Still Tricky, After All These Years

Talk about blasts, or at least wet farts, from summers past. The long arc of history continues to bend towards justice, as the NYTimes mealy-mouths that “Watergate Becomes Sore Point at Nixon Library”:

Officials at the National Archives have curated a searing recollection of the Watergate scandal, based on videotaped interviews with 150 associates of Richard M. Nixon, an interactive exhibition that was supposed to have opened on July 1. But the Nixon Foundation — a group of Nixon loyalists who controlled this museum until the National Archives took it over three years ago — described it as unfair and distorted, and requested that the archives not approve the exhibition until its objections are addressed…

Bob Bostock, a former Nixon aide who designed the original Watergate exhibit and has been enlisted by the foundation to challenge the installation, filed a 132-page letter of objection to the archives last week, claiming that the exhibit lacked the context needed to help young visitors learning about Watergate to understand exactly what Nixon did.

“Taping and wiretapping go back as far as F.D.R.,” Mr. Bostock said. “It lacks the context it needs: that Nixon was not the first president to do some of these things and that some of these things had been going on with many of his predecessors, in some cases, much more than he did.”
[…]

“It is the last fight over Watergate,” said Timothy Naftali, the director of the museum, though he was quick to add that he was confident a resolution could be worked out that addressed at least some of the concerns of both sides.

Mr. Naftali has overseen the release of a flood of Nixon papers and tapes since he was appointed by the National Archives in 2006. But culturally and politically, he may not fit the profile of the person Nixon may have imagined for managing his legacy. “Think about it,” he said. “I am not a Nixon loyalist. I am not even a Republican. I am gay. I am from Canada. I was 12 years old when Richard Nixon resigned. I have no skin in the game.”
[…]

The National Archives, when it took over the museum in 2007, insisted that the museum close down what was by all accounts an opaque and perfunctory depiction of Watergate that Nixon’s associates had originally installed with the former president’s active involvement and approval.

“It was a long dark tunnel that was completely uninviting, block and after block of small panels, white text on a black wall,” said Jon Wiener, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, who would take his classes to the museum on annual field trips as it studied Nixon. “It had to go.”

Mr. Naftali is an optimist, possibly just for public consumption. The anti-Fidelistas in Little Havana, the Japanese soldiers who hid out in the New Guinea brush for forty years after their emperor surrendered, are mere hobbyists compared to the ferocious defenders of all things GOP. Although one can’t blame the surviving CREEPsters — monsters such as Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz — for strenuously resisting any exposure of the true “Nixon legacy”. A hundred years from now, I believe the decision to allow Nixon to escape a full accounting will be considered possibly the greatest political tragedy of its era.






19 replies
  1. 1
    Adam C says:

    I am from Canada… I have no skin in the game.

    Bwa-ha-ha! When Nixon called our Prime Minister an asshole, he had no idea of the cunning form our vengeance would take!

    …actually, Trudeau’s response (“I’ve been called worse things by better people”) was probably good enough.

  2. 2
    Hawes says:

    You mention that Nixon escaping accountability will be seen as “the greatest political tragedy of its era”, but I’m not sure I see it that way.

    First, consider the rampant revisionism surrounding Ford’s death. In 1974, he was ripped to shreds for pardoning Nixon. Most everyone was outraged (even some Nixon Loyalists feigned a desire to clear his name).

    Ford’s pardon likely destroyed whatever chances he had at election in his own right. But at his death, there was nothing but hosannas and choruses of praise for Ford’s “selfless” decision to have the country “move on” from Watergate.

    Watergate will live on in the historical record as a significant event, but I fear it will become largely opaque to future casual observers of history. Like the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jackson’s Indian Removal, Andrew Johnson’s obstruction of Congress, Palmer’s Red Scare,the resurgence of the KKK in the 1920s and McCarthyism, Watergate will lose its “sting” as those that remember their emotional outrage die out.

    And hey, Nixon didn’t torture anyone, so….

  3. 3
    Michael says:

    Bob Bostock, a former Nixon aide who designed the original Watergate exhibit and has been enlisted by the foundation to challenge the installation, filed a 132-page letter of objection to the archives last week, claiming that the exhibit lacked the context needed to help young visitors learning about Watergate to understand exactly what Nixon did.

    Let me guess – his idealized whitewash would include this:

    Several aides took a youthfully exuberant set of actions born of an enthusiasm that wasn’t completely thought through, set out to learn what people who hated ‘Murka were communicating. President Nixon was concerned about them and courageously defended them”.

  4. 4
    shortstop says:

    The third baseman and I visited the original museum pre-Archives, when it was a total Nixon PR piece as awkwardly and unsubtly executed as pretty much everything those guys did/do.

    We almost wet our pants giggling at the Watergate exhibit. As described above, “It was a long dark tunnel that was completely uninviting, block and after block of small panels, white text on a black wall.” It was also the very last room in the museum, placed just before the warm glow and bright colors of the gift shop in a clear bid to draw visitors straight through the room without stopping. Most hilariously, it had gaping holes in the chronology that were obvious to the most casual Watergate observer: not a word about the March 21,1973 tape, for instance.

    They overplayed their hand as always. It wasn’t just a vaguely uninviting room; it was so ludicrously dark and difficult to navigate that it might as well have been called “Covering Up the Cover-Up.” We’re still laughing about it.

