All The President’s Libraries

Adam Nagourney at NYT:

The sign at the entrance to the largest exhibition room devoted to a single subject at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum reads “Watergate.” But on Friday, the exhibit was nearly empty, dominated by a 30-foot blank slate of a wall that is testimony to a new battle set off by this still-polarizing former president: how to mark the scandal that forced him from office 36 years ago.

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.

The foundation went so far as to invoke Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that those presidents surreptitiously taped White House conversations before Nixon stepped on the scene.

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.”

The Nixon Foundation does not have veto power and by law serves in an advisory role. The final ruling will be made by officials of the National Archives within the next few weeks.

Jeff Neumann at Gawker:

Uh, sure! It’s pretty hard to argue with someone like that. The Times also interviewed the director of the museum, Timothy Naftali, who offered this:

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.”

Mr. Naftali spoke in his basement office, where – with no apparent appreciation of the irony – he flinched when a reporter took out a tape recorder for an interview, saying that he would not agree to taping of an interview in his office in the Nixon museum.

For years the National Archives has been trying to add the Nixon Library to the presidential library system. But the Nixon Foundation, apparently unwilling to accept facts, has held the process up with protests like this latest one involving the Watergate exhibit. Bostock adds:

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.”

Yeah, seriously. Watergate wasn’t that big of a deal. But getting blow jobs and ruining perfectly good cigars in the Oval Office, well…

Also, looking for a picturesque, meaningful setting for your wedding? Try the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California! They can offer you and your guests “an unparalleled experience.”

Matthew Yglesias:

I was invited to do a book talk at the Nixon Presidential Library a couple of years ago, and while out there I naturally saw the museum itself. It was at the time a fascinating project in a state of transition from being run by an organization of Nixon loyalists to one being run by real historians from the National Archives. Adam Nagourney has a really interesting piece in the NYT about the latest battles playing out as the new management unveils their version of the exhibit on Watergate.

Jonathan Bernstein:

In case you’re wondering whether Richard Nixon was a crook, imagine the following:

Suppose that Barack Obama was convinced that Marc Thiessen, John Bolton, and Paul Wolfowitz had removed important secret files from their various government offices when they left the Bush administration, files that revealed embarrassing, and perhaps illegal, actions by the administration.  Suppose further that Obama believed that Wolfowitz et al. had secured those files at AEI.

With me so far?  Now suppose that Obama repeatedly ordered Rahm Emanuel and other top White House officials to break into AEI in order to get those files back, either in order to leak them to embarrass the Republicans or, perhaps, to blackmail George W. Bush.  That is, suppose that Emanuel suggested to the president that perhaps they could blackmail Bush, and Obama responded by continuing to order the break-in.

That’s one of the things that happened in Watergate (substituting Nixon for Obama, Haldeman for Emanuel, and Brookings for AEI).  The orders, that is; as it turned out, the president’s men never quite did get around to breaking into Brookings, although they did hire and assign people to do it, and scheme and plot about it quite a bit.  The president’s men, sometimes at Nixon’s instructions, sometimes with his knowledge, and sometimes perhaps without his direct instructions or knowledge but always in keeping with his general orders to his stop staff, also planted spies in the camp of Democratic campaigns; broke into Democratic headquarters, photographed documents, and planted bugs; broke into the the office of a Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to learn things that could be used to destroy his image in the press; attempted to plant left-wing materials in the home of the guy who shot George Wallace; planned to (and perhaps did) selectively leak classified materials about foreign policy in order to hurt the Democrats; forged materials about foreign policy (the death of South Vietnam’s President Diem) in order to plant false stories in the press that would hurt the Democrats; wiretapped government officials; paid a private investigator to tail Ted Kennedy; performed other dirty tricks such as forged letters intended to manipulate the Democratic presidential nomination process (efforts that may indeed have been successful); and other illegal, abuse and unethical actions — this is not a comprehensive list.

Those were the original crimes.  What followed was obstruction of justice as the White House, with the active leadership of the president, lied to FBI investigators and grand juries, destroyed evidence, suborned perjury by prearranging false testimony; suborned perjury by paying off witnesses and either promising or at least hinting at the promise of presidential pardons in exchange for false testimony, and using the authority of the presidency to derail and undermine FBI investigators and prosecutors.  Again, the president was personally actively involved in all of those things.

(And that’s not counting other important abuses of power such as waging war without the authorization of Congress and illegally disrupting the legal disbursement of government funds, and also not counting the president’s purely personal possible crimes involving his taxes).

Oh, and for what it’s worth…Nagourney writes that Nixon resigned “in the face of likely impeachment.”  That’s too weak.  It was certain impeachment, and virtually certain conviction.  The House Judiciary Committee had voted in favor of impeachment while Nixon was still fighting against turning over several (additional) tapes of White House conversations; when those tapes were released, each of the Republicans on the Committee declared that he would now flip and support impeachment on the House floor.  As far as the trial, Nixon’s congressional liaison estimated that only seven Senators still supported the president.  I can’t imagine any combination of circumstances that would have prevented impeachment, and while there’s always uncertainty in human affairs, it’s very difficult to imagine how Nixon could have escaped conviction.  It’s worth mentioning too that all of that was the case even though plenty of incriminating evidence was still unknown to Congress at the time.

Richard Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, so it’s been 36 years.  The paper of record should do a better job of getting these things right.

Mark Kleiman:

If you’re a scientist offended by the right-wing war on science, please don’t take it personally. The wingnuts hate history, too.

Every form of reasoned discourse has the same liberal bias. The whole notion that there is a world of facts subject to investigation, rather than merely competing assertions, is deeply offensive to the unreality-based community.

Are there illiberal, anti-rational forces on the left? Of course there are. But they’re aberrational. Even the mainstream right now seems to have adopted Nineteen Eighty-Four as an operations manual, rather than a warning.

Anne Laurie:

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.

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