beanstalk, because we're not seeing the green.

Obama And Israel And The Palestinians

Steve Clemons:
A senior administration official told me yesterday that those who think that President Obama is simply going to give up on Palestine-Israel peace don't understand him.

Nixon's Men And Right And Wrong

Maarja Krusten explores the nuances that emerge from the on-line background material Nixon library director Tim Naftali assembled for the library's new Watergate exhibit, which was opposed by his former White House aides:

One of the topics captured in video interviews is Nixon’s effort while president to remove some civil service officials from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A bureau official had angered the president due to the way his unit released some unemployment statistics. The topic and its handling offer many lessons on multiple levels. For one thing, while Nixon was alive, his representatives blocked NARA in 1987 from opening a White House document which read, “”everyone in BLS is Jewish look at all sensitive areas ck. Jewish involvement . . . esp. uncover Jewish cells & put a non-Jew in chg of each.” Only after Nixon died did NARA release that note to the public. In considering the current controversy over the Watergate exhibit, keep in mind that a key piece of evidence of Nixon’s mindset remained unavailable for consideration by scholars for 10 years, despite being marked by NARA for release in 1987.

And then there is the contrast between two of the former Nixon White House officials whom Naftali interviewed for the BLS section of the proposed Watergate exhibit. (The video clips are available on the Nixon Presidential Library’s site.) The two men – Charles Colson and Fred Malek – provide a contrast between two cultures, one more capable of learning and introspection than the other, in my view. Colson admits that Nixon sometimes issued directives to him that he knew were wrong. Malek largely shrugs and says of Nixon’s request that he identify Jews at the Bureau, no harm, no foul.

Malek is at left, Colson at right.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bin Laden Alone

Peter Bergen argues that al-Qaeda is being strangled by its own fanaticism:
[T]he jihadist militants are incapable of turning themselves into a genuine mass political movement because their ideology prevents them from making the kind of real-world compromises that would allow them to engage in normal politics. Indeed, rather than cut deals with new friends, bin Laden has kept adding to his list of enemies, including any Muslim who doesn't precisely share his ultra-fundamentalist worldview. The enemies list grows and grows. Al-Qaeda has said it is opposed to all Middle Eastern regimes; the Shia; most Western countries; Jews and Christians; the governments of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia; most news organizations; most humanitarian organizations; and the United Nations. This is no way to increase market share.

A Child's Christmas In Whittier

Richard Nixon wasn't always a master diplomat. Thankfully, no one ever went to war over mincemeat pie.

Nixon himself would tell the story of the festive holiday dinner in Whittier, perhaps at Christmas, when as a little boy he proclaimed to his aunt Rose Olive, Hannah's youngest sister, that she made the best pie in the world. "You should never say that," Rose Olive said gently, "because your mother's is always the best pie in the world."

Diplomacy aside, Rose Olive's view probably had the additional advantage of being true. Visitors to the President's restored birthplace in Yorba Linda learn that Hannah Milhous Nixon was a master baker. As expenses mounted from the illness of Richard's elder brother, Harold, Hannah would get up at four in the morning to make all the pies and cakes for the family market, and they always sold out early.

At Christmastime, after services at Yorba Linda Friends Church she and her husband Frank would load up pies and sons and presents for the ride from Yorba Linda to the Whittier home of her parents, Franklin and Almira Milhous. (The Nixons moved to Whittier themselves in 1922.) Some of Hannah's siblings, and later their children, still lived at home. They got to open their stockings Christmas morning, but Mrs. Milhous insisted that gifts not be exchanged until family members arrived from Yorba Linda, Riverside, and Lindsay, a Quaker community in central California.

Richard looked forward to hearing echoes of his Quaker heritage during these family reunions. Hannah and her sisters didn't use the plain speech in their own homes -- "Is thee going today?"; "Is this thine?" -- but their mother did. At Christmas, she and her daughters would slip back into the plain speech, which Richard loved.

Rose Olive, who raised her own family in her parents' house, liked to open gifts only after someone had played "Joy to the World" and everyone had sung along. Perhaps the pianist was the Nixon boys' Aunt Jane Beeson, just in from Lindsay, or in later years her pupil Richard. At least two other aunts were pianists as well. Nixon remembered that "Joy to the World" was the first song he picked out by ear on the family's Crown piano, still on display in the birthplace.

