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.

Friday, April 8, 2011

First Historic Second

Now that the Nixon library has opened its new Watergate gallery, the archivist of the U.S., David Ferriero, says more changes are in store:
Although Watergate captivates our attention, it is only one chapter in the complicated legacy of our 37th President. Other galleries in the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum show the significant changes he made in the nation’s social, political, and economic structure, along with historic breakthroughs in foreign affairs — with the Chinese, the Soviets, and in the Mideast. Over the next few years, we plan to update many of these galleries to reflect changes in museum technology and the release of new information.
Hat tip to Maarja Krusten

Eagles Already Used "'Hell Freezes Over' Tour"

Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee sell out the Nixon library.

Youse Control The Media

James Fallows does his best arguing that the collapse of the traditional financial model for elite news reporting isn't a disaster for democracy and Western civilization. He hung out at "Gawker" and learned the virtues of people getting (new school) the news they want (“How Good Is Charlie Sheen for a Porn Star’s Career?”) instead of the (old school) news they need (coverage of the Supreme Court, succession crises in Moscow and Beijing, government and financial corruption at every level, economic, military, diplomatic, educational, social, nutritional, scientific, medical, and cultural issues -- you know, everything that actually matters but you almost always have to pay reporters to cover because it's complicated sometimes).

In his long "Atlantic" cover story, Fallows offers a one-sentence plan for making sure those things don't fall through the cracks:
Rather than worry about a general collapse of the press, perhaps we should watch carefully for specific failures of local, statehouse, or investigative coverage, and start experimenting now with ways to correct them—through nonprofit coverage or other means that new technologies make possible.
But who's "we," and how will they know when the failures have actually occurred? City officials had been stealing for years in Bell, California before the old-school LA Times, though bloodied by massive editorial staff layoffs, finally broke the story. In the "Gawker" era, I guess allegedly corrupt city managers will be safe unless they do something reckless, like go on "Dancing With The Stars."

This Old River Keeps On Rolling, Though

Great to hear Mick Jagger's full-throated voice again on this great cover of Bob Dylan's "Watching The River Flow." The cut, from an album honoring the late Stones co-founder Ian Stewart, features former Stone Bill Wyman on bass.
Hat tip to the good people at Paste

Donald's Doofus Days

When a prominent politician acts like a doofus, someone usually gets around to writing a column saying, pace Otter in "Animal House," "Well, let me tell you about another so-called doofus. His name was Ronald Reagan."

Here's the latest of the genre: Joe Scarbourgh on Donald Trump.

Two flaws in the former congressman's argument. Usually a doofus is just a doofus and not another Reagan. Second, Reagan wasn't a doofus, whereas the usually artful New York tycoon is acting like one by insisting that the president of the U.S. is a liar and usurper.

It's one thing to get yourself a little birther cred, which may be the price of admission for the GOP nomination in 2012 (though getting a birther elected is another matter). But Trump seems to be making it the centerpiece of his campaign. Is he being opportunistic, perhaps on the advice of his longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone, or does he really believe it? If the latter, I hope it wasn't because someone showed him this.

As for Trump's running second in GOP polls, I bet that's mostly name recognition. Read Stone's own perspective here.

Nixon Goes To Obama

The Nixon Center drops "Nixon" and, just a month later, its talented China scholar is hired by the Obama administration. Coincidence? Well, yes. Congratulations, Drew.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Three Great Lincolns

On display at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, the "bubble top" limousine used by FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower and briefly by Kennedy

The car in which President Kennedy lost his life; also used by Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter

President Reagan was about to step into this car at the moment of the 1981 attempt on his life, when a bullet struck him after ricocheting off the armor plating on the side; previously used by Ford and Carter

The Great Debate

William McGurn says liberals have won the arguments about whether less advantaged people deserve help. The remaining debate with conservatives, and it's a big one, is how it's done. The GOP's proposed Medicare reforms are an example:

[Rep. Paul] Ryan proposes a simple but dramatic shift: helping people afford private coverage. Under this reformed system, seniors would have their private premiums subsidized, and the poorest would get the largest subsidies. The hope is that over time it would have the opposite effect of the present system. Instead of increasing the dependence of the middle class, it would help make all seniors consumers.

Same with Richard Nixon's health care proposals in the 1970s, which would have enabled virtually all workers to purchase private health insurance. They were torpedoed by Ted Kennedy, who held out all his life for for a single-payer system.
Hat tip to Buddy Lang

"He Don't Live Here No More," Robbie Robertson

The guitarist and songwriter for the Band appearing on the Letterman show with his Americana offspring Dawes, which is helping him launch his new album, "How To Become Clairvoyant." His lead playing's a little rusty. But since he's as great a songwriter as Stephen Foster, we'll just go ahead and cut him some slack.
Hat tip to the good people at Paste

A Palestinian State Of Mind

If Palestine keeps looking and acting like a state, then statehood seems inevitable. The IMF is now on board.