  5. 5
    dmsilev says:

    I was watching _Frost/Nixon_ last night, and the bit about how “my predecessors wiretapped everything” was in there as Nixon’s justification for keeping all of the tapes. And of course, the attempt by Nixon and his loyalists to rehabilitate his image was a major part of the film (and the play, I’d imagine, but I’ve never seen the stage version).

    dms

  6. 6
    roshan says:

    From the Times article:

    “I worked for Mr. Nixon during the last five years of his life,” Mr. Bostock said. “Definitely the president did things that were wrong. He said so himself. The real question always comes to, Did the actions that he took that were wrong, did they merit impeachment and removal from my office? My view is that they did not reach the level of offenses for which he could be impeached and convicted.”

    This guy is clearly not a partisan fella. He should be asked about the Clinton impeachment.

  7. 7
    AhabTRuler says:

    Did the actions that he took that were wrong, did they merit impeachment and removal from my office? My view is that they did not reach the level of offenses for which he could be impeached and convicted.”

    No, US presidents resign in disgrace all the time. He really only wanted to spend more time with Pat & the kids.

    Also, too.

  8. 8
    Nellcote says:

    A hundred years from now, I believe the decision to allow Nixon to escape a full accounting will be considered possibly the greatest political tragedy of its era.

    I’ve always believed this. The downward spiral AKA lawlessness of conservatism began here.

  9. 9
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Not to mention Ben Stein’s particularly insightful take:

    “Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POWs, ended the war in the Mideast, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Eretz Israel’s life, started the Environmental Protection Administration. Does anyone remember what he did that was bad?

    Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable. He lied to protect his subordinates who were covering up a ridiculous burglary that no one to this date has any clue about its purpose. He lied so he could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going. That was his crime. He was a peacemaker and he wanted to make a world where there was a generation of peace. And he succeeded.

    That is his legacy. He was a peacemaker. He was a lying, conniving, covering up peacemaker. He was not a lying, conniving drug addict like JFK, a lying, conniving war starter like LBJ, a lying, conniving seducer like Clinton—a lying, conniving peacemaker.”

  10. 10
    Woodrowfan says:

    They always miss the point. Nixon was not going to be impeached because he (secretly) recorded his conversations, he was going to be impeached because those tapes revealed that he broke the law repeatedly.

  11. 11
    JGabriel says:

    Anne Laurie @ Top:

    A hundred years from now, I believe the decision to allow Nixon to escape a full accounting will be considered possibly the greatest political tragedy of its era.

    Depends on how you define era.

    If that era includes W’s administration, then I’m pretty sure failing to prosecute torture will top it.

    .

  12. 12
    mai naem says:

    @Nellcote: Also a good part of the reason they went after Clinton. They couldn’t go after Carter because that would have looked like revenge.

  13. 13
    dj spellchecka says:

    @ Zuzu’s Petals, re: ben stein:

    actually nixon WAS “a lying, conniving, covering up peacemaker,” [if peacemaker can be defined as warbringer.] he campaigned on his “secret plan” to end the vietnam war while undercutting the paris peace talks…then he escalated the “peacemaking” by bombing the ### out of vietnam and invading cambodia before, in the run up to the 72 reelection, deciding to cut ties with the south vietnamese army

  14. 14
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    @dj spellchecka:

    Yep. And he and K delayed withdrawing the troops because they didn’t want to affect the ’72 elections.

    I wonder how many Americans and Vietnamese died because of Nixon’s political manuevering?

  15. 15
    Anne Laurie says:

    @JGabriel:

    If that era includes W’s administration, then I’m pretty sure failing to prosecute torture will top it.

    I consider the Cheney Regency ‘the fruit of the poisoned tree’. Cheney emerged from the Watergate rubble with the firm conviction that the only thing Nixon did wrong was not being evil enough — if he’d just toughed it out, denied everything, blackmailed the naysayers and maybe disappeared a few journalists, all the agitation about ‘lying’ and ‘corruption’ and ‘spying’ would’ve been… containable. Starting two wars based on lies, and torturing people who got in the way of those fantasies, was in a very straightforward sense the natural product of letting Nixon escape reckoning for his original crimes. A thorough public examination of the rotteness behind the Committee to Re-Elect the President wouldn’t have changed the souls of the CREEPsters, but it would have made it a lot harder for them to infect future administrations with their particular brand of soulessness.

  16. 16
    JenJen says:

    @shortstop: I also visited the Nixon Library many years ago, and remember actually laughing out loud at the pitiful Watergate “exhibit.” I was gently reminded by my friends at the time that the Library wasn’t an “official” library like the other Presidential Libraries, and was run by former Nixon loyalists and funded privately.

    Reading this account brought it all rushing back… thanks for reminding me that the teensy Watergate portion dumped right out into the gift shop (where I picked up an Elvis and Nixon fridge magnet and got the hell out of there; the whole place just kind of creeped me out).

    In fact, I even exchanged a few emails about the Library with the former curator. Until reading this post, I hadn’t even realized that the National Archives had taken control and booted the exhibit in order to design an accurate one. Sounds like a superb idea.

  17. 17
    Gary D says:

    I consider Ford’s pardon of Nixon, after swearing to a Senate committee he would not pardon Nixon if appointed, alone enough to make him the all-time worst President. He taught the two political parties that a President is above the law and the Republicans learned the lesson well.

  18. 18
    shortstop says:

    @JenJen: The Nixon-Elvis magnet was also our purchase from the gift shop! Hilariously parallel experiences had we. Thanks for the laugh.

  19. 19
    kansi says:

    It’s not against the law if the President does it. Sheesh!

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