Saturday, December 18, 2010
In the adult Christian formation hour during Advent at St. John’s, we’ve been taking a new look at the greatest and most treasured stories in the world: The accounts of Jesus Christ’s birth in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
In the middle of our series, I remembered something I had wondered about in Sunday School all those years ago in Detroit. If everyone knew Jesus’s birth was such a big deal – if angelic hosts proclaimed it, if great men came from the East, if mighty King Herod himself tried to hunt Jesus down – why did they seem to forget all about it until his adult ministry began 30 years later?
Fr. Raymond Brown, a Roman Catholic scholar, has an answer. It’s the difference between amazement and faith. Luke writes that the people in Bethlehem “were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (NRSV 2:18-19).
Amazement comes easy. Think of all the times we say, “That’s amazing” or “That’s incredible.” Soon the world’s demands and distractions muffle our amazement. We go searching for the next big thing so we can be amazed again. So it was with the superstitious people of Jesus’s time. They were amazed, and they forgot. But Mary, in the depth of her faith and destiny, understood everything. Mary, whom the Church called God-Bearer, was memory-bearer as well.
May she be an example to us this Christmas as we are again amazed by the children’s voices, the beauty of the music and prayers and candlelight, the small miracle of reconnection with family and friends. We don’t really need the next big thing, because we have the biggest thing of all. So join us at St. John’s this Christmas – and bring a friend to church!
On Christmas Eve, we worship at 4 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. The second service concludes about midnight. We offer a spoken service at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day. Directions and other details here.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Women must button their jacket when standing, unbutton it when sitting. Men must tie knots that match the shape of their face and body. Women should wear "light makeup consisting of foundation, mascara and discreet lipstick" because doing so will "enhance your personality." Men who are graying shouldn't dye their hair because the "artificial color contrasts excessively with the actual age of your skin."
Short sleeves, cuff links, stubble, a preponderance of facial hair and jackets stored on wire hangers are verboten. Same goes for short socks that don't completely cover one's calves when seated. And garlic, onions and smoking at lunch are out of the question.
Wilsonian idealist? Ruthless realpolitiker? He was both rolled into one dreamer-doer. As he once told me, “We cannot choose between the two; we have to blend the two.” How could Americans forsake their idealism if they had become Americans precisely in defiance of the hateful ideologies that drove Holbrooke’s Jewish parents from Europe and ooze from Waziristan caves today?
Archibald Macleish wrote that if we had not believed all humankind is endowed “with certain inalienable rights, we would never have become America, whatever else we might have become.” That was the America Holbrooke took out to the world, even post-Iraq, with “interventionism” a dirty word.
The cunning of Julian Assange's strategy is that he has made everyone complicit in his own private decision to try to sabotage U.S. foreign policy.
Bluntly, Washington must make an example out of WikiLeaks and its enablers, whether companies or private citizens in the United States or other countries. This should not be limited to law enforcement alone, though that may be the only option in some cases. Foreign governments’ cooperation in these efforts should be a talking point in every conversation the United States has with them about WikiLeaks.
George Shultz (later Ronald Reagan's secretary of state) was serving as Richard Nixon's secretary of the treasury when White House counsel John Dean asked him to order 50 politically motivated tax investigations. Shultz told Dean to pound sand. In this interview with Nixon library director Tim Naftali, now available on the library's YouTube site, Shultz said, "It was an improper use of the IRS, and I wouldn't do it."
According to on-line background materials, the library's new Watergate exhibit, opposed by Nixon's White House aides, covers such matters as Bob Haldeman aide Larry Higby's more successful effort to get FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to conduct an investigation of CBS News correspondent Daniel Schorr.
Her response was vintage Palin, combining a sort of schoolyard banter with bristling resentment. “Oooh. Sorry that I’m not so hoity-toity,” was the best she could come up with as a retort while gesturing that she was not someone who had to put her finger in the air to determine what to think, as if the intellectual yet down-to-earth conservative sage Krauthammer was some liberal media consultant. Just as disturbing as the obnoxiousness of her response was the vague thought that perhaps she’s not quite sure who exactly Krauthammer is.
“Despicable,” “callous,” “revulsion,” “hypocrite,” “chilling” and “shocking” were a few of the words used this week by some leaders of Jewish organizations and by newspapers that focus on Jewish matters.And yet would Richard Nixon and Kissinger really have stood by and let such an event occur? Inconceivable.
