Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rockin' Father's Day Eve At St. John's

In anticipation of Father's Day, the women of St. John's staged a boisterous lunch for 40 men of our church this afternoon. In the colors of her beloved Padres, Melinda Freese realized her vision of leading us in "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." DJ Gomer, Linda Allport, Melinda, and Joan Haneishi served heaps upon heaps of what could only be described as guy food -- KFC, hot dogs, chili, nachos, and beer. DJ's Duane brought along his signed letter from John Wooten. The St. John's folk circle, having embraced its inner seventies bar band, announced it was giving the name Chrysostom Rust a beta test and swang into "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and "Wagon Wheel." Other possible names on omni-instrumentalist Jeff Allport's list were the Ill-Eagles and Con Dios Junction (our church being located on Via Con Dios). And yes, bishop, that's a Heineken on the amp.


Nixon's just a .277-batting DH on the all-Watergate team at the New York Times (where it must've been a slow day at the sports desk).

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Post Won't Plug This Leak

Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon library, recently suggested that the Reagan library whitewashed the Iran-contra affair in the same way Pravda (the now-defunct USSR Communist Party newspaper) would have when covering some Soviet official's scandal.

In its coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, the Washington Post appears to be doing some airbrushing of its own. Today reporter Marc Fisher filed a long survey of the ways the Watergate narrative has changed or been challenged over the years. Bizarrely, he couldn't find room for a word about Max Holland's wide-praised Leak.

Holland argues persuasively that the Post's most famous source, Mark Felt, wanted to be FBI director and leaked investigators' secrets to the Post to undermine the acting director, Pat Gray. Every reporter's judgment is different. But Watergate was serious stuff, and a book that will have to be taken into account by all scholars of the scandal and era unquestionably deserved at least a paragraph in Fisher's article, which contained five about the movie "Dick."

Let's be clear. Holland doesn't absolve Nixon or his men of any of their crimes or errors. Much as Nixon's advocates may sometimes have hoped otherwise, criticizing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's reporting won't change much if anything about Watergate. As Holland and others have shown, by and large they were just reporting what the FBI was learning.

But Holland has added vital dimension and subtlety to the story of the greatest political scandal in modern U.S. history. Without especially helping Nixon, he shows that a reporter's source -- no hero; just another cynical operator with wingtips of clay -- had tried to use ambitious, sometimes credulous journalists to get even and get ahead. It's a quintessential Washington story -- but not in the Washington Post. Not this week.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Quaker Shaker And Gay Marriage

My Nixon brother Hugh Hewitt put this video on YouTube with the headline "God Weighs In On The Same Sex Marriage Debate?" I thank God for the question mark.

Hewitt was at the Nixon library Wednesday night moderating a debate between conservative John Eastman, former dean of Chapman University's law school, and liberal UC Irvine law dean Erwin Chemerinsky. Hewitt regularly hosts the legal eagles on his syndicated radio show.

With cameras rolling (providentially? There's that question mark again), a 4.0 earthquake struck Yorba Linda while Eastman was speculating about how associate justice Anthony Kennedy might rule on Prop. 8 and DOMA. After the shaker, which occurs at 3:45 in the video, Eastman said, "See what happens when you mess with traditional marriage?" and basked in a thundering ovation. Offered the opportunity to interpret the event himself, Chemerinsky paused for a long moment and said, "My field's constitutional law, not geology."

Note he didn't say "theology." Hewitt and Eastman get kudos for handling a scary moment with elan. But I'm glad they didn't test the ineffable grace of heaven any more than they did. The God who would send an earthquake to a double-domes' debate must've been a lot angrier at the tens of thousands he killed by dropping buildings on them in Japan and China. My God, that one is not. Chemerinsky may have been tempted to say that the incident could just as well have been a rebuke as an affirmation of Eastman's rhetoric. He was wise to leave God's intentionality out of the earthquake as we -- experts, voters, and judges -- continue to do our our best to behave honorably and justly toward all his people on earth.


David Mason commits clarity on the relationship between the LDS and orthodox Christianity:

I want to be on record about this. I’m about as genuine a Mormon as you’ll find — a templegoer with a Utah pedigree and an administrative position in a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am also emphatically not a Christian.

For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat.

Leaving aside Mason's sloppiness about the nature of the Holy Trinity (in my Trinity Sunday sermon, I doubt I did much better), his point is akin to the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Look at the Quran, and you might say the answer is yes, since Allah is described as the God of Abraham and the great prophet Jesus. Ask an orthodox Christian, and she might say no, since the Islamic God isn't the father of a risen savior whose sacrifice of himself once offered is sufficient for all the world's salvation and liberation and who shares indissolubly in God's nature (they are consubstantial, as Benedict XVI now insists that Roman Catholics say in the Nicene Creed). Islam has long since proclaimed its own conception of the Godhead and its teachings, completely separate from Jewish or Christian worship and practice, and Mormons, in their bid to be the fourth Abrahamic faith, are heading in the same direction.

