Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Average Lying, Defaulting Tax Cheat?

A Politico analysis suggests that voters are setting the bar pretty low this season when it comes to leadership values:
[Delaware GOP senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell] “hasn’t had a steady job in years,” according to one account, and she had lied about being a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, which had sued for unpaid student loans. She also had failed to pay her federal taxes and defaulted on her house payments.

Which, to some, made her an average American. They found it easy to identify with her, feel her pain and vote for her.

Timmy To Amber: Is It True You're A Witch?

A new campaign anthem for Christine O'Donnell, the ex-pagan candidate for Joe Biden's Senate seat in Delaware. Just tell 'em Christmas is like Solstice! This is folksinger and songwriter Dar Williams performing last year in Teaneck (as opposed to Tea Party), New Jersey. While "The Christians and the Pagans" is actually a wise and wonderful song, we'll have to see how it plays in November.

'Spite Of All My Sunday Learnin'

A crackling Grateful Dead recitation of the story of Merle Haggard's early years, "Mama Tried," recorded at Duke University in April 1978. If you can, listen with headphones or earbuds. The audio is rocking.

Clapping For A Seal

One important (though sometimes overlooked) Watergate scholar says Richard Nixon's 1975 grand jury testimony should remain closed at least until John Dean is dead:
[N]ot all Nixon historians support release of his testimony. James Rosen, author of "The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate," says not enough time has passed as it had in the Hiss case when the main figures were long dead.

"In this case, President Nixon's chief accuser — John Dean — remains very much alive," said Rosen, a correspondent for Fox News. "The court should wait until all participants in Watergate have died before making public the testimony that President Nixon gave willingly and with the assurance that it would, like all grand jury testimony, remain sealed."

They Didn't Trust Rebozo With His Money

The topics covered in Richard Nixon's 1975 deposition, according to the Washington Post:
Nixon answered questions about the 18.5-minute gap in the tape recording of his June 20, 1972, conversation with H.R. Haldeman three days after the Watergate break-in; the alteration of White House tape transcripts turned over to the House Judiciary Committee; his use of the IRS to harass political enemies; and a $100,000 contribution from Howard Hughes to Nixon friend Charles G. "Bebe" Rebozo.
Remind me to tell you my 18.5-minute gap story sometime.

Freeze Need

William Galston:
[Israeli PM] Netanyahu [has] reportedly remarked, “We are saying that the solution is two states for two peoples. To my regret, I am still not hearing the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’ from the Palestinians. I am hearing them say ‘two states,’ but I am not hearing them recognize two states for two peoples.” This raises an intriguing possibility. Suppose the Prime Minister were to challenge President Abbas: “You want a wider freeze? Well, there’s something I’d like from you—namely, a recognition of the ‘two states for two peoples’ principle as the basis for further negotiations. Your need and my need rise or fall together.”

Vatican Won't Ordain Women...

...but it will baptize little green men.

Port-au-Princely Sounds

Les Petits Chanteurs, a famous choir of men and boys from Holy Trinity Music School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is shown rehearsing at Trinity Episcopal Church in Stauton, Virginia last Monday. The National Association of Episcopal Schools has invited the choir to come to San Antonio during its biennial conference in November. While in town, they'll also perform the "Star-Spangled Banner" at a Spurs game (though not, we are assured, "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" at the Alamo).

Hat tip to Jim Freeman

Women's Sufferage

Afghan women voters stand in a line with voter cards in hands to enter a polling station in Kabul to cast their ballots in the country's parliamentary elections today. Men in traditional tunics and women covered in sky-blue burqas trickled into polling centers to vote in Afghanistan's parliamentary election Saturday, as scattered insurgent attacks underscored the difficulty of trying to hold a vote in a country at war. (Photo and caption by AP/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

An Unanticipated Country

British novelist Penelope Lively (we've used a couple of her books, including Consequences and City Of The Mind, during adult Christian education classes at St. John's) reflects on aging while reviewing a new book on the subject written by...darn, I forget:
It is in a sense another country — and one we never anticipated. This reviewer (77) found herself nodding in agreement: the accumulation of ailments, the awful familiarity with hospital waiting-rooms, the black hole in the head into which disappear words and names. The way in which we no longer want the things that were once central to life: sex and shopping are cited. I was reminded of my father, in his eighties, gleefully recounting the comment of a contemporary of his: ‘D’you know, I used to be extremely interested in pretty girls, and now I can’t for the life of me remember why.’