Even though it was really serious, it was still really fun. We were kids, and we’d do a take, and I remember hearing Ray over the phone telling us, "Remember, this is forever," which is the worst thing you could say, and he knew that. But, guess what? We just stopped goofing off.
Red is for poinsettias, and they go around the altar at Christmastime, not Advent. But in our church's sacristy, the busy staging area where the St. John's Altar Guild does its faithful work, the colors and personalities run together -- Advent purple, Christmas red, and even the magi, who don't get here until Epiphany.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Losing my friend Ed Simons 15 years ago was devastating to his whole family. His father, Clarence, who died last week, never quite got over it. "Issac Lewis" is about a father who buries his son. It came up on my iPod when I went for a walk this afternoon after Clarence's funeral.
I said, "Why would we want to do that?" While Starbucks had gotten its start in Seattle three years before, the cafe ethos hadn't yet intruded on the reality of southern California 19-year-olds.
But Ed eyed me narrowly (the sort of phrase he used in his columns for the UC San Diego paper, where we both worked in lieu of attending classes). And so we went to the Denny's near the Del Mar race track and fairgrounds, laid down our 39 cents each, and drank coffee for about two hours, cup after bottomless cup. I've been hooked ever since.
Ed, who died 15 years ago, was surely amid and among his family and friends this morning in Norwalk, near Los Angeles, when they said goodbye to Clarence, whom they lost last week after a long illness. I officiated at the service. The bemusement Ed would have experienced about my following a priestly vocation seemed to radiate from the face of our friend and roommate, research scientist and nutrition maven Mark McCarty, a devotee of Clarence who'd driven up from San Diego. Mark sat grinning about four pews back. I tried not to meet his eyes except when I slipped in a completely gratuitous reference to Stephen Hawking.
Clarence and his beloved Aurora (pictured above with her brother Alfred) were married for 52 years and had five children. I'd never heard anyone talk about their siblings more than Ed did about Celeste, Cecille, and the twins, Gizelle and Gabriel. He talked about his father with a reverence that exceeded that reserved even for his '68 Nova (which he called the Colonel), Blue Öyster Cult, and the guitar playing of Nils Lofgren (way before he joined the E Street Band).
Ed was a talented guitarist, singer, and composer himself. I remember the first verse of a song he wrote about the working class town south of San Diego, National City, where the Simonses settled for a time and I worked on the newspaper for a year or so:
She was born in the Ozark Mountains back in ArkansasEd spelled "mountain" differently, but this is a family blog. Musical ability was among Clarence's considerable gifts to Ed and the rest of his family. He played trombone in an Army band during World War II and, after the war, the double bass in jazz bands while running the musicians' union in his home town of Savannah (where he'll be buried next week). I could swear he told me once that he handled the details when Alan Greenspan's big band came through town in the late 1940s.
She was just sixteen when they moved to California
Now the hills in Nasty City ain't big enough to make the grade
But everyone who knows her will tell you she's a mountain maid
He married Aurora six months after they met. She sang in his band for a while and even played some drums before they moved to her home state of California, where he spent over 30 years teaching music in the Los Angeles Unified School District. At the funeral, Cecille's 15-year-old daughter Emma, accompanied by her father, Cisco Araya (brother of Tom Araya of Slayer), sang with a lovely, powerful voice, belting out the song as though she knew that if she held back, she'd start crying. "He protected us," Clarence's younger son Gabe told me when I asked what he most remembered about his father. "He told us everything would be all right. He comforted us."
Clarence was Presbyterian; Aurora's Roman Catholic. Ed's southern California-based sisters, Cecille and Gizelle, have found their way to St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Long Beach. Emma and her 12-year-old brother, Isaac, have spent the last two summers at our diocesan summer camp in San Diego county, where, it turns out, they met my younger daughter Lindsay, who's on the camp staff.
