December 10, 2011
December 10, 2011
Should the National Archives be in the business of presenting objective public history at the nation’s presidential libraries? Or should the private organizations that fund many of these institutions be able to lionize their man in the White House? In an exclusive from the upcoming issue of Miller-McCunemagazine, learn how the fractious new partnership between the Archives and the foundation intent on rehabilitating Richard Nixon’s legacy has become the issue’s bellwether.
Even before Bob Bostock saw the new Watergate exhibit at the Nixon Presidential Library, he knew he would hate it.
He had been a Nixon loyalist since the age of 14, when, as a political junkie “counter to the counterculture,” he campaigned for Tricky Dick’s 1972 reelection out of a storefront office in Hackensack, New Jersey. Later, Bostock worked as an aide to the post-presidential Nixon and wrote the text of the original Watergate display, which opened along with the library itself in 1990.
His Watergate gallery covered most of the familiar topics—the break-in at the Democratic National Committee, the 18-and-a-half-minute gap in the White House tapes, the “smoking gun” recording that led to Nixon’s resignation. But his version, vetted by Nixon himself, was seen by many academic historians as an effort not just to tell Nixon’s side of the story, but to bring about a wholesale shift in public perception of the scandal. Bostock heaped blame on the Democrats, and included a quote in the exhibit suggesting that The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein may have offered bribes to obtain their scoops.
It has been almost five years since the public last saw the display. In the interim, the library and its museum have been transformed from a strictly private institution controlled by Nixon’s old entourage into a private-public partnership overseen by the National Archives and Records Administration, as are the 12 other presidential libraries. Nixon’s presidential papers, which had been sequestered in a government facility in College Park, Maryland, have now been sent to the library in Yorba Linda, California, and the process of opening them to academic researchers and the public has been accelerated considerably.
Achieving this required a change in legislation and years of negotiation between the government and the Richard Nixon Foundation, representing the president’s family, friends, and loyal aides. Under the deal they brokered, the old Watergate gallery was the first thing to go—even before the federal government formally took over and Tim Naftali, a respected Cold War historian, was installed as the library’s director.
It was also the first exhibit that Naftali set out to replace. The new gallery, he promised, would tell the Watergate story without partisan spin, drawing on the rich, if unflattering, material on the scandal now available from Nixon’s presidential archive.
To Bostock, that was when everything went to hell. He suggested keeping the old display as an artifact to show alongside the new one, and he offered to record an oral history of how his exhibit had been put together. But Naftali “pretty much blew me off,” he recalled. “As a historian, I would have thought that was something he would be interested in doing.”
Bostock’s disgruntlement turned to indignation, as months, and then years, went by without a new exhibit. As he and the other Nixon loyalists involved with the library heard more about Naftali’s plans for the new gallery—a full oral history, spiced with extracts from the White House tapes and court records—they began to see Naftali as someone bent on denigrating Nixon’s reputation, and started fighting back. “Instead of an unapologetic tribute,” Bostock said of the gallery, “it’s now an unapologetic attack.”
He was far from the only one to turn on Naftali. John Taylor, the head of the foundation, who had been Nixon’s post-presidential chief of staff, clashed with Naftali repeatedly and all but ceased face-to-face communication. More than a quarter of the library’s volunteer docents quit during Naftali’s first three years on the job; they evidently did not appreciate his efforts to introduce them, through the White House tapes, to the Plumbers and to Nixon’s anti-Semitic rants. Susan Naulty, who worked for the foundation for years as the library’s archivist, said in 2009 that the National Archives takeover of the reading room and archives reminded her of the destruction of Carthage by the Romans, “who, if my memory serves me right, poured salt over the ground after leveling the city.”
John Taylor called the standoff “the last battle of Watergate.”
The new exhibit finally opened last spring, to scathing reviews by loyal Nixon supporters and raves by just about everyone else. Many in the Nixon camp saw it as a betrayal and bridled at the idea that a presidential library should be so openly critical of its subject. “It’s not hard to find stuff that talks about Watergate from an anti-Nixon point of view,” Bostock argued. “But there are very few places where you can find it told from a pro-Nixon point of view.”
Soon after, one docent wrote a widely publicized resignation letter characterizing Naftali as a “Manchurian” director who had all but desecrated the graves of Richard and Pat Nixon. And Bruce Herschensohn, a former deputy special assistant in the Nixon White House, asked the library to return his personal papers; he donated them instead to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, where he teaches in the School of Public Policy.
The interests of the National Archives, responsible for managing records and providing access to historians, have a tendency to run counter to those of the private foundations that establish and help support presidential libraries, which mostly want to lionize their man in the Oval Office.