Single King

I spent eight hours in the Marriott Hotel near LAX Friday night, waiting to collect Kathy, who was coming in from Hawaii at 5:30 this morning. Last night the server in the sports bar graciously directed me to the tastiest item on the menu (the buffalo chicken salad). Four front desk folks wished me goodnight, with big smiles, as I walked past after dinner. When I called an hour ago to say I'd left my appointment book in my room, the woman who answered the phone in housekeeping sent someone to look and called back within ten minutes to say they'd found it.

My first thought, and it's a correct one, is that it's a well-run place. So bravo! But here's a sacramental explanation. I was staying there thanks to a church friend who secured the room using her late husband's Marriott points and put my name on the reservation along with his. When I arrived and got my key from the woman at the front desk, she said in passing that my friend hadn't checked in yet. Well, that depended on how you looked at it, since he's currently making up a room and stocking the minibar with well-strained wines strained clear for his beloved wife (see Isaiah 25 and John 14 for the details). On his last night of conscious life, after a year-long battle against brain cancer, he asked me how I was doing. He was the very soul of the hospitality with which, last night, a bustling inn full of strangers was alive.

The Sixties Are Over Again

Matthew Yglesias argues that if rock and roll shows sell out quickly, it means ticket prices should be higher.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grand Passions

Should the 300-page transcript of Richard Nixon's 1975 testimony before (sort of; he was in San Clemente, they were in Washington) the Watergate grand jury be made public? Chums John Dean and Stanley Kutler think so.

Both Wrong

It's hilarious when Bill O'Reilly says the New York Times is in trouble because it's too liberal. And it's hilarious when Russell Baker says the Washington Post is in trouble because it's not liberal enough.

(To read the Baker article, you'll have to subscribe to the "New York Review of Books," which still seems to be pretty fat and sassy, and for reasons that probably have nothing to do with ideology. My guess is it's because it doesn't give its content away and its advertisers, book publishers, will be the last industry to abandon print.)

Bipartisan Embitterment

A former Ted Kennedy aide calls Jimmy Carter "embittered" for saying this in a "60 Minutes" interview that will be broadcast Sunday:

“The fact is that we would have had comprehensive health care now, had it not been for Ted Kennedy’s deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed,” Mr. Carter told Leslie Stahl. “It was his fault. Ted Kennedy killed the bill.”

I'd be happy to take some of the heat off the former president by saying that it was also Kennedy's fault that we didn't have nearly universal health insurance coverage when Richard Nixon proposed it in 1971. Kennedy even admitted it.

You Read It Here First (And Maybe Last)

The British "Spectator" thinks Jeb Bush's running for president in 2012.

You Thought I Meant THIS July?

In an article about the president's warming relationship with rock star Gen. David Petraeus, foreign policy guru Leslie Gelb joins those who doubt the U.S. will be out of Afghanistan next summer, as Obama promised when he ordered the surge:
They are joined at the hip, but the leverage lies with Petraeus. And Petraeus has made plain, publicly, that after July 2011, he doesn’t think there should be a rapid pullout.

Time For Breakfast

"Jesus Cooking Fish" by David Lind, on the VTS grounds

Thursday, September 16, 2010

From Dead Into Life

When I arrived on Capitol Hill from Dulles early Wednesday evening, my dinner companion, who has a fascinating international portfolio that need not concern us further, slipped me a small shopping bag containing 12 CDs (actually, more than that; most are double albums). They ranged from 1967, when Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh spun and talked about their favorite records on a radio show in San Francisco (it's astonishing the tape of the show exists) to a concert Garcia and mandolinist David Grisman performed at San Francisco's Warfield Theater in February 1991. My friend said the recording of the second set would be one of his ten desert island discs. You know the concept: If you were stranded on a desert island forever, what albums would you take (in case you couldn't take your iPod)?