There was more synchronicity after the service, when one of Clarence's LAUSD colleagues, Sheldon Alpert, introduced himself. While talking afterward over a delicious lunch at Gizelle's La Habra home, we learned that we'd performed together once at the Nixon library, Sheldon as a violinist in the orchestra for a Yorba Linda organization's annual "Messiah" singalong and I as narrator. That's Sheldon at left, with Gizelle, her younger daughter Olivia, and Mark McCarty (who would like to tell you about Spirulina as a source of phycocyanobilin). Sheldon and I had never actually met before, but we did today thanks to Clarence and Ed, and we'll all meet up eventually. That's the small, abiding comfort that comes from memorializing and celebrating those we love and lose in faith.
Berlin says he is as surprised as anyone that Los Lobos are still around today. But as far as they have come, he says, they still refer to their 1980s punk roots. “We carry that ethos with us every day, every show, every record,” he says. “It’s still built into our DNA that you play as hard as you can, don’t look back and always experiment.”
I'm trying to cut the umbilical cord, but on the flipside of my mind, it's almost a split of my right brain and my left brain, and here I am in sort of the most glorious moment of my life, the birth of my child, and on one side of my brain I'm saying to myself, I have got to harvest her umbilical cord blood cells because these cells are useful in transplantations for kids who have leukemia....The fuss over embryonic stem cells has died down since March 2009, when President Obama overturned the Bush administration's ban on the use of federal funds for new stem cells lines. While I favored the Obama policy, it bothered me that, during that lengthy debate, the coloration of being ideological was applied only to the pro-life side. And now we learn that hospitals have been flushing billions upon billions of stem cells down the drain that could help patients immeasurably, and without so much as a peep from either megaphone.
[T]he tragedy of it [is that the umbilical cord is] often flushed down the sink and often not collected all. I think, you know, we absolutely need to have better centralized banking facilities free of charge which allow us to bank these cells because kids with leukemia can benefit from cord blood transplantation and they need these - these are very precious cells....
[T]hey contain blood-forming stem cells that can go into the blood and create new blood. And they are so precious because they can be transplanted into another child and give rise to the blood system of the child and you can therefore eliminate the leukemia. And if you eliminate leukemia you can often eliminate the normal - the child's blood stem cells and you can replace it with the cord blood from another child, and that's why they're incredibly precious.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Saving is philanthropy, and—because this is both the Christmas season and the season of tax reform—it's worth mentioning that the tax system should recognize as much. If there's a tax deduction for charitable giving, there should be a tax deduction for saving. What you earn and don't spend is your contribution to the world, and it's equally a contribution whether you give it away or squirrel it away.
There is the fear of giving terrorist groups unchecked space to prepare their next moves, but there are many safe havens and more effective interdictions of these efforts, including rebalanced investments in intelligence and security at home. There is also fear of seeing Pakistan's stability threatened by militant Islamists, but the current strategy doesn't seem to advance that end, especially as elements in the Islamabad government continue to maintain close relations with the Taliban.Last week, St. John's School hosted some Marines and their families from Camp Pendleton, in northern San Diego county. For seven years, we've had a close relationship with the "3/5," the Darkhorse regiment. They've lost 19 young men since early October, and two just last week, while fighting in the Sangin River valley, which is thick with Taliban insurgents.
During an all-school chapel service, I told our students -- few if any of whom remember Sept. 11 -- that our volunteers are doing better than the British and Russians did fighting in the toughest place in the world. Preaching about war during Advent, in a building built in the holy name of the Prince of Peace? Not that hard, actually. Jesus understood that his people lived in a broken world.
Besides, no one hates war more than these soldiers and their families, who are giving and sacrificing so that every day can be Christmas for the rest of us. I know the president also hates war, and this war. If he insists our interests are at stake, I'm inclined to believe him. Friends have also reminded me of the American tendency to make abundant promises in the course of an intervention only to leave, and leave behind chaos, once exhaustion or a new flirtation with realism overtakes us. And yet when knowledgeable observers say or write that we'll be in Afghanistan "forever," I cringe. Doesn't everyone? After chapel last week, I said a blessing on this baby, Austin, and his twin brother (children #2 and 2.1 of the couple above) and called them future Marines. I prayed to myself that all wars should cease before they get the idea of following in their father's footsteps. If they do it anyway, I'd really prefer they stayed away from Sangin.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The classic Robert Earl Keen tune about the bad guys winning, performed by Mr. Ely of Lubbock, Texas.
During the first Bush administration, the National Archives invited me to a couple of presidential libraries directors' meetings, even though the Nixon library was then a nongovernmental institution. The Clinton administration put an end to all that.