Hey, Kids: Don't Leave Church. Complain!

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager says universities turn young people into liberal secular humanists, but I don't believe it. I was largely impervious to professors' politics, right (yes, there were a couple) or left, and I'll bet almost everyone else is, too. Rebutting Prager, Conor Friedersdorf has a more practical, persuasive explanation for why highly educated young adults become less religious:
[P]eople who attend college leave home. That is to say, they leave their church, the community incentives to attend it, and the watchful eye of parents who get angry or make them feel guilty when they don't go to services or stray in their faith. Suddenly they're surrounded by dorm mates of different faiths or no faith at all. For many of these students, it turns out that their religious behavior was driven more by desire for community, or social and parental pressure, than by deeply held beliefs. Another reason education correlates with secularism is that secularists are more likely to seek advanced degrees, partly because they're more focused than their religious counterparts on career.
To give at least part of the argument back to Prager, one thing about a good education is that it destroys, or should destroy, simplistic theodicies by giving the student a glimpse of the full range of human misery and injustice across the centuries. Knowing how relentlessly the good and innocent suffer, it's hard to believe that God is spending much time protecting me and those I love because we happen to be living in the safest country in the world, going to the right church, or singing hymns in the right key.

Indeed a crisis of faith probably should result from a liberal arts education as night follows day, as should the ability to discern the difference between the divine and its poor reflection in human institutions. Religion sometimes glorifies God and sometimes lets God down. That's why I always tell our St. John's middle schoolers that if they're not getting what they deserve from church, synagogue, or mosque -- a sense of God as a loving, inspiring, challenging, saving force available in every aspect of their lives -- then they should find out who's in charge and tell them.
Hat tip to The Dish

Ankle-Deep In The Big Potomac

From historian Maarja Krusten, a thoughtful post on the aftermath of last week's Watergate exhibit opening at the Nixon library.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April Fools For Christ

On an Easter Sunday about 45 years ago, our little family was a little late for services at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Detroit. We found seats in a pew near the back, on the right near the aisle. The congregation was half a verse into "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today." As we reached for our hymnals, my English-born grandmother, Lily Sharley, sighed with pleasure and said, "I'm so glad we got here in time to sing this." It was a powerful moment for me, fixed in my memory and dreams; and this pew looks about right.

Kathy and I visited the cathedral Tuesday afternoon after I'd given a speech in nearby Dearborn to 300 funeral home managers. I received the invitation thanks to my musical buddy Gary "Boom" Baker, whom I've known since he assisted with President and Mrs. Nixon's funerals, which I oversaw in 1994 and 1993 as director of the Nixon library. Gary's now an executive of SCI, owner of over 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries.

The funeral business is worried about losing customers, the mainline church about losing congregants. One brand-new solution we fixed on is good, old pastorship. The two keynoters at the SCI conference, celebrant trainer Glenda Stansbury and I, found ourselves in a degree of friendly opposition. She travels around the country training laypeople and the occasional atheist to celebrate and preach at funerals because, these days, many family member of decedents distrust the church, don't believe in God, or just assume we'll do a poor job. In my remarks, I said the church had better not be too willing to cede that ground.

Our hosts asked me to tell Kathy's and my Nixon funeral stories (you try getting Henry Kissinger to stay within five minutes for a eulogy sometime, plus there was that moment with G. Gordon Liddy) before talking about funeral ministry. It was a chance to really unwind, since they gave me an hour and 15 minutes (which will alarm the people of St. John's). As Episcopalians will, I mentioned the priesthood conferred on all Christians by baptism. Arriving at St. Paul's on Woodward Ave. a few hours later (not far from the Fox Theater, where my homey Eminem arrived in that fine new Chrysler in his Super Bowl ad), Kathy and I were warmly greeted by a genial man on his way to the parking lot. I announced a little boisterously that on April 1 I'd celebrated the 50th anniversary of my baptism at St. Paul's. He replied that he was the Very Rev. Scott Hunter, installed as dean of St. Paul's four years ago, also on April 1. Couple of April Fools for Christ, the dean and I.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Visitors Can Reach Their Own Conclusions"

An LA Times editorial takes a balanced view of Richard Nixon's legacy.

We Did That, Yeah

Discussing his April 18 visit to the Nixon library along with his former editor, Ben Bradlee, Watergate reporter Bob Woodward demonstrates that people have long memories in journalism as well as politics:

"When they opened the library [in 1990], the then-director said I was banned," Woodward said this week.