Garcia's first instrument was the banjo, which my friend said he took up during what he called "the Great Folk Scare" of the early 1960s. For several years he and Grisman tailed Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, and taped his concerts (the way people would later tape Dead shows). The 1991 set in question, which my friend played in the car, begins with "The Thrill is Gone," a 195os blues song popularized by B. B. King and belted out by Garcia in a husky but sonorous voice I'd never heard from him before. It continues with some country standards ("Old Rocking Chair"), a few Dead songs, and Irving Berlin's "Russian Lullaby."

So I have a feast of several weeks' music to listen to, including a Dead concert my buddy and I attended on Sept. 15, 1987 at Madison Square Garden. It includes "China Cat Sunflower">"I Know You Rider" (ask your local Deadhead what ">" means), which also appears on the Dead's commercially-released three-disc "Europe '72." My friend winces when I proclaim that the album captures them at the height of their powers. They played about 2,000 concerts, and he knows far better than I when the high points occurred. Indulgently, he also gave me a complete recording of a London show from May 1972 that comprises part of "Europe '72."

With the Dead dispatched, over a long dinner at a French restaurant about ten minutes' walk from the Capitol, we talked about friends, love, politics, Nixon, and synchronicity. Earlier in the week, I'd listened to a radio interview in which mandolinist Ricky Skaggs talked about performing with Bill Monroe, and here was my friend talking about Garcia's Monroe tapes. On my flight from Long Beach, I'd just read Terry McDermott's New Yorker profile of the enigmatic sociopath Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who dreamed up the Sept. 11 atrocity and marketed it to Osama bin Laden. In the original plan, he was going to hijack ten planes, use nine as bombs, and land the tenth safely, climb out, wave, and hold a press conference. McDermott writes that KSM also conferred with and helped fund the Jersey City-based architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. When I mentioned all this, my friend said that his and his wife's favorite picture was taken in Jersey City, with the World Trade Center in the background, and that while they'd been friends for years, their affection had deepened in the traumatic aftermath of the attacks, resulting in their marriage.

Once we'd turned to matters of faith, I learned that these little non-coincidence coincidences mean a little more to me than to my friend. When they occur I usually experience a frission of alertness, as if something has locked into place. I find, for instance, that if I think of someone and then call him, it was usually the right thing to do at just that time. That doesn't mean it's magic, since these days calling someone is probably always the right thing to do (instead of e-mailing or Facebooking or, worst of all, doing nothing). And yet I do see them as little evidences of the sovereignty of God. No less spiritual but perhaps somewhat more democratic, my friend is inclined to think that noticing any coherence amid the universe's seeming chaos and prevailing cruelty means that one has learned to observe creation "with the third eye open."

After dinner he dropped me at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where I was due this morning for a meeting of the governing board of the National Association of Episcopal Schools. I'd never been here before and tried to find someone to guide me, but by 11 all the gentle seminarians appeared to have said their prayers and gone to sleep. I soon found my way across a broad, dark lawn to the snug campus guest house.

This afternoon, during a conversation about the challenges facing Episcopal schools and parishes, I remembered something else my friend had said at dinner. Once a daily-mass Roman Catholic, he's taking a break from Rome because of its handling of the sexual abuse scandals. He praised the Episcopal Church for facing up to issues of gender and sexuality that most of Christendom ignores. Since Episcopalians are sometimes more inclined to wring our hands than ring our own bell, I repeated to my colleagues what my friend had said as evidence that our beloved, sometimes beleaguered church may yet end up as the most logical safe haven for the west's substantial cohort of enlightened orthodox. "And the thing about my friend," I added, "is that he's a Republican!"

The seminary playing host to our two-day meeting has been training Episcopal priests, deacons, and laypeople for nearly 200 years. These eminences include my bishop diocesan and our St. John's rector, Jon Bruno, and second-year seminarian Shivaun Wilkinson, a postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of San Diego. She's shown here with her classmate Laura, a postulant from Nebraska. Shivaun's parents and sister attend St. John's, so I thought I'd better check up. Plus she and her husband, Chris, are expecting their first child in February, and I wanted to get caught up on all all the news.

