Friday, September 24, 2010

Tasty Repost

Historian and former Nixon Project tapes specialist Maarja Krusten posted my account of Kathy's and my Nixon Library visit yesterday on the message board of the Society of American Archivists, along with some gracious comments. Thanks, MK!


MK said...

Thanks for the nice post, I appreciate it! I gave some thought to whether I should use the phrase “arrested development” in my Archives & Archivists posting. Finally decided I had to do it. I can understand private pain and dismay. Most of us go through that at some point. Some due to what others say about us or due to misconceptions. Sure, it’s not on the scale that politicians and their families go through. I get that part. People suffer, often unfairly. Heck, I’ve written about how terrible it must have been for RN as a father to see and hear of some of the cowardly anti-Vietnam war slogans that were directed at his daughters. I’m not saying there couldn’t be dissent, of course there could be. But Tricia and Julie weren’t the policy makers, they didn’t deserve having their names associated with expletives by protestors while their father was president. No way.

But really, when I read the piece about the Watergate exhibit in which Bob Bostock asked if there wasn’t an Alger Hiss library somewhere that Tim Naftali could direct, I decided, enough already. Time to move on. There’s a point where people have to step back and think through tactical issues. And be open to learning. And to pitch effectively.

My reaction to Bostock was, “think what you will in private, but if you want to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the private-run Nixon library in high style and with pride, making people like me flash back to that time period around 1990 by calling Tim names and questioning his motives and competence most definitely is not the way to go.” I mean, really. It’s been 36 years since Nixon resigned and Congress passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Act. Plenty of time to accept that conditions changed. And to study up on and learn more about the National Archives and its culture and ethos and to pitch effectively with that in mind.

MK said...

On the positive side, I was able to cite you in my A&A post as the exact opposite of arrested development! :-)

Have a good weekend,


Fr. John said...

I'm reminded of the time Michael Huffington told me at the library that a sign of maturity was being able to accept a compliment. So thank you, MK! And yet my perspective on all this -- my strong advocacy of getting the library into the NARA system -- was little more than an acknowledgment of the tyranny of the second hand.

We may stand up for RN as if someone had dissed our own dad in the schoolyard, which was my pattern for many years. We may accuse Tim Naftali of being sympathetic to a traitor to the United States, as you report was said elsewhere. We may stick up for Nixon or his felonious right-hand man because our reputations are inextricably tied to theirs, and if they get poor marks in history, than we will, too.

But at the end of all our journeys, which will come all too soon, the the Nixon story will be told not by any of us but by the records that Tim has now brought to Yorba Linda. I care what people think about Nixon today, of course. But I'm considerably more interested in what they think about him in 50 years as a result of the the work that students and scholars do in that bright new reading room, thumbing through Hollinger boxes and listening to tapes.

All along, you and your colleagues have been the true custodians of Nixon's legacy, however it comes out (and I do trust it will come out heavily leaning to the positive side). For that, you deserved thanks rather than brickbats.

MK said...

And thank you, in turn, for your very kind words. To have you, especially, say that we at the National Archives (past and present employees) deserved thanks rather than brickbats, means more to me than I can say!

But being humbled by your kind words is not going to stop me from saying a few words about one of the other points you raise, LOL. I’m glad you’re focused on the records, you’re right, a legacy is created by contemporaneous actions, some immediately discernible, others available for later study. Not by spinning or burnishing by supporters, or slinging mud by the critics, of the person under study. I actually understand why you “Nixonites” defended him and still do. It’s a very human reaction. I do look at what different people say with some discernment, however.

By 2009, you were referring to Fred Graboske as “respected” (which he was and is). And chatting comfortably with me on-line. In 2010, Bob Bostock asked about an Alger Hiss Library. Same time period, two people who once worked with Richard Nixon, very different reaction. Just as to read their books and oral history interviews, “Bud” Krogh and “Bob” Haldeman, both of whose approach to looking back I liked, project a very different vibe than, say, Henry Kissinger.

I actually didn’t take Mr. Bostock’s comment to mean that Tim Naftali sympathized with a traitor. Rather, I took it as something more symbolic. I see the thinking working this way. What’s the worst thing one can say about someone who is doing something one’s side doesn’t like? One rummages around in a bag of epithets and chooses one to fling at the person. Rarely do the words flung at the person have anything to do with the individual. Certainly not in terms of evidence or as they say in the auditing world, support. I rather doubt Mr. Bostock himself believes Tim sympathizes with Hiss. It’s more likely one of those “I don’t like what he’s doing with this area of the Nixon Presidential Library, so, let’s see, hmm, whom among the people with whom RN clashed should I pick as an associate. I’ve got it -- let’s set him up as a perfect director for a Hiss library. Oh, snap!” It could just as well have been McGovern or someone else.

The thing is, in real life as in politics, the other course – your course and“Bud” Krogh’s course -- often works better! But then, I really am a moderate, through and through. Thanks again, you really made my day!

Fr. John said...

Hmm. Sort of like my ancient "junior prosecutors" crack, then?

MK said...

Yes, probably, LOL. I woulda made a lousy prosecutor, BTW. Too inclined to look at "where are they coming from," hah. I came up as ISTJ (typical of lawyers, auditors, some historians) on Myers-Briggs 15 years ago, but that just reflects the data driven environment in which I work. In real life, I'm often about empathy.;

BTW, it's funny, but if you go back and read my 1996 Presidential Studies Quarterly article, "Watergate's Last Victim," there are passages which could have been written by you in your 1996 guise and perhaps now, just as well as me!

Remember that I wrote in my 1996 article, "After leaving office, no president battled disclosure more than Richard Nixon. While largely unwarranted, his distrust of historians is understandable. His humanity (and that of his family) too often ignored while he was in office, Nixon was demonized beyond belief by political opponents. (Biographer Jonathan Aitken believes 'Nixon was the last casualty of Vietnam and Watergate was its final battlefield.')
Trapped by Watergate while his predecessors largely escaped censure for their abuses of power, Nixon fought tenaciously for historical rehabilitation.

Undoubtedly scarred by the often brutal vilification of a beloved father, Nixon’s daughters have continued the fight to limit disclosures from his records. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 2, 1996), professor Anna K. Nelson called upon the National Archives to release Nixon’s papers and tapes. She pointed out that if Nixon’s daughters seek emergence of a view different from the one in Oliver Stone’s film about Nixon, they 'must stop the two-decade long battle to block public access to the records of his Presidency.'

Nelson described how Nixon, his associates, and his estate have blocked NARA from releasing information they claimed was 'personal.' She commented that NARA 'rarely exhibited the courage needed to stand up to these challenges, acquiescing in the claims that blocked information was `purely personal.'"

My choice of the Aitken quote, and my disdain for those who overlooked the humanity of Nixon and his family, could just as well have come from you back then! It's only the part about Dr. Nelson's that centers on the contested files (then not yet released as the review board still was deliberating) that is very much a very arcane and government "Maarja" issue. (It's a "fed thing," LOL.) I bet if I referred to the earlier section of my quote above, most people would think it was you or one of the Nixonites writing it!

MK said...

My '96 article is not available on the web, but the first page, from which I quoted, does show up in JSTOR

I wrote the article very, very quickly (Joan Hoff, then the editor of PSQ, contacted me late as she was up against a deadline). I would have caught some of my little instinctive, first draft stylistic idiosyncracies and fixed them, had I had a lot of time to re-read and edit. But I got my main points across, LOL.