Insisting they were just another Christian denomination helped protect Mormons from suspicion and persecution. Let's hope that motive for theological obfuscation is now inoperative. Permission to speak freely? Christians have an issue with many, or most -- heck, all -- of the claims in the Book of Mormon. And yet the revelation to Joseph Smith, on whom all depends for the LDS, is no more unsettling for the modern mind than the revelation to Muhammad or Jesus's bodily resurrection and ascent into heaven where he sitteth on the right hand of God the father, judging the quick and the dead.

Saying my miracle is real and yours a fable or fraud pretty much sums up interfaith dialog unless we look beyond insuperable doctrinal debates and decide that all people of faith will be judged not by what they believe but how they behave. But that's a difficult step in itself for those who've been taught that their salvation is absolutely contingent on belief. I can do it either if my belief is leavened by profound humility and just a bit of common sense (why did God put all those people in western China without any Episcopal churches?) or if I actually don't take my orthodoxy seriously -- if I'm an OINO (you figure it out!). The interfaith dilemma amounts to the struggle for real community among serious believers who locate in their doctrines, and hear echoing in their hearts, God's eternal summons to the faithful to promote wholeness for all God's creatures, both individually (each created being's divine right to be healed and whole) and corporately.

Steeped in our founding, Enlightenment virtues, Americans are well-positioned to learn and practice religious tolerance in our civic life, though it hasn't always been easy. For centuries, there had been no more deadly quarrel than between Roman Catholics and Protestants. It persists in churches and seminaries, but Richard Nixon finally wrote it out of our politics in 1960.

The dynamics are more complicated this year. People have been called bigots for agreeing with David Mason that Mormons, including Mitt Romney, aren't really Christians. That's because Romney's supporters feared the charge would hurt him with evangelicals. Some of the same evangelicals think Barack Obama, who came up in the mainline UCC, isn't a Christian, either. St. Santorum added a whiff of that ugliness to the GOP primaries. His ilk would probably erase my little denomination from the book of life as well. Remember, the Reformation ain't over till it's over. Do a Google on "antichrist," and see how many pictures of Obama and Benedict you get. For some conservative people of faith, and not as few as you may think, this is the first election in U.S. history in which neither man who wants to spend the next four years in the White House has a snowball's chance of spending eternity in heaven.

Hat tip to Paul Matulic

Pariahs No More

The Rev. Dr. Alvin O. Jackson, senior pastor of Park Ave. Christian Church in New York City, a progressive church affiliated with the Disciples of Christ and the UCC, describes his journey through chaos toward acceptance:
Many of us, myself included, had a worldview out of our understanding of biology, theology, culture and tradition that caused us to look upon homosexuality as an affliction, a sin, a punishment, something not to be desired.

But then we had an experience that challenged that worldview. Maybe we got to know a gay or lesbian person and we saw their struggle. We saw their humanity, and that experience disturbed and dismantled our worldview. And we found ourselves in a state of chaos.

We can deny the reality of the experience or we can come out on the other side with a revised and transformed worldview that takes the new experience into account....

Suppose for a moment we could see one another, not as mere mortals see, but as God looks upon the heart? What would our difference look like? Could we see them not as deficits or deficiencies, but looking upon the heart, see the divinity in our difference?

Many folks are in a state of chaos around this issue of homosexuality and they are struggling with the question of how boundless; how bountiful; how abundant; how ample God's love is. I believe many folks are trying to be faithful. They are not intending to be mean and measly and meager in their love, but they are genuinely struggling with the question of how boundless; how bountiful; how abundant God's love is?

When we can see not as mortals see looking on the outward appearance, but looking on the heart I believe we see a God of abundant, bountiful, boundless, extravagant love and we see a world of pariahs no more!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nixon's Still The One?

Richard Nixon's friend R. Emmett Tyrrell, founder of the American Spectator, was in the middle of Robert Caro's latest volume on Lyndon Johnson when he came across Woodstein's latest on Nixon and Watergate. Tyrrell writes:
[H]ow would Woodward, or for that matter Caro, compare Nixon and Johnson? Nixon labored to end the war that John Kennedy created and Lyndon Johnson bungled at massive expense in lives and treasure. Nixon was on track to save South Vietnam before he was driven from office. Nixon did save the state of Israel even as he was fighting off impeachment. He and Kissinger played the Soviet Union and China like a Stradivarius, ending the performance with China as a virtual ally. All and all, it was not a bad record.