We made arrangements to meet at the daily Evening Prayer service in the campus chapel. Those who planned the liturgy combined the beautiful service in The Book Of Common Prayer with folk-style songs led by a four-member combo featuring guitars, bass, and mandolin (could've been Garcia, Lesh, and Grisman about 40 years ago; coincidence? I don't think so). We were 25 worshipers in all. As we sang the verses from Ecclesiastes first set to music by Pete Seeger in his song "Turn Turn Turn" and made famous by the Byrds, my eyes met those of a four-year-old girl who'd come to church with her mother, and I felt that frission again, this time the grace of knowing as a matter of absolute certainty that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing, and, this evening, doing it with the brave, talented, faithful young people who will lead our church far into this century. And what a church it is! Before we walked out of the beautiful old chapel into a warm September drizzle, we heard this old, beautiful prayer:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

Churches And Schools, O My!

Immanuel Church on the Hill on the campus of the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, with the bell tower of Aspinwall Hall in the background. I'm attending a governing board meeting of the National Association of Episcopal Schools.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Coffee, Tea, And Free WiFi

In its latest on-line story about yesterday's NY GOP debacle, the New York Times juxtaposes the Nixonian players without quite closing in on the glaring Nixonian irony:

The victory [by Tea Party conservative Carl Paladino] capped a topsy-turvy race in which the Republican state chairman, Edward F. Cox, doubting [Rick] Lazio’s chances, tried to recruit a Democrat to carry the party’s banner, but then found himself outflanked by an insurgent whom he and much of the party’s leadership had denounced.

A businessman who made millions in real estate in the Buffalo area, Mr. Paladino entered the race in April and mustered only 8 percent of the party’s support at its convention in May, after reports of his e-mails drew condemnation from Republican and Democratic leaders alike.

But with Roger J. Stone Jr., the flamboyant former Nixon operative, advising him, he circumvented the party leadership, petitioned his way onto the primary ballot by collecting 30,000 signatures and quietly cobbled together a coalition of disaffected groups.

The third piece of the Nixon jigsaw is in a separate Times story:

Christopher Cox, the wealthy son of the state Republican chairman and a grandson of President Richard M. Nixon, was crushed Tuesday night in his bid for the Republican nomination to represent Suffolk County in Congress.

Mr. Cox, 31, who runs a consulting business, lost badly despite spending $1.3 million of his own money, and having the ardent support of Tea Party groups. But he ended up a distant third in a three-way contest, losing to Randy Altschuler, a self-made businessman with the backing of the Conservative Party.

With most precincts reporting, Mr. Altschuler had 45 percent. George Demos, a former prosecutor, had 31 percent, and Mr. Cox 24 percent.

Looming over the state's politics all year has been the complex Nixon political settlement. Gut-fighter Stone, Nixon's post-presidential confidante and a junior member of the Dwight Chapin-launched dirty tricks apparatus in 37's 1972 reelection campaign, and his angry man Paladino did way better reading 2010's Tea Party leaves than Nixon son-in-law and former Nader's Raider Ed Cox. Cox's move last spring was a Byzantine, failed bid to line up an ex-Democrat to challenge Lazio from the left. (As for Cox's "secret maneuvers," I know them well.) He was thinking about winning the general election against Andrew Cuomo. Stone was thinking about winning the nomination, which he did by grasping that this is not the year in the GOP for newly converted Democrats.

New York political insiders will have to explain why the Tea Party endorsement that powered Paladino to a massive victory did absolutely nothing for young Christopher in Suffolk County. It's a good day for me to be headed to Washington for some good political and musical talk with an wise old friend over dinner before attending an Episcopal schools board meeting in Alexandria.

Reminders Of Our Nonbeing

Lynn Casteel Harper on aging fearlessly:

We are all walking in the valley of the shadow of death. Through acts of courage (a necessary companion to what Tillich calls "living faith"), we learn to resist hiding every time we see dark silhouettes -- those reminders of our own nonbeing -- cast on the valley floor. When we affirm life in all its manifestations -- young, old, healthy, frail -- rather than cower at contingency and spook at shadows, we demonstrate courage.