My second and final opportunity to mingle with the grownups was at the LBJ library in Austin in 1992. On our evening off, I made my way to La Zona Rosa, now closed, where, just as I arrived, Ely and his band swung into this number as the UT students in in the audience held their Lone Star bottles in the air.
I think I was a Texan in a prior life.
Pressure from Nixon's lawyers and staffers (including me) was just part of the story. A disgraced former president wouldn't have had that much mojo. I'm just speculating, but did one or more incumbent presidents decide that slowing down the opening of Nixon records might be in their own interests once they were out of office and trying to control the release of sensitive documents of their own?
Be that as it may, when the former Nixon White House aides who now control Nixon's foundation went to war against NARA's man on the scene, it was deja vu all over again for Krusten:
Had Nixon Presidential Library director Tim Naftali not come under fire from the Nixon side during 2009-2010, I probably wouldn’t have started blogging. In all candor, I do not know whether Naftali will receive more support from NARA than we once did. It’s probably pretty obvious to all the readers of the blog (a few people are reading it, thank you!) that I don’t want to see anyone go through what we did. I believe Naftali deserves better than that — I admire and respect him — and hope that he fares better than we did.
Kissinger in an e-mail to JTA would brook no request for an apology and did not even directly address his gas chambers remark. Instead he appeared to insist on context: His frustration at the time with the insistence of the Jewish community and U.S. senators such as Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) and Henry "Scoop"Jackson (D-Wash.) on attaching human rights riders to dealings with the Soviets.
“The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” Kissinger wrote to JTA.
He and Nixon pursued the issue of Soviet Jewish emigration as a humanitarian matter separate from foreign policy issues in order to avoid questions of sovereignty and because normal diplomatic channels were closed, Kissinger wrote.
“By this method and the persistent private representation at the highest level we managed to raise emigration from 700 per year to close to 40,000 in 1972,” Kissinger wrote. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the Amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”
It's true that they may have liked one another more than they let on. Kathy O'Connor, Nixon's last chief of staff, tells a story about being with him at an event in New York City in the 1990s. She was standing in a hotel hallway outside the men's room door listening to Nixon and Kissinger inside as they teased each other and told corny gags in their growly baritones. In 1986, I sat with them for a hour while they worked out their disagreements over the wording of an op-ed about arms control they were submitting to the New York Times. The almost affectionate quality of their banter showed that they had a brothers-from-other-dimensions thing going on. When the debate finally came down to a choice between two words, after an uncomfortable silence Kissinger looked at me and said, "Vat do you tink?"
While in office, they were wary of each other at best. One of the reasons Nixon installed his taping system was so he could show who had been the principal architect of his administration's foreign and war policies, he or his brilliant, self-promoting professor. It was an historically bad move, because the the tapes' loose talk and vulgarity are so far making a balanced view of Nixon and his presidency almost impossible.
But on the narrow issue of what he feared Kissinger would say about the policy process "to his fashionable, liberal friends" outside the White House, Nixon seems to have had a point. The latest episode in Kissinger/Nixon began last week, when the Nixon library opened a recording made in the spring of 1973 which contained this exchange:
"The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”Jeffrey Goldberg calls Kissinger's comments "among the most vile ever spoken by a Jew about his own people." Kissinger's severest critic, Christopher Hitchens, also piles on.
“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”
I wrote last week about the irony of Kissinger's fears that the tapes would show him reacting fawningly to Nixon's outrageousness. As distasteful as the exchange is, it's possible to see in Nixon's response (avoiding all-out nuclear war is surely an appropriate imperative for a U.S. president to mention, even in this revolting a hypothetical context) the vaguest glimmer of a demur to Kissinger's Frankensteinian realpolitik.
It's also important to note that the Anti-Defamation League, while not defending Kissinger's comments, says they don't mean much compared with his lifetime of support for Israel. (Hat tip to Goldberg for the ADL release.)
Besides, in the end, how much exegesis can one blast of hot air really withstand? Was there a Soviet holocaust? No. Would Nixon and Kissinger have stood by and let one happen? Their harshest critics may think so. But no, they wouldn't have let it happen. How do I know? Because I talked to Nixon for about 12,000 hours over the course of 14 years, and you get to know a person.