Writing in the late 1970s, Nixon recalled that his grandmother, wearing her best red velvet dress, would sit in the parlor near the Christmas tree, which was festooned with tinsel, garlands, paper chains, and glass figurines, while her grandchildren brought their modest presents to her. "She praised them all equally," he wrote, "remarking that each was something she had particularly wanted."

Ham or turkey dinner was served in the dining room, with kids at a separate table. It was family style at first; as the family grew, the food was set out in a buffet. After some of that great pie, as neighborhood fires scented the chill evening air, the grandchildren were sometimes called upon to read verses of Scripture in turn. One wonders if anyone in that jovial and peace-worshiping Quaker family, even Richard himself, was ever asked to read Isaiah 2:4, God's great call to beat swords into plowshares and make war no more.

The Bible they probably used those evenings is also in the Nixon museum, a powerful link to successions of California Christmases and sturdy forebears. It was given to Richard's grandfather Franklin and his wife Emily in the 1870s, as they started their life together in Jennings County, Indiana. Emily died when her husband was 28. Eighteen years later, in 1897, he brought his second wife Almira, their nine children (including Hannah), most of the wood from their farmhouse, and the Bible to Whittier. Those Indiana planks are thought to buttress the Whittier house, which stands to this day. And when Nixon was inaugurated in January 1969 during a time of war and violent dissent, Pat Nixon held Franklin and Emily's Bible, opened to Isaiah 2:4, as he took the oath of office.

Whatever passages Richard may have read in long-ago Whittier with his family gathered around, Almira Milhous must have sensed something fateful about him. On his 13th birthday she gave him a present he treasured all his life and that is still in the birthplace, over his parents' bed. It was a framed picture of Abraham Lincoln, whom she revered for his abolitionist views, with a passage from Longfellow:

Lives of great men oft remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

First published on the Nixon Foundation web site in December 2000.

Bibi Didn't Blink This Time

Bibi-bashing being the order of the day, it's also fair to point out, as Israel and her friends have been doing all along, that when the Israelis bowed to U.S. pressure earlier in the year and agreed to a temporary freeze of West Bank settlements, the Palestinians waited nine months before agreeing to direct talks. In retrospect, those were wasted months; and the blame for that goes in the Palestinians' column.

Now, as the Obama administration seeks to recommence indirect talks with no preconditions and all issues on the table, the New York Times Jerusalem correspondent sees some hope:

Israeli officials indicated that with a settlement freeze off the table, they could be more forthcoming on other issues, including changes in their occupation on the ground in the West Bank. A new Palestinian city waiting to be built needs Israeli agreement for a key access road, and that will probably now come, they said; more roadblocks and checkpoints can be removed and more responsibility handed over to Palestinian security forces.

Of course, these steps have been promised several times in the past, and Palestinians are highly skeptical of Israeli sincerity.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s aides say it will be easier to get such steps through his cabinet and security establishment if the threat of talks ending is removed. Because in the coming weeks there will be no direct talks, just indirect ones through American officials, the threat is gone for now.

She's Still Waiting

Steve Clemons, my former Nixon Center colleague, says Barack Obama should press reset on the Middle East and grasp for a comprehensive settlement and greatness:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and other very wise foreign policy practitioners from America's higher stakes Cold War past recommended to President Obama that he lay out his own parameters and vision for what the outlines of a final deal should look like. They strongly encouraged him to "make his own weather" and to provide this outline of his views before the February 2009 Israeli elections.

Barack Obama failed to heed their advice. Big mistake. And ever since, Obama has been responding to the weather that Bibi Netanyahu has created.

The Altar Of Purity

From my comments in an exchange today with historian and former Nixon tapes archivist Maarja Krusten on her new blog, NixoNARA:

[An important] NixoNARA issue is where a great person’s legacy ultimately resides — in the sum of his or her principles and actions or in the surviving interests of family members and staffers. What’s inescapably true is that, before too long, history will have nothing to grapple with but what Nixon did, which is why it was vital to get the records to Yorba Linda under the public’s stewardship, in a setting that would be as collegial as possible as well as congenial both to Nixon’s and the public’s interests.

Collegiality has been sacrificed on the altar of purity and payback. But thanks to Tim Naftali and the hard work of others who believed in the cause, the records are there. Thanks to them, the Nixon library is the Nixon records.

Seventh Grade Heaven

During St. John's School's lessons and carols service last night, Headmaster Jim Lusby and I were in the front row, with a corps of 7th graders (my students in New Testament on Tuesday afternoons) standing just a few feet away. As 75 angelic voices swelled around us, Jim whispered, "The 7th grade boys are doing well this year."