The Clinton Restoration

Jerry Brown's eating out of his hand, and now "The Economist" reports that Middle East negotiators are reaching back to his peace formulas.

Brown Sound

California's Jesuit-trained Democratic gubernatorial candidate missteps and makes nice:
"I mean Clinton's a nice guy, but who ever said he always told the truth?" Brown told a crowd at the opening of a Democratic Party office in East Los Angeles. "You remember, right? There's that whole story there about did he or didn't he. OK, I did — I did not have taxes with this state."

The last line was an oblique play on Clinton's defense against the brewing sex scandal in early 1998. At the time, Clinton asserted, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." It was later proven that he did, and he subsequently faced impeachment proceedings.

Brown's comments were captured Sunday at an unannounced visit to the Democratic Party office. Video of his comments surfaced on a political news website on Monday. Several hours later, Brown called a news conference and apologized.
"Bill Clinton was an excellent president," Brown said in Oakland. "It was certainly wrong for me to joke about an incident from many, many years ago, and I'm sorry for that."

Jay, Walk

Conan's coming.

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."

"Nobody's Right If Everybody's Wrong"

Timely, in its way. Buffalo Springfield performing "For What It's Worth" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Who's that introducing them?

Hat tip to the good people at "No Depression"

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sunday's Sermon: "The Covenant Code"

The other day I was startled to learn that automakers are planning to disconnect the steering and front wheels of our cars. That means it's all up to the software. If the computer in our cars gets distracted and downloads "Led Zeppelin II" instead of turning left, we won't make it home. It's easy for faithful people's factory-installed code to get corrupted, too, making us forget that we're all headed to the same place. My sermon for last Sunday at St. John's Episcopal Church is here.

But If They Want To Buy School Bonds...

I didn't quite understand Kai Chen's campaign against Mao Zedong's statue at the Nixon library. His apparently successful effort to keep a southern California school district from taking money from the Beijing regime for classroom projects makes considerably more sense.

Ai Yai Yai Of Newt

Pretty soon they'll be saying this about Nixon, too. Responding to Newt Gingrich's latest bizarre accusation, that the president of the U.S. is promoting a Kenyan anti-colonial world view, Andrew Sullivan asks:
If Obama wants access to private health-care insurance, while Richard Nixon backed a far more expansive program, does that make Nixon a Ugandan Marxist?
Except I'm pretty sure that Nixon's proposals were to increase dramatically people's ability to purchase private health insurance or have it purchased for them by employers. That's why Ted Kennedy, who was holding out for a government system, refused to support it.

Lighting A Safire Under The Foundationiks

Foundationiks Simes and Taylor consult with former President Nixon en route home from his last visit to Moscow in March 1994. He died a few weeks later. The photo was taken by our fellow foundationik Kathy O'Connor, Nixon's chief of staff. Now that we're married, I never give her crabby looks.

My first work for Richard Nixon, whom I began to serve in 1979, was research and editorial assistance on his 1982 book Leaders, a study of great men (plus Israel's Golda Meir) he'd known. To his rule that all his subjects had to be dead, he made one exception, for Lee Kuan Yew, then the prime minister of Singapore, whom he ranked with Churchill, Disraeli, and Gladstone in ability and vision and of whom he wrote:
[Lee] believed that discipline and firm guidance were necessary to diminish the hostility among Singapore's three racial groups and to think of themselves as Singaporean rather than as Chinese, Malays, and Indians. To a large extent he has succeeded, making Singapore the envy of many other multiracial societies.
Now 86, Lee serves as "minister mentor" in a government headed by his son. On Saturday, he was the subject of a profile by Seth Mydans in the New York Times that was at least as affectionate as Nixon's. As with every article about this wise, self-aware, and vastly influential statesman, it makes readers wish they could meet him (which I did in Singapore in 1985, at a dinner he held in Nixon's honor five years before he stepped down as prime minister, and then again at a dinner we held in his honor in Washington in 1996, as I shall relate). Mydans writes:

“I can feel the gradual decline of energy and vitality,” said Mr. Lee, whose “Singapore model” of economic growth and tight social control made him one of the most influential political figures of Asia. “And I mean generally, every year, when you know you are not on the same level as last year. But that’s life.”