While it would seem obvious that this big-guy BS had no operational relevance whatsoever, Marty Peretz, one of the few to rise to Kissinger's defense, thinks otherwise:
Yep, there goes Henry again, Mr. President, trying to impress his friends at your expense -- and, this time, succeeding spectacularly. Peretz's argument seems to be that Kissinger made his awful comment in order to burnish his credentials (would that be as a self-loathing Jew?) so that, when the time came, he would have enough leverage to maneuver the beast into an Israel-saving move. The problem (besides that it's a dopey idea) is that there's no evidence that Nixon had to be persuaded by Kissinger or anyone else to send massive aid to Israel during the Yom Kippur War in October 1973. Some actually think it was Kissinger who wanted to hold back on the arms shipments, to improve Egypt's position in ceasefire negotiations (the U.S. was in the process of wooing Egypt away from its reliance on the Soviet Union, a major win for the realpolitikians).
I know something about Kissinger's maneuvering for the Jewish state and for the Jewish people. I and a few Harvard colleagues were in touch with him, actually met with him during the dread days of the Yom Kippur War when Israel's very survival was at peril. (Henry Rosovsky, Samuel Huntington, Michael Walzer, Thomas Schelling and I comprised the group.) Dr. K. confided to us how difficult it was to persuade his bigoted boss that a great deal of American arms (and sufficient Lockheed C-130s "Hercules" aircraft to deliver them) were needed and needed instantly. There is no doubt in my mind that Kissinger rescued the third commonwealth with these munitions....
So, if Kissinger needed to flatter Nixon in order to convince him, that flattery was also a blessing.
More evidence that the Nixon tapes are both boon and bane, sometimes history, sometimes just hiss.
Monday, December 13, 2010
I don't see much of a constituency for the deal, but there is plenty of grassroots opposition.LA Times:
According to the latest poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 60% of those questioned said they favored the agreement, which has been attacked by House liberals and Senate conservatives. About 22% said they disapproved. Political support is about even, with 63% of Democrats saying they back it, as do 62% of Republicans and 60% of independents.
Sounds like the makings of a bloody mess. Partition of India in 1947, anyone?
Obsessed as he was with the Jews, Nixon never came close to saying that he'd be indifferent to a replay of Auschwitz. For this, Kissinger deserves sole recognition.
On faith and leadership: I think the first thing...is to understand you’re not God, and that you don’t get to decide. Secondly, I believe a faithful person is someone who fully understands his or her own inadequacies, and therefore relies upon a loving, redemptive Savior. And so it was, in one way, it was easy not to be judgmental when I’m trying to strengthen my own faith. And in the other way, though, it was easy to be judgmental when it came time to the practicalities of protecting the country. And I was very judgmental. I said these people are evil, and we will bring them to justice, because the most important job of the president is to protect the homeland.
On faith and power: [I]f you allow power to become your god, then it is corrupting. If you allow fame to become your god, it is corrupting. If you allow money to become your god, it is corrupting. And what religion helped me was to understand that that was those truths. And so power can be used effectively to help people, or it can be intoxicating, in which case it is difficult to have a proper relationship, if you’re a Christian, with Christ....
[For] American presidents...it’s hard to become so totally intoxicated with power when you’re responsive to the people. But the people that became intoxicated by power that affected me were like those idealistic souls that convinced others that their vision for the future was the right one, whether it be the folks who led the French revolution, or those who bought into Mao, or those who corrupted the Leninist movement in Russia. These are people that became so intoxicated with power that they ended up being murderers.
On meeting with grieving families: What was interesting...because we have a volunteer army, and because many of the folks who lost their life signed up after 9/11 and knew exactly what they were getting into, the parents really wanted to tell me how much that the sacrifice, how much their child really wanted to do what they were doing. And frankly, in many instances, they were there to determine whether or not I was going to make decisions based upon my own personal standing, or whether or not I was going to make decisions so that sacrifice would not go in vain. And it’s hard for people to understand this, but often times, or most of the time I met with families of the fallen, I became the comforted one. I was supposed to comfort them, and they comforted me.
