Saturday, April 9, 2011

An Order Better Not Followed

According to notes kept by his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, on July 3, 1971 President Nixon let his suspicions about Jews and liberals in the civil service get the better of him. He believed they were purposely manipulating economic data to hurt his administration. Historian Maarja Krusten offers reflections on the politics of scapegoating (which comes from Torah, ironically enough -- Lev. 16:8,10):
The segment [of notes] covered Nixon’s directive to Haldeman to have [White House operative Fred] Malek [shown below] check “sensitive areas,” uncover “Jewish cells,” and to put a “non-Jew in charge of each.” Haldeman, who occasionally dragged his feet on orders from Nixon, didn’t blink an eye. And so the Nixon White House sent Fred Malek off to count Jewish civil servants.

Nixon may have been uncomfortable about some of the things recorded on his tapes or recorded in White House documents. I sympathize with that to some degree. His records were seized and the rules changed on him. But trying to take out the people at NARA who worked and still work with those materials only demonstrates the same acculturation that led Nixon and Haldeman to send Malek off to count Jews at BLS. Nixon didn’t like the way the bureau was handling the release of unemployment figures. Instead of directing James Hodgson, Secretary of Labor, to work through the timing issues, he went nuclear. And sent Malek off to do some things Malek and Haldeman should have resisted, in my view. This set up a situation where Malek later had to confront, or not, what he had done.

It was a classic example of not liking an outcome and personalizing the issue based on assumptions, rather than working out a rational and fact-based solution. Just like assuming Fred Graboske and his staff were biased against Nixon and trashing their reputations (“incompetent clerical level archivists.”). Or calling for Tim Naftali to find an Alger Hiss library to head, when he sought to put up an historically sound exhibit about “abuses of governmental power.” There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of the management culture within the Nixon White House that resulted in those abuses than observing what NARA has faced since the 1980s.

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