Then there is Johnson. Among Caro's many infelicities, lazy research is not one of them. He faithfully records how President Johnson turned the purchase of a $17,500 radio station into a vast media fortune through the manipulation of such federal agencies as the FCC. By middle age, he, a lifelong government employee, was a millionaire. He stole his first election -- in high school! -- his Senate seat in 1948, and the state of Texas for his running mate in 1960. That last race was against Nixon, who would not contest the contest. Then there is his psychological makeup. He was insecure, unstable, often a wreck. As vice president, he was an emotional ruin from run-ins with the Kennedys until that sad day in Dallas, when in a car ahead of him, John Kennedy was shot.

Almost eerily within minutes of the president's death, Johnson underwent a kind of emotional epiphany, rising to his former bluff, albeit phony, self. Very rudely, within a half hour of Bob Kennedy's discovery of his brother's death, President Johnson called to conduct business. The insensitivity is shocking.

Yet ever since Nixon was driven from office, we have been led to believe Nixon was squirrely and a threat to our democratic ways, and Johnson was...well, what was Johnson? We are on the road to national bankruptcy because of his poorly funded policies today. I say, wherever he is, bring back Nixon. Nixon's the one.

Red Light, Green Light

Festivities planned for the 100th anniversary of Richard Nixon's carefully preserved birthplace in Yorba Linda remind me of the time he accused me of having a secret plan to ensconce his library in a red light district.

When it opened on a red-hot day in July 1990, the Nixon library was an immaculately landscaped inferiority complex, a presidential library in shiny new nameplate only. It wouldn’t deserve the title for another 17 years, when it became part of the National Archives and took possession of tens of millions of White House documents, tapes, photos, videos, and gifts.

Nixon had nothing against having the records in his library, though he could've done without most of the professors who'd be pawing through them. But by the time his friends had contributed $24 million and we were ready to break ground, his struggle with the National Archives seemed interminable, thanks in large part to his own post-Watergate maneuvers. His lawyers and I, as his chief aide, were working hard to make sure that his infamous tapes weren’t opened to the public unless his conditions about purely private segments and documents were met. He’d also brought a suit of his own demanding to be compensated for the seizure of his records by Congress after his resignation in 1974.

In the early 1980s, the feds, indulging in some wishful thinking, had gone through the motions of drawing up plans for a governmental Nixonland that was to have been perched on a bluff with a magnificent Pacific Ocean view in San Clemente, where the Nixons had lived from 1969, the beginning of his presidency, until 1980, when they moved to New York. When the project was stalled by local land-use politics, we pulled the plug. If the San Clemente library had gotten any further along in the planning and budget process, Congress would probably have demanded that Nixon settle his differences with the federal government before expecting it to spend millions each year to operate his library. (After his death, I got the job of settling them.)

Nixon shed no tears as he again waved goodbye to San Clemente. He’d always wanted to build in the north Orange County town where he’d been born in 1913, and he finally saw his opportunity. By now, there was no talk of the National Archives running the library. In 1986, he sent me to Yorba Linda to make sure the city would do everything possible to help our private foundation make a go on our own. On the way I collected Bob Finch (shown above) and Maury Stans, Nixon’s political buddies and cabinet members, who were helping raise money for the library. They were disappointed by our decision to abandon San Clemente, and I was hoping to sell them on Nixon's Yorba Linda dream.

We arrived late on a cloudy morning. My companions were denizens of old Pasadena, corporate Republicans of the old school, resplendent in crisp blue pinstripe. Both are gone. If they weren't, on today's political scale they'd show up to the left of Barack Obama, especially Finch, a gracious humanitarian and legendary party moderate. That day, they stood awkwardly on the gravel in front of the careworn Nixon house, sniffed the middle-class suburban air, and narrowly eyed the little bungalow's spotty green paint and the escrow office, day care center, and droopy power lines along Yorba Linda Boulevard.

I hoped their expressions would lighten when they saw the Nixon family’s historic home. Welcomed inside by the then-occupants, the caretaker of a nearby school and his family, Finch and Stans squeezed up through a narrow stairway to the tiny bedroom Richard had shared, as World War I raged, with his brothers Harold, Donald, and Arthur. A teenager had tacked a Van Halen poster to the sloping ceiling. It was a seminal seventies rock and roll band, I explained to the grey-haired eminences, adding what proved to be an unimpressive invocation of home town solidarity: “They’re from Pasadena.”

The three of us were huddled together with bowed, bent heads, since the Nixon boys’ musty room offered about five and a half feet of vertical clearance. “Well, if it’s what Nixon really wants,” Stans said sulkily, staring at me sideways. The same day, the Yorba Linda city manager, Art Simonian (now Kathy's and my neighbor), told me he’d do whatever was necessary to get the library, including donating $1.3 million worth of land.

