Tuesday, September 14, 2010

They Got Stoned

Yellow legal pad on his lap and his stocking feet crossed on an ottoman-shaped cloud, flipping from channel to channel, Richard Nixon would find tonight's New York primary results bittersweet.

Grandson Christopher, companion in his Saddle River study as they watched the Mets on TV and listened to the Yankees on the radio (or vice versa), was soundly beaten in his bid for the GOP nomination to run for the House from Long Island's Suffolk County. "He's young," Nixon would say.

His son-in-law Ed, Christopher's father, has had a rocky year as state Republican chairman. In June, he failed by backing a moderate (indeed a newly-converted former Democrat) as an alternative to presumptive gubernatorial nominee Rick Lazio. Tonight Lazio, having battled back after Cox's challenge from the left, was finished off from the right by a boiling loose tea kettle of an insurgent, Carl Paladino. Cox, who was backing Lazio by this time and praising him for having "gone through the fire" that Cox himself ignited in his caboose, is now especially battle hardened.

At least Lazio won't have a Nixon to kick him around anymore.

While it wouldn't take much of the sting out of his family's defeats, at least Nixon's post-presidential confidante Roger Stone, Paladino's key adviser, is a winner. Stone got his start doing dirty tricks as part of the operation Dwight Chapin launched in the 1972 Nixon campaign. In the 1980s, some of Nixon's White House-era aides told me how much they resented Stone's access to 37. Some of them are probably fuming. Nixon would be calling his secretary and saying, "Get Roger."


MK said...

I don’t know much of anything about NY-1 so I don’t know whether Cox really had a chance in the primary or not. Nor am I well positioned to discuss what might appeal to Republican voters in that district. I can offer some insights generally into what appeals to Independents and non-ideologues such as I – character, which a number of forces can work against projecting to voters in the rough and tumble political world.

When Cox first announced, David R. Stokes posted an essay at the old The New Nixon site about his entry into the race. I responded with some comments which centered more on general rather than primary elections in districts where independents might be swing voters. Because I’m very interested in issues of character, I was curious to see what Mr. Stokes might say about what I called “emotional nannyism” in political appeals, but he did not respond.

As to Roger Stone, on the very same day that his candidate won in New York, one of my Hastings-era former colleagues from the National Archives’ Nixon Presiddential Materials Project happened to call me to catch up on news about friends. (We had worked together at NARA throughout the 1980s.) The former colleague ended the call with the comment, “Maarja, I have to tell you, of all the people with whom I ever worked, you are the one I most respect and admire.” Sounds great, right? Yet I never would succeed in Roger Stone’s world.

What wins respect and admiration in Stone’s world is not always what triggers such reactions in the world in which I’ve worked. That’s what makes elections so complicated. People such as I vote, too. Perhaps the Stones of the world would find my federal archival colleagues and I quite comical and label us losers. (OK by me, I don’t think I would want Stone’s admiration. He can go his way, I can go mine, it’s a free country.) Just goes to show, winning and losing can mean so many different things, depending on where one is and what one is trying to achieve. And winning in the short term does not always result in sustained or sustainable victories.

Fr. John said...

Thanks, MK. Reading of the well-earned tribute from your former colleagues reminds me that I have been meaning to ask you about Jim Hastings. I didn't know him well, but I've known several people over the years who've spoken fondly of him as a mentor and friend. What's he up to?

What Roger has always represented for me is the sheer amoral power and (in his way) joy of raw politics. A complete utilitarian ethic. Not my cup of tea party, either, but it seems to be part of our system. I do think that when we fight vigorously (it does, I might add, have, at least, to be legal!) in our politics, it helps suppress our human tendency to battle for real.

MK said...

Thank you for your kind words! Here, on a conference site, is a relatively up to date bio of Jim Hastings (third down). He headed the Nixon Project from 1979 to 1988. You’ll notice there is no unit designation listed for him for 1989-1990, which, as it happens, is the time period when I decided I had to leave the employ of NARA’s Nixon Project. . . . I know what was going on with him then -- he still was working for NARA -- but if he hasn’t discussed it publicly, I won’t either. I don't have time right now to go back and see how he described that time period in his 1992 in Kutler v. Wilson.

I was so pleased several years ago when Jim Hastings was named a member of the Senior Executive Service, the elite, top corps of federal managers. He has outstanding managerial skills of a type that come from within so they are deeply rooted and organic. (I can always tell who is mouthing the "right." expected words as a manager and who really “gets it.”)

I actually don’t think I was Hastings’s favorite employee, LOL, among the many who worked for him. My fault. Early in my career, when I still was in my 20s, I reacted in a way to a situation at work which, in retrospect, was overly self absorbed. I suspect that colored his view of me for a while. But he always treated me well and fairly. And I actually came to realize that my reaction had been wrong and learned from that how to be a better subordinate and, later, as I rose in rank at my current agency, a better project manager, for it. One can learn from one’s mistakes, after all!

Hastings really was the glue that held the Nixon Project together through some tough times during the 1980s. We lost half of our staff during the Reagan-era Reduction in Force that took place in late 1981 and early 1982. Original projections from the mid-1970s for NARA’s Nixon project had called for some 100 staff members. We never came close to that. And after 1982, we limped along with a quarter of that number.

Money always was tight – I remember one year I received an “outstanding” annual rating but there was no money to go along with it (such a rating sometimes included a small bonus of a couple of hundred dollars). Despite the budget crunches and hard work, Jim understood how to give staff intangible, non-financial benefits, such as a being the type of boss whose door really was open and to whom one could talk. And assignment of projects in such a way as to make use of each employee’s strengths. (My late twin sister, a NARA supervisory archivist and team leader in the record declassification division, had that same quality). And fun and laughter (including self deprecating humor) to keep things light in the midst of all the heavy responsibilities we had. Had he still been in charge during the early 1990s, I don't think the Kutler lawsuit would have been filed.

Not only does one receive intangible benefits from working for a boss like that, one gives back. I remember when Alexander Haig was nominated to be Secretary of State, we had to do quick turnaround review of the tapes for hearings scheduled for the beginning of 1981. (Our hard work was for naught as Nixon's lawyers ended up blocking NARA from making the information available to the Congress for the confirmation hearing. Hah!) This was at the same time that we were moving the Carter administration out of the White House—another crunch time project, with a January 20 deadline! I worked on both projects, for a month or so, not just long days Monday through Friday but Saturdays and Sundays, too. I didn’t mind because (1) I didn’t want to let down Hastings (2) the mission and the work were important and (3) people were depending on me. A bad boss would have had people griping. Hastings did not!

MK said...

Sorry, bad link for the Hastings URL. Try this for the
bio of Jim Hastings (third down).