But Nixon’s is the most hotly contested legacy, because Watergate resulted in unique circumstances that put his records under lock and key. As soon as Nixon resigned, Congress passed the 1974 Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, which made sure Nixon and his associates could not lay hands on the White House documents that were most embarrassing to them…
December 10, 2011
Each day, for 268 days, there have been the same videos: Syrians coming come out of the woodwork, filling alleys in previously quiescent neighborhoods. They have become experts in the art of protest, employing ornate signs and candles to call for the end of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and, increasingly, the president’s execution. They are killed in steadily increasing numbers — more than 4,000 by last count, according to the United Nations.
Who represents these protesters is a matter of dispute — a Syrian opposition delegation was memorably pelted with eggs in Cairo last month by fellow anti-regime activists who objected to the group’s apparent willingness to negotiate with the Assad regime. But who the protesters are is no mystery: They are the product of an extraordinary demographic boom in Syria that has left huge swathes of the country disenfranchised and poor. And they are very angry.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, Syria boasted one of the most rapidly expanding populations in the world. The country’s population doubled from 5.3 million in 1963 to 10.6 million in 1986, and then more than doubled again during the past quarter-century, to approximately 23 million. Before birth rates began falling in the mid-1980s, only two countries — Yemen and Rwanda — had higher fertility rates, according to Youssef Courbage, a researcher at the National Institute for Demographic Studies in Paris, in a paper titled “Fertility Transition in Syria.”
At the peak of Syria’s demographic boom, 44 Syrians were born for every 1,000 people, far exceeding the population growth in neighboring Lebanon (30 births per 1,000 people), and dwarfing that in the United States (16 births per 1,000), according to World Bank data. Population growth was also disproportionately focused in the countryside, creating a swelling class of have-nots in the new Syria.
Syria’s birth rates have declined in recent years, but still remain equal to other revolutionary states in the Arab world. Twenty-four Syrians were born for every 1,000 people in 2008 — the same as Egypt, and exceeding Tunisia’s rate of 18 births per 1,000 people.
If the areas where these trends have been felt the strongest were superimposed on a map, they would largely line up with the regions of greatest unrest in Syria. From the south in Deraa, where the protests first gained momentum, to the east in Deir al-Zour, this is a revolt of the neglected countryside. It is also a revolt of long-persecuted cities such as Hama and down-and-out suburbs inDamascus and Homs – neighborhoods that many of the migrants from the countryside call home.
The Syrian government is at least partially to blame for the country’s runaway birth rates. As far back as 1956, Youssef Helbaoui, the head of economic analysis in Syria’s Planning Department, argued that “A birth-control policy has no reason for being in this country. [Thomas] Malthus could not find any followers among us.”
President Hafez al-Assad, who presided over the population spike of the 1980s, followed the same policies as his predecessors. As Courbage notes, he kept contraceptives scarce and argued that high growth rates “have stimulated proper socio-economic improvements.” Until 1987, his government even encouraged births by awarding medals and small material gifts to families with over 10 children.
The result is that, in this era of youth revolt, Syria has one of the youngest populations in the Arab world. From the mid-1960s through the 1990s, the proportion of Syria’s population below age 15 held constant at roughly half, while the percentage of Syrians older than 70 declined to a meager 3 percent. Even today, after fertility rates have declined, nearly 60 percent of Syrians are believed to be under the age of 20.
This long-running demographic boom has fundamentally transformed the country that the Assad family has ruled for over 60 years. At the end of World War II in 1945, when Hafez al-Assad was still a schoolboy, Damascus was a sleepy town of 300,000 inhabitants. By the time he seized control of the state in 1970, it had surpassed 800,000 — and by the late 1980s, it had exploded to over 3 million, according to Patrick Seale’s Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East…
December 10, 2011
Jon Corzine’s testimony before the House agriculture committee may mark the definitive end to the Democratic party’s love affair with Wall Street.
Once upon a time, Wall Street bankers were Republicans. Not terribly ideological, they preferred whenever possible a minimum of taxation, regulation, and government in general, but they didn’t make a fetish of it. As the GOP moved right starting in the mid-1960s the east coast Republican establishment began to crumble, and by the late 1980s it was mostly gone. These silk stocking conservatives had been driven out of the Republican party by a social agenda that frightened them, a budget deficit that threatened their livelihoods, and a base that increasingly viewed moderates as RINOs (“Republicans In Name Only”).
By the early 1990s Wall Street was ready to go Democratic. In his new book, Back To Work, former President Bill Clinton writes,
“For every person on Wall Street who resembles the character Michael Douglas played in the Wall Street movies, there are many others who give lots of money every year to increase educational and economic opportunities for poor kids and inner-city entrepreneurs.