In a long, unusually reflective interview last week, he talked about the aches and pains of age and the solace of meditation, about his struggle to build a thriving nation on this resource-poor island, and his concern that the next generation might take his achievements for granted and let them slip away.

And even more movingly, this:

“I’m reaching 87, trying to keep fit, presenting a vigorous figure, and it’s an effort, and is it worth the effort?” he said. “I laugh at myself trying to keep a bold front. It’s become my habit. I just carry on.”

His most difficult moments come at the end of each day, he said, as he sits by the bedside of his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, 89, who has been unable to move or speak for more than two years. She had been by his side, a confidante and counselor, since they were law students in London.

“She understands when I talk to her, which I do every night,” he said. “She keeps awake for me; I tell her about my day’s work, read her favorite poems.” He opened a big spreadsheet to show his reading list, books by Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling and Lewis Carroll as well as the sonnets of Shakespeare.

Lately, he said, he had been looking at Christian marriage vows and was drawn to the words: “To love, to hold and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse till death do us part.”

“I told her, ‘I would try and keep you company for as long as I can.’ That’s life. She understood.” But he also said: “I’m not sure who’s going first, whether she or me.”

At night, hearing the sounds of his wife’s discomfort in the next room, he said, he calms himself with 20 minutes of meditation, reciting a mantra he was taught by a Christian friend: “Ma-Ra-Na-Tha.”

The phrase, which is Aramaic, comes at the end of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, and can be translated in several ways. Mr. Lee said that he was told it means “Come to me, O Lord Jesus,” and that although he is not a believer, he finds the sounds soothing.

“The problem is to keep the monkey mind from running off into all kinds of thoughts,” he said. “A certain tranquillity settles over you. The day’s pressures and worries are pushed out. Then there’s less problem sleeping.”

He brushed aside the words of a prominent Singaporean writer and social critic, Catherine Lim, who described him as having “an authoritarian, no-nonsense manner that has little use for sentiment.”

“She’s a novelist!” he cried. “Therefore, she simplifies a person’s character,” making what he called a “graphic caricature of me.” “But is anybody that simple or simplistic?”

Or, indeed, is anything? One day in 1996, the president of the Nixon Center, Dimitri Simes, called me at the Nixon library, where thanks to 37 I served 19 years as executive director, and said that the Center wanted to honor Lee at a gala banquet in Washington. I instantly agreed. Two years after Nixon's death, I couldn't imagine anything that would have pleased him more than our giving an award in his name to the living foreign leader he had most respected.

And yet as Mydans suggests, Lee isn't universally admired. Among his angriest critics was the late Bill Safire, Nixon's speechwriter and later a Times columnist. If Safire had read Nixon's measured assessment of the former prime minister, it hadn't made much of an impression. When he learned of our plans, he used his column to lash out at us for making money by licking the boots of a tinpot tyrant. He called on Nixon's friends to boycott the event.

His criticism was absurdly hyperbolic. Lee isn't perfect, but he's no Castro, Noriega, or Pinochet. Why Safire wouldn't defer to what the late president's wishes would have been in the matter, no one can say.

Besides all that, it wasn't ideal for a nonprofit organization to have a big foot columnist kick its major annual fundraising event around. By and large we depended on naturally cautious corporate contributors. Simes was never one to shrink from a fight, and I still wasn't all that far along in the turn-the-other-cheek department. He suggested that we co-sign a letter to the Times which he wrote and which was published on Oct. 23:

It is ironic that William Safire in his Oct. 21 column should call on ''all good Nixonites'' to abstain from participation in an event in honor of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, whom President Richard M. Nixon called a man of greatness.