It wasn't me, I promise!

Delta Blues

As Kathy and I drove to LAX yesterday morning, we heard on the radio that Delta Airlines is ranked lowest in customer satisfaction. The scene at left may be one reason why. Passengers who don't pay a high annual fee for special security privileges are herded down a long, dark tunnel and funneled through two checkpoints. It took us a half hour on Monday morning. In January, I spent an hour and a half in the line while my fellow Holy Land pilgrims worried that I'd been waylaid or had gotten sick. I couldn't call them, because cell phones don't work on Delta's long underground march.

Our January experience exposed an inconsistency in Delta's methods. We can debate giving speed passes to frequent fliers and others who are willing to pay. My heart says that homeland security should be equally annoying for all. But I can also understand the value of getting the frequently flying engineers of our sputtering economic engine to their vital job- and wealth-creating work as painlessly as possible.

But Delta LAX doesn't play by its own rules. In January, I was the last through security because I wanted to make sure my 27 fellow pilgrims were on their way to the gate first. Few if any were so-called priority passengers, but most were sent through the priority line anyway. I'm glad they were spared the privations of the Styx Delta. But it means that the policy is sometimes to distribute the masses equally among all available lines and other times to honor the division between priority travelers and the rest of humanity. Better one policy or the other than both at the same time.

And a better airport, please. Part of Delta's problem is a generation-old physical plant. LAX has poor parking, makeshift security areas, and grubby-looking restrooms. Pretty embarrassing when you think of folks flying in from gleaming airports in Tokyo, Beijing, and Detroit.

A Pearl Of A Story

When she was working with Richard Nixon's White House tapes and other materials at the National Archives during the 1980s, historian Maarja Krusten won several cash awards for outstanding service. She writes this morning:
With one award, I bought myself a pearl ring. Unfortunately, the pearl fell out of the setting while I was at work. It happened when I was working with some manuscript (Hollinger) boxes while the Nixon Project still was housed in Alexandria, Virginia. Maybe someday a researcher will open one of those gray boxes at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, and find it. An actual pearl to go along with the valuable nuggets of information in the expert care of Tim Naftali and his staff.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hissing And Moaning

As reported last week, the anger of former aides of Richard Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, toward Nixon library director Tim Naftali (left) reached a fever pitch in mid-2009 when he invited former White House counsel John Dean to give a speech. They consider Dean a rat for testifying against Nixon and helping send their friends to jail for their Watergate crimes.

Like Barack Obama's least successful critics, Nixon's men and their fellow travelers used Cold War rhetoric against the apostate. Historian Maarja Krusten writes at NixoNARA:
Susan Naulty, who used to work as an archivist at the private Nixon library, wrote critically in The Washington Times in 2009 of Tim’s decision to invite...Dean to speak at the library. In what seemed to me to be a fundamental misunderstanding of Naftali’s actions, she complained, “The question, though, nags: Why promote John Dean? Why does hostility toward Mr. Nixon continue unabated on the left?” My reaction was very different. I didn’t see the invitation to Dean as promoting him but merely one of providing an opportunity for one of many players in historical events to speak at the library. And of course, having once been mistaken for a liberal by Nixon’s side, I shook my head at the use of terms such as hostility and “the left.”
I'm the one who publicly lodged that accusation against Krusten, who campaigned for Nixon in 1968, when she was 17, and voted for him four years later. I've since apologized.

Another Naftali critic, writing on the foundation's blog, called on him to go run a museum honoring Alger Hiss (above), who was a Soviet communist agent. Crude as it was, the comment helped clarify the factors that rendered Naftali's critics impotent in the last battle of Watergate.

First up is the sheer injustice of the smear. Naftali is an empiricist and a civil libertarian who loves his country and would despise a traitor like Hiss. Author of a respectful biography of George H.W. Bush, Naftali presents, as Nixon usually did, as a non-ideological moderate and foreign policy realist. He and Nixon would probably have found relatively little to disagree about in either domestic or international affairs.

The Hiss smear did have one obvious salutary outcome. It motivated Krusten, a knowledgeable insider with strong ties in the archival community, especially at the National Archives, to start her blog to provide Naftali with rearguard support in Washington as he researched, wrote, and defended the library's new Watergate exhibit.