On politically motivated CIA leaks in 2004: I was convinced there were some, and very few, I’m talking about a handful versus the thousands that are dedicated patriots, but they were leaking information that kept getting into the New York Times, for example, that seemed to me, and was trying to make it difficult for me to be reelected. It’s like the same thing about the leaks on some of our security programs that emanated, perhaps, out of that agency. And to me, that’s unacceptable behavior. When people get into the CIA, they have sworn to secrecy, and that their job is to provide the president with the information necessary to make tough decisions, not to try to undermine the process.
Six months later, during the Yom Kippur War, Nixon rejected Kissinger’s advice to delay an arms airlift to Israel as a means of setting the stage for an Egypt confident enough to pursue peace; Nixon, among other reasons, cited Israel’s urgent need.
In opposing the decisions of a self-appointed know-it-all about what secrets should remain as such, I'm not expressing fear and paranoia. I'm worried about the rational conduct of the government's business and the safety of those who live under tyrannical governments and yet are willing to provide U.S. contacts with valuable information.
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
In view of Assange's implied desire to nonlinearly hit less open or unjust systems, I'll be looking forward to reading more news from Beijing and the Kremlin. But does Wikileaks even have sources in those governments who are willing to take the risk of nonlinearly hitting their bosses? That's why Assange's whole argument is bogus. Logic as well as Wikileaks' pattern make clear that the governments of free nations are far more likely to be the victims of leaks, which means that it's those regimes, and not authoritarian or totalitarian ones, that will experience "minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms."
Besides, if Assange got the secret Moscow and Beijing papers, would he have the guts to publish them? Palin and Huckabee talked about hunting him down. Putin and Hu might actually do it, and once they caught him, extradition probably wouldn't be an issue.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Nixon’s big mistake was recording the conversations in the first place. As Haldeman [shown here, with Nixon] put it in his memoirs,”Imagine your own feeling if you were to open your Monday morning paper and find someone had taped all the conversations in your home over the weekend—then selected the very worst segments and printed them in the paper. That’s just about what happened to us.” Haldeman nevertheless believed as early as 1979 that it would be good to open more tapes beyond those played at the Watergate trials: “I know that there is also some very great material. And I feel sure the ‘good’ outweighs the ‘bad.’ Thus Nixon has everything to gain and little more to lose from release of additional tapes.”
Some day scholars will benefit from all the hard-won disclosure decisions, which give a unique glimpse in the recorded conversations at governance and at Nixon as man and as president, information which the fair minded can put to good use. Historians will have to judge for themselves when Nixon was venting and when what he stated constituted action items. And when his private comments matched his public policy positions and when, as often occurred, they did not. I dare say journalists will continue to report on the most sensational items—and there are plenty of those, as well.Actually, it's surprising that all the tapes aren't open by now. In an earlier essay, Krusten reported that they were ready to be opened in 1988. After Nixon died in 1994, as his legal co-executor I began to negotiate almost immediately to settle a lawsuit that historian Stanley Kutler (below right) had brought against the National Archives to compel the opening of tapes that archivists believed related to abuses of power. We reached a deal in 1996. As I recall, we envisioned having all the tapes opened by 2000.
The Nixon library has now promised to have the last 400 hours opened by 2012, meaning that, in time for the next presidential election, there'll likely be another round of headlines about the subject that seems to be of greatest interest to journalists: Nixon's views about Jews, African-Americans, Italians, Lithuanians, and, if we're really lucky, little green men. Good thing he won't be running. The sooner all that's over, the sooner writers will get to work on the less salacious, most substantive materials housed in Yorba Linda.
It may seem odd to Maarja to hear the likes of me press to get everything open ASAP. My attitude about these matters actually changed beginning in 1990, when I became director of the private Nixon library. Nixon-like, my conversion was sparked by crisis. Before the library's July 1990 grand opening, my predecessor as director, Hugh Hewitt, made the impolitic announcement, in response to a reporter's question, that the most famous and respected journalist in the U.S., Bob Woodward, wouldn't be welcome to do research at the library. That pretty much destroyed any credibility we might otherwise have had with the scholarly community (though I didn't help matters myself many years later by canceling a conference we'd planned with Whittier College on the Vietnam war, which I briefly feared might delay our handover to the feds in 2007).
Soon after arriving at the library in September 1990, I grasped for a measure of redemption by recruiting an archivist and promising that I’d never interfere with her dealings with scholars and researchers. Eventually we even had something to show them, since we’d taken custody of a significant cache of Nixon’s congressional and vice presidential papers from the National Archives. The collection, which he’d never deeded to the government, had valuable documents about his early campaigns, the Alger Hiss case, and Nixon's international missions for President Eisenhower during the 1950s.