Not that they didn't sound great, but he was referring to their deportment. "They may be a little worried to see us together," I said. "They realize we really do know each other."

"And we talk," he said with a smile.

That's Jim at right, with the bow tie. As any teacher will tell you, the upstairs backup can come in handy. While I've been at St. John's for over six years, this was the first time I'd attended a lessons and carols service as a member of the Middle School faculty. I was reasonably confident about the new challenge, since I'd taught almost all of the same kids in 5th grade. But in these young lives, those particular two years turn out to have been long and eventful. We're having a great time together. And yet there's wisdom in the insight of a retired 7th grade teacher, now in her 80s, who was quoted to me as saying, "Seventh graders are interesting and in transition."

In staging our annual Advent and Christmas iteration of an Anglican tradition that dates from the 19th century, choir director Lori Speciale shows what it takes to organize middle schoolers into coherence and even transcendence: Skill, discipline, and love. As 350 parents, family members, and friends watched and listened, our students retold the Christian story through scripture readings, anthems, and two hymns in which the congregation was invited to join.

Gary Toops was at the mighty Rodgers organ, and St. John's Church's Buddy Lang had brought his trumpet and some distinguished colleagues on violin, woodwinds, and percussion. When this whole ensemble was playing and singing, with the girls (and still some boys) taking the descant parts, it just sounded magnificent. If we weren't yet in the Christmas spirit, it had entered the hearts of at least some of us by the time we got to verse three of my favorite Christmas hymn, which has a line that encapsulates the gospel: "Word of the father, now in flesh appearing." The children really do lead us, every time.

Groovin' Up Slowly

Whenever I hear two songs in a row on the radio by the same artist, I still wonder if somebody died. On the evening of Dec. 8, 1980, WNEW-FM, then New York City's flagship rock station, played a long John Lennon block. Then the DJ (had they brought in the legendary Scott Muni that dark night? I can't quite recall) said that Lennon had been murdered outside his and Yoko Ono's apartment building at 72nd St. and Central Park West.

By then, I'd been working for former President Nixon for three months in his office in 26 Federal Plaza. The next day I typed out a few pages saying that Lennon and the 37th president, as prophets of peace, had been toiling in different sections of the same vineyard. Yes, it was impossibly callow. Among other things, my essay overlooked the FBI's surveillance of Lennon during the Vietnam war, though I probably got in a lick or two about the naivete of Lennon's facile if heartfelt peace talk.

Two of Nixon's more senior aides, Paul Bateman and Ray Price, wisely induced me not to submit it to the Village Voice, which had been my plan. But when someone else wrote to the Voice saying that if a Beatle had to get shot, too bad it wasn't Paul McCartney, I did submit a letter taking umbrage, which, as I recall, was published. Another letter to the Voice around the same time said in its entirety: "Imagine John Lennon with no possessions," which seemed churlish then and even more so now.

At Strawberry Fields, in Central Park right across from the Dakota, sitting crossed-legged and flashing the two-fisted peace sign appears to be de rigueur. Maybe there was something to the Nixon comparison, since tourists standing in the doorway of his chopper at the Nixon library do pretty much the same thing. When Kathy and I visited the Lennon memorial on Friday, it was more moving than ever. To have just recorded tunes as sweet as "Woman" and "Watching the Wheels," to have been so contentedly in love, to have one of the greatest rock and roll voices ever (think "Twist and Shout" and "Yer Blues"), and to die at 40. You get to be my age, and the poignancy and tragedy definitely creep up on you. Come together, right now!

I first posted this on September 26, 2009.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Maria Shriver: "A Truly Great Woman"

Elizabeth Edwards

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Sunday Sermon: "Bring A Friend"

John the Baptist was Christ's messenger; he was also Jesus's companion. At our annual convention last weekend, Bishop J. Jon Bruno (left) called on everyone in our Diocese to follow the Baptist's example of prophecy and companionship by inviting a friend to church. From +Jon's ailing friend and colleague, Bishop Bob Anderson, we heard a teaching we'll never forget about the companionship of the Spirit. My Sunday sermon is here (and apologies, Bishop Bob, for misstating the name of your beloved wife, Mary.)

Obama Wants To Be The New Reagan

LA Times:
The timing of an economic uptick could be crucial, said Pew pollster Andrew Kohut, recalling that President Reagan's reelection prospects improved as unemployment fell from double digits to under 8% heading into the 1984 campaign.