Returning to New York, I went to Nixon’s office to give him the good news only to have him ask me sternly and with not so much as a how-de-do why I was proposing to build his presidential library "right across the street from a massage parlor." This lurid picture had been painted by Pat Nixon's best friend, Helene Drown. Also an advocate of a more upscale site, Drown had been briefed by the pinstriped delegation from Orange Grove Boulevard and had then figured out how to get the word to 37.

Nixon was teasing me and also giving me a little whiff of how backhanded politics could be, even though the stakes had diminished to choosing the pasture where old politicians would graze. I laughed and explained that the establishment she, Stans, and Finch found offensive was a fitness center (currently the 24-Hour variety), which was housed in a rehabilitated citrus packing plant that might once have processed the lemons and oranges his father, Frank, had grown. Crisis averted, Nixon got his wish. To Yorba Linda he returned.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Charlottesville Massacre (Almost)

In an April 30 talk at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, where he worked for eight years before I recommended him as the first federal Nixon library director, Tim Naftali revealed that over cocktails in Charlottesville, Virginia one evening in June 2010, Reagan library director Duke Blackwood (left) and Naftali's boss, assistant archivist of the U.S. Sharon Fawcett (below), demanded his resignation -- as a sop, Naftali said they claimed, to loyalists of disgraced Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman:
If I would resign, I would get my [Watergate] exhibit....They wanted to give my head to the archivist of the United States on a platter...[Then] maybe the Nixonians would stop pushing. I thought this was outrageous...[They said,] "Tim, this is the only way your Watergate exhibit is going to happen. You've got to resign."...I didn't, of course.
Beginning in the fall of 2009, Richard Nixon and Haldeman's lower-level, non-policy operatives had been waging a ruthless campaign to stop Naftali's Watergate exhibit at all costs. They failed. The National Archives opened the exhibit in March 2011, generating the most publicity for the Nixon library since it opened 22 years ago. But there's no question that it was a close call for Naftali, since, as he tells it, his bosses at the Archives were at war with one another over how to handle the demands of Haldeman's operatives. That Blackwood was essentially carrying the Watergate for them is especially significant since he's a federal official who is paid a six-figure salary by U.S. taxpayers -- just like the Nixon factotum-turned-U.S. senator, Lamar Alexander, who also had Naftali in his sights, at the behest of one of Nixon's advance men.

Why roll out all that firepower? According to Naftali, the Haldeman tribe wanted to perpetuate the Watergate coverup by keeping the public from seeing videotape in which operatives such as Fred Malek discussed counting Jews in the federal government and Dwight Chapin, jailed for Watergate-related crimes, accused Nixon of being present when 1972's campaign dirty tricks were launched. "They were defending themselves," Naftali said of those who had taken control of the Nixon foundation. "It was no longer about the president."

Naftali knew he would have been crazy to submit to Blackwood and Fawcett (a colorful account of Blackwood's maneuver was first published, without his name attached, by historian and blogger Maarja Krusten). Later events revealed by Naftali in his hour-long Miller Center talk made clear that some at the National Archives (presumably including Fawcett, or so Naftali implies) were willing to replace his Watergate text with an outline dictated by the foundation's Watergate truth squad, of which perjurer Chapin was the most notable member. If Naftali had quit, it's a good bet that the custodians of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, faithfully preserved all these centuries, would have shredded his exhibit before the ink dried on his severance check.

Instead, the archivist of the U.S., David Ferriero, ultimately and unmistakeably backed Naftali. Fawcett announced her own resignation and reportedly received a consultancy offer from Haldeman's men. Based on Naftali's public comments, many questions remain about her role. Why did Fawcett need Blackwood's help in trying to axe Naftali? Did Ferriero know she was using one of his library directors to leverage the ouster of another (some NARA observers are certain that she acted on her own authority)? Did Fawcett, a canny civil service lifer, really think the scholarly community would've stood by while she greased the skids for a widely respected Cold War historian for the sake of the reputations of Bob Haldeman, Fred Malek, and Dwight Chapin?

Whether we learn the answers to any of these questions, Naftali's triumphant if emotionally charged presentation at the Miller Center proves that the dictum about history being written by the winners also applies to scrappy public historians who defeat shadowy private interests. The library director with nine lives even scores a late hit on his would-be executioner by critiquing the Reagan-adoring federal museum in Simi Valley, California, which in 2011 finally added a full exhibit on the Iran-contra scandal. That effort doesn't impress the curator of the Nixon library's warts-and-all-gate. "'Mistakes were made'; passive voice," Naftali said, summing up Blackwood and his colleagues' handiwork on the Reagan scandal, which some argued was worse than Watergate. "Reminds me of Pravda."

Do We Go Now?

The brink of our St. John's School Baccalaureate service this morning. Thanks to the expectant faces of our eighth grade student ministers Kaitlin Sandell, Ryan Heppy, and Karna Small and those of the parents and grandparents of the class of 2012, this one goes in the "best work in the world" file.