Another irony of the ideology-based campaign of Naftali's critics is that most writers in the first wave of Nixon revisionism in the 1980s, especially when it came to his domestic policies, were moderates or liberals. When I first recommended Naftali to the then-archivist of the U.S., Allen Weinstein, as the first federal library director, it wasn't because of his views about Nixon but because, as one of the brightest Cold War experts of his generation, he would take Nixon seriously, no matter where the massive record he left behind led scholars. The case is often made that a presidential library director should like or love the president in question. I'd say it's the job of the president's family and friends to care about him. It's the federal director's job to care about history.

Historical inquiry certainly hasn't been the strong suit of the lower-echelon, non-policy White House aides now controlling Nixon's foundation. Instead, they've devoted much of their energy to trying to rehabilitate their mentor Haldeman, muzzle their enemy Dean, and keep the museum-going public from seeing brand-new videos in which their friends Fred Malek and Dwight Chapin discuss counting Jews in the federal government and Nixon's alleged involvement in dirty tricks. But the restoration of Nixon's legacy will ask something more of his advocates than tending 40-year-old grudges and alliances. Too bad Nixon's foundation has just apparently cut itself off from the one institution, the former Nixon Center, which devoted itself not to refighting old wars but applying Nixon's principles to help keep the U.S. from becoming overextended in new ones.

Third, Nixon operatives with ties and interests in the Reagan and Bush-Cheney camps may not grasp how far the GOP has drifted from 37's centrist moorings. If few Republicans outside the pressure cooker of the Haldeman alums' mutual admiration society were willing to join them in denouncing Naftali as a leftist, it may be because some of them have decided that Nixon was one, too.

Fourth, while Nixon's red-baiting was generally rooted in substance, the Naftali critics' left-baiting was just the result of his allegedly not being devoted to Nixon. And yet it's easy even for his friends to admire Nixon's qualities of mind and heart and his peacemaking achievements and still be disappointed by his failures and errors. There's not much resonance anywhere, left, right, or center, for a purist position on our most controversial modern president.

Instead, Nixon legacy building will be generational, arc-of-history stuff, the work of many decades, as he himself understood. It will grow out of careful study of his times, policies, and temperament by scholars rather than maneuvers by operatives whose reputations may be just as weighted down by Watergate as his without being buoyed by anything like his brilliance and dogged vision.

Finally, Haldeman's men claimed to be fighting a battle for Nixon's reputation that was actually lost years ago. Ask the average fifth grader what she knows about Nixon (I have, many times), and she'll usually say Watergate. Like it or not, he's taken that hit. If his library tried to cover it up with a whitewashed museum, most visitors would know it. When they see Naftali's all-in exhibit, most of them will say, "I already knew about that." Why spend months battling an exhibit that does nothing to worsen Nixon's reputation? If we're confident about how history will ultimately view him, we needn't fear people knowing the truth about the trip to China, the break-in at the Watergate, or anything in between.

Naftali's foes may have thought they could end the left-wing threat by bringing what they took to be their political savvy and insider contacts to bear. But for all these reasons and perhaps others, they didn't get much if any traction. So John Dean gave his speech. Tim Naftali opened his Watergate exhibit. And now it's pretty clear who's in charge at the Nixon library.

The UN-State

What happens if the UN recognizes the state of Palestine before Israel does?

The Donald Should Lose The Girls

Couple of boys report:
“Did you get the info I sent you?” Mr. Trump asked in a phone interview with The New York Times late last week. “I told the girls to send you the ratings.”
When I was working for Richard Nixon in New York and New Jersey in the 1980s, he sometimes resorted to saying he'd asked "the girl" to do something. So too his ex-advance man and aide Nick Ruwe. Guys of their generation sometimes talked that way. In the 21st century, Donald, not so much.

Islam As A Pillar Of Freedom

Reassurance from Egypt's grand mufti, Ali Gomaa:

Having overthrown the heavy hand of authoritarianism, Egyptians will not accept its return under the guise of religion. Islam will have a place in Egypt’s democracy. But it will be as a pillar of freedom and tolerance, never as a means of oppression.


For historian and former Nixon tapes specialist Maarja Krusten, the war by Nixon-Haldeman operatives against federal Nixon library director Tim Naftali was deja vu all over again, except for the happy ending.

He Quit. He Went To China.

I wonder if CBS's Bob Schieffer's an Episcopalian. In a commentary this morning hailing the opening of the Nixon library's new Watergate exhibit, he sliced 37's legacy right down the middle:
Nixon's disregard of the law and the Constitution was disgraceful. That is part of his legacy and his apologists cannot change that.

Yet, Nixon was far ahead of his party and American public opinion when he made his courageous opening to China and his arms control agreements with the Soviets.

Those were monumental achievements and will be remembered as such, whatever his critics say.

One of the veteran newsman's less thoughtful observations about Nixon helped persuade me to start this blog.