Left To Obama: Drop Dead

Well, actually, two bloggers and the editor of "Tikkun." The result: 17 paragraphs in the New York Times about the possibility of a primary challenge in 2012. Obama's probably getting really worried.

And A Partridge In An Olive Tree?

The U.S. has given up on its effort to persuade Israel to observe a 90-day moratorium on West Bank settlements in exchange for 20 fighter jets, an aircraft carrier, four Knicks season tickets (courtside), and Benyamin Netanyahu's right of first refusal to replace Joe Biden on the '12 ticket. At end of the New York Times article, from think tankniks, come these glimmers of hope for a comprehensive settlement in place of a new round of direct negotiations predicated on the Palestinians' understandable but unsustainable demand that settlements stop first:

Analysts said that, while embarrassing, the administration’s decision to abandon the freeze would enable it to reassess a policy that has been stuck on a single issue. “If it encourages that more comprehensive review, then it’s not a bad thing,” said Daniel Levy, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation.

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “It’s the end of a phase for the administration: ‘We’re not focusing on the appetizers anymore; we’re focusing on the main course.’ ”

Obama To Left: Drop Dead

More bad news for Republicans.

Change I Can Believe In

Andrew Sullivan:
[H]ere's something the liberal base can chew on if they need some grist: how cool is it that Mitch McConnell just made Barack Obama's re-election more likely? Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?
This dawned on conservatives instantly. Some want to organize a revolt based on their insistence that federal income tax rates for the rich remain at their current levels until the Second Coming. Others speculate hopefully about a left-wing challenge to Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012 (fat chance).

On Fox News last night, Britt Hume said extending unemployment benefits was a bad idea because they prevent people from going out and finding work. I wish there were a way to give him the opportunity to test his theory.

The plain fact is that by moving to the center, Obama has done what the preponderance of Americans hoped for and liberal and conservative activists and radio and cable TV bigmouths most feared. Gone are the disquieting passions of 2008's Obamiacs, the naive confidence of those who thought '09 portended the rise of Euroamerica, and '10's lashings of tea and white toast.

Welcome back to what Richard Nixon loved to call the mushy middle. This is change I can believe in. Give me gridlock, or give me death.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Highways and Cigarettes," Jay Farrar

My kind of song, from the front man of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt

Containing Differences And Migitating Conflict

Talking about what the U.S. can expect from negotiations with Iran, the Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour sounds like Richard Nixon talking about the Soviet Union:

I think the individuals who are currently running Iran believe enmity toward the United States to be an inextricable part of the Islamic Republic’s identity and ideological narrative.

This doesn’t mean that we shun dialogue with Iran, but we should have realistic expectations of what it will achieve. Our conflicts with Iran are not due to simple misunderstandings, but real, serious differences about the way the world ought to be. For me the utility of negotiations is not necessarily to resolve our differences with Iran, but to contain our differences and to mitigate the prospects of escalation and conflict.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Welcome, Maarja And "NixoNARA"

Historian Maarja Krusten, who worked with Richard Nixon's White House records at the National Archives from 1976-90, has just launched her new blog, NixoNARA, with apt observations about the struggles between dedicated federal archivists on the one hand and the former president and his men (including me) on the other:
[G]iven my background, I can say that those of us who worked on disclosure review of Nixon’s tapes were not motivated by a desire to embarrass him. Most of us were trained as historians. And it was I who trained most of the employees in how to do disclosure review. We understood the value of data and also the need for objectivity. Still, I understand now and even considered back then why Nixon’s advocates challenged the statute which led to the seizure of his records in 1974. Who wouldn’t resent having the rules changed on him in mid-game? And wouldn’t a requirement that the worst that someone did (“abuses of governmental power”) be disclosed before more positive efforts rankle anyone? But I also believe there are better ways to resolve issues related to the records of former presidents than mud slinging. That’s why I’m blogging here now.
MK's thoughtful, carefully nuanced comments have enlivened this blog since I launched it in late 2008. I'll be checking in with hers each day. Welcome and Godspeed, NixoNARA!

Obama 1, GOP 0

Hugh Hewitt doesn't like Obama's deal. Bet I know why.

Mark Felt's "Coup" Against Richard Nixon

Ivan Greenberg, writing at the History News Network after studying 3,500 pages of (legally obtained; how quaint, how old school) records about FBI official W. Mark Felt, Bob Woodward's most important Watergate source:
[W]hen Felt’s role as Deep Throat first was made public in 2005 few in the media, with the exception of the Albany Times Union, adequately appreciated that he did not act alone. At least three other top-level FBI officials or agents worked with him to coordinate the leaks to the press. What might properly be called a “coup” inside the government, led by Felt, forced the President to resign. The actions of this FBI faction were extraordinary. Instead of targeting political liberals or radicals, they went after the chief executive using information as a weapon.