The Nixon Center's directors, when they chose Mr. Lee for the 1996 Architect of the New Century Award, were aware that Singapore is run differently from the United States. But they also knew that under Mr. Lee's leadership, Singapore became, next to Japan, the most prosperous nation in Asia and has remained a staunch ally of the United States.

Contrary to Mr. Safire, there is nothing ''tinpot'' about Mr. Lee. He is not a ''tyrant''; Singapore is ruled by law. Singapore's formula for prosperity and harmony is not right for the United States, but there is something bigoted in Mr. Safire's suggestion that anyone who does not walk in lockstep with American political and social fashion should be denied our respect.

In response, Safire denounced Simes and me twice more in the Times. He called us "foundationiks." The Russian-born Simes, whose parents defended Soviet refuseniks in Moscow courts, got the sneering hint. Safire also lined up Nixon's daughters to co-sign a letter to the editor repudiating us, which made a total of four times our apostasy made news in the paper of record.

Lee's $1,000-a-plate dinner was a runaway success notwithstanding. He gave the finest tribute to Nixon I ever heard from a library or Center speaker, calling him "one of America’s ablest presidents after World War II, one whose vision and global grasp matched America's global reach."

Soon enough, the foundationiks were wishing the able Nixon were still around to advise them on strategy and tactics. That Christmas and into the following spring, we survived an attempted putsch by the Nixon family, which occurred because my reading of Nixon's will (he had also selected me as co-executor of his estate) differed from theirs when it came to the sums of money they would receive. The family controlled the library at that point, which made the situation especially awkward. With the help of the pivoting Eisenhowers, in May 1997 we created an independent board in Yorba Linda that enabled us to operate the private presidential library and museum in a somewhat less chaotic environment.

The family split became public in 2002 during another struggle over the millions Nixon's friend Bebe Rebozo had left to the Nixon foundation, where the Cox family saw an opportunity to modify or reverse our governance reforms. That March, the Times was heard from again in an article in which I also featured as villain. The reporter, James Sterngold, seemed to take special pains to accommodate the views and interests of two former Nixon White House staffers, certain Nixon family members, and a scholar who had good cause to be hostile to Nixon library management.

The foundationiks withstood all that, too, including the widely publicized lie that Rebozo had said he didn't trust me with his money. We completed our work of expanding the facility with a new $13.5 million wing, securing the foundation endowment, and, in 2007, handing the library over to the federal government.

I never spoke to Safire, nor felt his ire, again. We were, however, in church together in 2003 at historic Christ Church in Alexandria. Ron Ziegler's widow, Nancy, asked me to be one of the late White House press secretary's eulogists. Ziegler, whose diligent service to Nixon has so far been underrated by history, never fully recovered from the trauma of Watergate (although he was never accused of any wrongdoing). I traced Nixon's and his own achievements and said:
Despite all that, the years that followed were not easy for the president and Ron, for Pat and Nancy, for their colleagues and their families.

It wasn't just the accusations of scandal and the threat of impeachment. More recent events have shown that presidents can survive these things without seeming to sacrifice any respectability.

In 1974, our nation needed scapegoats for the trauma of Vietnam. The legacies of President Nixon and his colleagues will be hostages of history as long as that war is debated, as long as its wounds sting us.
Such encomiums notwithstanding -- as a churchnik in training, I eulogized several other distinguished Nixon alums as well -- Watergate's walking wounded nursed resentments and ambitions that I didn't always fully appreciate. At the Nixon foundation and Center, former Nixon chief of staff Kathy O'Connor (who was holding his hand when he died), Simes, and I assumed our job was to tell Nixon's story as best we could, promoting the peacemaking positive, contextualizing the Watergate negative, and identifying a set of pragmatic policy and political principles that had worked for him, might work for others, and might thus comprise a vital aspect of his legacy.

But that wasn’t the view of all in Nixon's Watergate-era cohort nor some members of Nixon's family. “The legacy is the family,” Ed Cox, Tricia's husband, liked to say. Others have been forceful in enunciating the view that Nixon's legacy resides with the disgraced Bob Haldeman's proteges. Kathy and I, who served Nixon and his library for a combined total of 60 years, were just johnnies-come-lately, as one family member called us, who had hijacked their birthright.