Back in Saddle River, Nixon monitored this process with considerable unease. It was one thing to open a chest-thumping museum using his rich friends’ money, another thing entirely to dish the contents of his personal files to liberal professors. He indulged me, but warily. He couldn’t have cared less about my conviction that a functioning, independent archive was vital for institutional credibility. “Institutional credibility” was the kind of formulation that could render him almost asphyxiated with helpless rage. Didn’t I understand, he would say, that all that mattered was his credibility? I actually did understand, and yet I was tempted by the idea that we could have both.
It helped a little that our first archivist was a rock-ribbed Republican. It helped far more that she was astonishingly slow. Our reading room wasn’t ready to open to the public until a few months after Nixon died. As he would’ve said, I had dodged a bullet.
Before long we began to receive visits from scholars and researchers who were interested in Nixon’s early years in politics. I was pleased in 1998 when Greg Mitchell, a left-leaning editor and journalist who writes a media blog at “The Nation,” published a book about Nixon’s 1950 senatorial campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas that relied heavily on documents housed at the library. Like most historians, Mitchell was critical of Nixon’s campaign tactics, and yet I reckoned it as a win because he praised the Nixon library in his acknowledgments.
It wouldn’t have pleased Nixon, I don’t think, though by now, four years after his death, it was hard to be so sure what was best. Because of my roles at the library and in his estate, I had a considerable amount of discretion about how we were going to position ourselves in relation to the scholarly community. He wasn’t around to consult, obviously, though I often found myself imitating his gravelly voice and, I sometimes supposed, even channeling his instincts.
By the time Mitchell’s book came out, we were fully committed to getting the library into the National Archives and thus consigning Nixon’s legacy to generations of historians as yet untrained or unborn. Was it what he would have wanted? I assumed so, if only because he was smart enough to realize that his retainers and immediate family members wouldn’t be around forever to stand guard and dust the exhibits in the lavish pro-Nixon museum we’d built upstairs.
Besides, as a lifelong student of history and biography, he knew he would be judged according to what appeared between hard covers, not within the walls of a museum. If historians – even those whose outlooks and temperaments hadn’t been molded by the passions and agonies of Vietnam and Watergate -- never took a fresh look at the Cold War’s greatest pragmatist, if they ultimately decided that he quit outweighed he went to China, then it didn’t matter what we did. As I looked without a trace of angst at our brand-new copy of the Nixon-ravaging Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady: Richard Nixon Vs. Helen Gahagan Douglas -- Sexual Politics and the Red Scare, I realized that I’d taken a leap of faith. Like it or not, Richard Nixon now belonged to Greg Mitchell (founding editor of “Crawdaddy,” a trailblazing 1960s rock and roll magazine, which is cool) and his colleagues and heirs.
A crook, a weak and venal man who enriched himself at taxpayer expense, Nixon was perhaps the most unlovely of our presidents. His spying on Americans and electoral shenanigans placed him beyond the pale. Resignation was too good for him. He should have been impeached, tried, and convicted.He says the left's being harsh? Moran actually misses the point about yesterday's New York Times article, which was its acknowledgment that Nixon appeared to despise liberal U.S. Jews while admiring Israelis. The political nuance doesn't excuse his anti-Semitic statements, but it puts them in a different category compared to those of his aide Bob Haldeman and friend Elmer Bobst.
Moran's epitaph mentions none of Nixon's accomplishments, though some leaving comments on his post do. And "enriched himself at taxpayer expense" is a bum rap. As co-executor of Nixon's estate, I can assure you that if he had been stealing, it was the greatest of his incompetencies. With the exception of a disallowed tax deduction on the donation of his pre-presidential papers (which he took because his predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, suggested it), Watergate exposed no evidence of personal corruption. Based on working with him for 14 years, I'd say the idea that people thought otherwise may have been what stung him most of all. It's the main reason he made such a show of giving up his Secret Service protection in 1985 and announcing that he would pay for his own security. He also refused to take honoraria for speeches or sit on corporate boards.
Moran amply proves Nixon's dictum that his friends on the right were always tougher than his enemies on the left.