Felt’s motives have been discussed at length. He saw himself as a patriotic whistleblower acting to preserve the integrity of government. Nixon broke the law during Watergate and so the President should be exposed. Critics see less noble purposes. Felt resented being passed over for the Director’s job by Nixon after J. Edgar Hoover died in early May 1971. In addition, Felt acted as a vigilante against Nixon because the President wanted to run “dirty tricks” intelligence operations directly out of the White House bypassing the FBI altogether. The latter point is critical: Felt hoped to preserve the dominant role of the FBI to spy on Americans in domestic politics. Felt called it preserving the FBI’s “independence.”

FBI files show that the Felt faction engaged in a high-level of deception within the Bureau to protect its secret contact with the press. Soon after the Watergate break-in, Director L. Patrick Gray III put Felt in charge of finding sources of FBI leaks to the press. In short, the fox had been put in charge of protecting the chickens.

Obama Rising

President Obama's historic compromise on taxes and unemployment benefits feels like the beginning of his second, six-year term.

His biggest political problem was the impression that he cared more about his health insurance and financial reform agenda than job creation and GDP growth. Republicans made it worse by refusing his pleas to extend unemployment benefits, which they said they'd never do unless he came up with compensatory budget cuts so that the relatively paltry amount needed to help the jobless wouldn't contribute to the deficit.

Today, in one deft move, Obama scored a win for those the economy is hurting most and showed that the GOP could be had. Not only did congressional Republicans not get their budget cuts, they got a two-year extension of tax cuts that will contribute even more to the deficit, at least in the short term. What their concession proves is that they never really cared about the deficit. They just cared about hurting Obama, and they'd have liked nothing better than to keep hurting him. But Obama realized that they care even more about their Reaganite supply-side ideology, whose cornerstone is relieving the tax burden of one of their key constituencies -- and, in fairness, those who are in the best position of any group of private individuals to invest in growth.

The deal on the tax cuts has predictably ignited the ire of the Democrat left, which is so obsessed with its own, soak-the-rich ideology that it too lapses into inauthentic posturing about the deficit. You can't argue for two years, as most liberal and progressive economists have, that the recovery of the economy depends on massive deficit spending by the government only to turn around and oppose tax cuts strictly on the grounds of fiscal prudence.

Some think the Reagan tax cuts in 1981-82 didn't do as much to ignite the decade's economic miracle as his champions do. Whether supply-side skeptics are right or wrong, today's news suggests that Obama gives considerable credence to what the Congressional Budget Office argued back in August: That putting a little more money into tycoons' pockets, on top of the modest gains the economy is enjoying already, sure can't hurt.

So look what the president's accomplished today. He's finally emerged as champion of the long-term unemployed. He's exposed deficit chicken hawks on both sides of the aisle. He's shown that he's willing to compromise with Republicans, which is what independents and indeed the vast majority of Americans want him to do. And he's taken actions that can't help but strengthen the economy and, as a result, his prospects for reelection.

All that, and Sarah Palin as GOP frontrunner. That's what I call a good day.

All Those Guys, Just To Get Ready For Our Trip!

When Bishop John Chane (center right, in purple) and colleagues from the Diocese of Washington, D.C. arrived in Amman, Jordan this week to attend the annual meeting of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, they posed with Bishop Suheil Dawani (center left, in purple) and his colleagues -- including the Rev. Fuad Dagher (far left), who visited St. John's last summer. We St. John's pilgrims will be Fr. Fuad's guest in Shefa-'Amr, Israel in January. More details about the Amman meeting here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Child's Christmas In Yorba Linda

You buy a house on East Lake in Yorba Linda (we didn't, but we live nearby), and the Realtor says, "Um, it's not exactly mandatory, but your neighbors may get a little testy if you don't put up Christmas lights." The lights on the lake attract people from all over north Orange County.

Last night was the annual parade of lights, when electric boats arrayed like jewels on a string made their stately three-knot way through four feet of water. The night before, Friday, the homeowners' association brought in snow for the kids to play in while moms and dads, some wearing scarves and mittens, sipped hot chocolate and shivered in 50 degrees. It had been cool enough during the day on Saturday that there was plenty left for Kathy and me to slide around on during our evening walk. I even made a snowball. How about that?