“Most of these people are grateful for their success and know that because of current economic circumstances, they’re in the best position to contribute to solving our long-term debt problem and to making the investments necessary to restore our economic vitality. Many of them supported me when I raised their taxes in 1993, because I didn’t attack them for their success. I simply asked them, as the primary beneficiaries of the 1980s growth and tax cuts, to help us balance our budget and invest in our future by creating more jobs and higher incomes for other people.”In crafting his first budget bill, Clinton was mindful of the bond market to such a degree that James Carville famously complained, “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the President or the Pope or as a .400 basball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”
The Wall Street-Democratic Party love affair came out of the shadows and into the sunlight when Robert Rubin, former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, became Treasury secretary. The economy was booming, the budget deficit was disappearing, and all was right with the world. The romance deepened through most of the aughts, so much so that in 2010 Rich Lowry of National Review complained, “the Democratic majority was bought and paid for by Wall Street and corporate money.” In 2008 the finance sector actually gave more to the Democrats than to the Republicans, something that hadn’t happened since 1990…
December 10, 2011
WE JOURNALISTS are probably too bleary-eyed after a sleepless night to understand the full significance of what has just happened in Brussels. What is clear is that after a long, hard and rancorous negotiation, at about 5am this morning the European Union split in a fundamental way.
In an effort to stabilise the euro zone, France, Germany and 21 other countries have decided to draft their own treaty to impose more central control over national budgets. Britain and three others have decided to stay out. In the coming weeks, Britain may find itself even more isolated. Sweden, the Czech Republic and Hungary want time to consult their parliaments and political parties before deciding on whether to join the new union-within-the-union.
So two decades to the day after the Maastricht Treaty was concluded, launching the process towards the single European currency, the EU’s tectonic plates have slipped momentously along same the fault line that has always divided it—the English Channel.
Confronted by the financial crisis, the euro zone is having to integrate more deeply, with a consequent loss of national sovereignty to the EU (or some other central co-ordinating body); Britain, which had secured a formal opt-out from the euro, has decided to let them go their way.
Whether the agreement does anything to stabilise the euro is moot. The agreement is heavily tilted towards budget discipline and austerity. It does little to generate money in the short term to arrest the run on sovereigns, nor does it provide a longer-term perspective of jointly-issued bonds. Much will depend on how the European Central Bank responds in the coming days and weeks.
Some doubt remains over whether and how the “euro-plus” zone will have access to EU institutions—such as the European Commission, which conducts economic assessments and recommends action, and the European Court of Justice, which Germany hopes will ensure countries adopt proper balanced-budget rules—over Britain’s objections.
But especially for France, on the brink of losing its AAA credit rating and now the junior partner to Germany, this is a famous political victory. President Nicolas Sarkozy had long favoured the creation of a smaller, “core” euro zone, without the awkward British, Scandinavians and eastern Europeans that generally pursue more liberal, market-oriented policies. And he has wanted the core run on an inter-governmental basis, ie by leaders rather than by supranational European institutions. This would allow France, and Mr Sarkozy in particular, to maximise its impact.
Mr Sarkozy made substantial progress on both fronts. The president tried not to gloat when he emerged at 5am to explain that an agreement endorsed by all 27 members of the EU had proved impossible because of British obstruction. “You cannot have an opt-out and then ask to participate in all the discussion about the euro that you did not want to have, and which you also criticised,” declared the French president.
With the entry next year of Croatia, which will sign its accession treaty today, the EU is still growing, said Mr Sarkozy. “The bigger Europe is, the less integrated it can be. That is an obvious truth.”
For Britain the benefit of the bargain in Brussels is far from clear. It took a good half-hour after the end of Mr Sarkozy’s appearance for Mr Cameron to emerge and explain his action. The prime minister claimed he had taken a “tough decision but the right one” for British interests—particularly for its financial-services industry. In return for his agreement to change the EU treaties, Mr Cameron had wanted a number of safeguards for Britain. When he did not get them, he used his veto.
After much studied vagueness on his part about Britain’s objectives, Mr Cameron’s demand came down to a protocol that would ensure Britain would be given a veto on financial-services regulation (see PDF copy here). The British government has become convinced that the European Commission, usually a bastion of liberalism in Europe, has been issuing regulations hostile to the City of London under the influence of its French single-market commissioner, Michel Barnier. And yet strangely, given the accusation that Brussels was taking aim at the heart of the British economy, almost all of the new rules issued so far have been passed with British approval (albeit after much bitter backroom fighting). Tactically, too, it seemed odd to make a stand in defence of the financiers that politicians, both in Britain and across the rest of European, prefer to denounce.
Mr Cameron said he is “relaxed” about the separation. The EU has always been about multiple speeds; he was glad Britain had stayed out of the euro and out of the passport-free Schengen area. He said that life in the EU, particularly the single market, will continue as normal. “We wish them well as we want the euro zone to sort out its problems, to achieve stability and growth that all of Europe needs.” The drawn faces of senior officials seemed to say otherwise…