The Nixon family's special deference to ex-aide Safire was understandable, since he was one of their few media friends. Not long before
the Lee dinner, Tricia had pressured me to get his approval about the theme and speaker list for a conference we were contemplating about Sino-U.S. relations. When I said that his views on China, as on Lee Kuan Yew, were contrary to her father’s, she said, “My father’s dead.” I wish Safire, who died a year ago, had lived to see tomorrow's New York state primary. Tricia's son, Christopher, is running for the House. I would like to have seen what he would have written about it.

Whether or not the seemingly amiable younger Cox prevails in his contentious race in the first congressional district, Nixon has already had a remarkable impact on New York politics this year, especially for someone who's been gone since 1994. As state GOP chairman, Ed Cox has repeatedly applied and invoked Nixon's hard-learned doctrine of political life as a fiery trial. Because Cox's father-in-law was not as tough as he sometimes acted, he made a fetish of crisis to steel himself for survival and success in a harsh vocation to which he was intellectually but not temperamentally suited.

Poignantly and knowingly, when Julie Eisenhower wrote to him on Aug. 6, 1974 to urge him to delay his resignation, she said, "Go through the fire a little bit longer." And so as New York's leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, Rick Lazio, struggled against a Tea Party insurgent in recent weeks, Cox vouched for him by saying that he had "gone through the fire." Cox should know. He ignited it himself by recruiting and backing yet another Lazio rival earlier in the year. When Cox's plan failed and reporters asked if he would resign, he said, "I am not going to resign. We are now battle hardened." We singed ex-foundationiks are, too, thanks in large part to Cox and his family, for which, in a churchnik kind of way, we owe thanks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Guess They Burned Their ACLU Cards Already

Authoritarians dancing chic t0 chic: Pat Buchanan wants to throw Pastor Jones in jail before his burns the Koran, while Marty Peretz, editor-in-chief of "The New Republic," isn't sure Muslims "are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment."

Yes Without The Possibility Of No

My Episcopal clergy brother, the Rev. Canon Robert J. Gaestel, rector of Church of the Angels in Pasadena, is also a police chaplain. Preaching on Sept. 11 at the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont, he probed the correlation between the work of clergy, cops, and the Cross. An excerpt from his sermon:
The real stress of law enforcement is not weird hours, having to work on Christmas, or negative contacts with the public. The real stress is living at the boundary where order collapses in a matter of moments. It is something most people will never experience.

What was September 11 but the complete breakdown of order, a breakdown that led to horrendous destruction and death? I remember my wife Tracy coming to my office and telling me that the country had been attacked. I could not comprehend what she was saying. What did it take to restore order? A lot of people gave up their lives, people in public safety, people on Flight 93.

What is the Cross but the paradox of chaos and order in the same place? The Cross is the ultimate loss of safety and truth because on it we seek to destroy and we succeed in destroying the one who for us is ultimate safety and ultimate truth. We destroy the source of ultimate order thinking that by doing so we are restoring order. Jesus is accused of threatening the order of both Judaism and Rome. To put Christ to death is to impose and preserve order. But putting Christ to death is to destroy the only source from which all order comes and where it all leads.

The Cross is truly the sum of all fears, the worst that can possibly be done. It is the triumph of chaos over order, the ultimate suicide bombing. We suddenly behold that, that which we suffer is that which we perpetrate. We human beings are the ones who fly the planes into the buildings and we human beings are the ones who perish at our own hands, all the while thinking taking control, we are imposing order.

Yet in the further paradox no one could imagine until it actually happened, when chaos exacted its full measure, in the moment of its triumph, it destroyed itself. A life threatening illness like cancer, at the moment of its victory, being the moment its victim dies, it dies too.

That’s what St. John in his account of Christ’s Passion saw with absolute clarity. The moment when Christ was lifted up, he would draw all to himself. In the moment of his death, Jesus is glorified, that is revealed for who and what he really is. And when all was said and done, and nothing more could be done, what remains is yes without possibility of no, of life with no death at all, because what remains after we have done our worst is the Risen One.