Unconventional About Gender

In his talk to LA Episcopalians on Saturday morning during our annual convention, progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis described "playing the Sam Harris role" in a conversation with Muslim women on the subject of interfaith conflict. "I said, 'Wouldn't it be better if we just got rid of religion? Isn't religion the problem?'"

Wallis said one of the women replied, "Religion isn't the problem. It's males' interpretation of religion."

Wallis said the most important book he'd read in years was Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, who argue that a significant percentage of the world's worst problems could be ameliorated by the education and economic empowerment of women in the developing world. Be that as it may, the developed world still needs to empower them in the church, as well as in mosques and synagogues. Roger Ebert has an apt post about how most religious institutions devalue women by barring them from ordination, segregating them from men, or excluding them from leadership positions.

Among the few denominational exceptions is the Episcopal Church, and the Diocese of Los Angeles is a standout in TEC. This time last year, we elected two women as suffragan, or assistant, bishops, Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Douglas Glasspool. They concelebrated our Holy Eucharist service Saturday morning, an unthinkable event in the vast majority of the churches where mass is said.

Not that our church or diocese is a paradise of gender equity. We heard a report that even in LA, male priests are paid more than women for comparable work. Nor has our stance on controversial questions earned universe acclaim. Bishop Glasspool is shown (top left) moderating a conversation about the proposed Anglican Covenant, which would impose unprecedented disciplinary procedures on the loosely federated family of churches know as the Anglican Communion. Punishment would be meted out when dioceses or provinces took actions that were offensive to other dioceses or provinces -- such as the ordination of women as bishops (which divides the Church of England) and TEC's continued insistence on the full sacramental stature of gay and lesbian people.

As usual, our two-day convention wasn't all speeches, budgets, resolutions, and elections. We heard a stemwinding sermon from our Diocesan bishop, J. Jon Bruno, urging everyone to bring a friend to church over Advent and Christmas (which I essentially repeated at church this morning). Calling in from Minneapolis, our beloved retired assisting bishop, Bob Anderson, who is in the late stages of pancreatic cancer, gave us a five-minute lesson on how to die in peace and faith (which I also repeated).

We prowled Riverside's historic, festooned Mission Inn. There was plenty of time for fellowship within our deputations (that's most of the crew from St. John's, above right) and with friends from around our far-flung, five-county diocese. Our worship was organized by Canon Randy Kimmler, a gifted liturgist. For the first time in my ten or so conventions, we didn't have an organ, just Fran McKendree and his Martin*. His voice, fingerpicking, and spirit filled the vast space as he led us in singing hymns, praise songs for thinking people, and Taize numbers.

A noted '70s folkie and an Episcopalian since youth, McKendree's become a welcome fixture at LA conventions and clergy conferences. For about two years after I saw his band, McKendree Spring, in high school, his composition "Got No Place To Fall" was my favorite song. Finding an mp3 would be the promised land.

*Fran writes that he was playing a 34-year-old Larrivee. Pretty embarrassing, since I'm a Larrivee guy myself.

The Case For Obama

Andrew Sullivan says President Obama:
has prevented a second great depression, rescued Detroit, bailed out the banks, pitlessly isolated Tehran's regime, exposed Netanyahu, decimated al Qaeda's mid-level leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan, withdrawn troops fron Iraq on schedule, gotten two Justices on the Supreme Court, cut a point or two off the unemployment rate with the stimulus, seen real wages for those employed grow, presided over a stock market boom and record corporate profits, and maneuvered a GOP still intoxicated with failed ideology to become more and more wedded to white, old evangelicals led by Sarah Palin.

We Don't Need No Stinking Business Plan

Are the Daughters of the Texas Republic neglecting the Alamo?

Is The Incarnation Too Big For Christmas?

Andrew Sullivan prefers Advent to Christmas:

Longtime readers know how much I can't stand Christmas. A lot of it has to do with bad memories/traumas growing up that are best left between me and my therapist. But some of it has to do with the gap between the meaning of Christmas in a Christian as opposed to a pagan sense. What we are supposed to be waiting for in Advent is the intervention of the force behind the entire universe into human history. I find this idea - the Incarnation - so fantastic a doctrine, so immense and profound a concept that the whole idea of celebrating it by eating, drinking, visiting airports, watching TV and giving presents is just, well, weird.

Of course, I'm not sure how one can adequately celebrate God's sudden appearance on the edge of the Milky Way two millennia ago. But Advent seems much more doable than Christmas to me.