Historians Should Embrace Politics


Mr. Lauck received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa in 1997 and his law degree from the University of Minnesota in 2000. He is the author of American Agriculture and the Problem of Monopoly (University of Nebraska Press, 2000) and Daschle v. Thune: Anatomy of a High Plains Senate Race (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007). He is currently Senior Advisor to U.S. Senator John Thune.

Some historians tend to follow politics closely. Robert Dallek, Leo Ribuffo, and Joyce Appleby, for example, have recently signed on to support Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency, along with some of their fellow colleagues. The organization “Historians Against the War,” for another example, has called for an end to the American “occupation of Iraq” and earlier this year successfully lobbied the American Historical Association to condemn the war. Most historians, unfortunately, do not ascend to this level of political involvement. Even fewer write about such political experiences. I wish they would.

Politically-inclined historians might be interested in my new book Daschle v. Thune: Anatomy of a High Plains Senate Race (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), which chronicles a Senate race in which, for the first time in more than half a century, a party leader in the United States Senate lost a re-election bid. Since this Senate race between Tom Daschle and John Thune coincided with the famously contentious Bush-Kerry Presidential race, The New York Times deemed it “the other big race of 2004.” Roll Call placed the contest in the top-ten Senate races of the last fifty years.

The setting for the race is South Dakota which, for those interested in close-run political races, is an ideal state to examine. The professional historian-turned-Senator George McGovern (with a history Ph.D. from Northwestern University) won his first race in South Dakota in 1962 by 597 votes. Now former Senator Tom Daschle won his first race for the House of Representatives in 1978 by 139 votes. Current Senator John Thune lost the 2002 Senate election to Senator Tim Johnson by 524 votes. South Dakota is no stranger to barn-burner elections.

South Dakota politics also provides a window on American political history in recent decades. The Daschle-Thune race of 2004 was largely shaped by the contours carved by 1960s liberalism and 1980s conservatism. In the 1960s and early 1970s, in keeping with the strength of political liberalism during those decades, South Dakota elected two of the most liberal members of the Senate, George McGovern and James Abourezk. As conservatives began to organize against the movements of the 1960s, however, both in South Dakota and nationally, the political appeal of liberalism withered. Senator Abourezk declined to run for re-election in 1978 and Senator McGovern met defeat in his 1980 re-election attempt as Reaganism surged nationally.

Tom Daschle worked for both Senators McGovern and Abourezk and carried on their liberal causes. John Thune, on the other hand, was in college when Reagan was elected President and became a product of the Reagan revolution. When Daschle and Thune ran against one another in 2004 it was a clash, writ small, of the larger forces of McGovernism and Reaganism which still animate American politics. In short, much can be learned about American politics in recent decades by studying the Daschle-Thune race of 2004.

During this important Senate race, I was consultant to now-Senator Thune and an assistant professor of history at South Dakota State University and so I had a good view of the action. Getting involved in the Senate race provided many lessons in practical politics that cannot be learned in library stacks and I commend the experience to other historians. Charles Beard was right when he lamented that the historical profession was impaired by “too much calm, not enough passion … too many books, not enough strife of experience.” [1] Jesse Lemisch, with a bit more flare, once said that a “good dose of tear gas makes us think more clearly as historians.” [2]

The socialist Michael Walzer made the best case for participatory history in his book, The Company of Critics. “Closeness is the crucial quality of the good social critic,” Walzer says when promoting the model of the “connected critic” over what Jacques Bouversee deems the “official marginality” of many university professors. Walzer also notes that “it is one of the discoveries of modern democracy—an advance that we have made over the Greeks—that by not killing the critic, we acquire the right not to admire him.” [3]

I realized, of course, that there would be inevitable criticism of combining scholarship and political involvement, but I thought it was important to use my unique vantage point and write an account of the Daschle-Thune race because it can tell us much about the practice of American politics. Too often, Thomas Carlyle once wrote, “Battles and war-tumults which for the time din every ear, and with joy or terror intoxicate every heart, pass away like tavern-brawls.” [4] I wanted to ensure that the details of the Daschle-Thune race did not fade into the recesses of our memory too quickly, losing “some significance that once was noted in them, some quality of enchantment that once was theirs,” as Carl Becker famously worried. [5]

As another political season quickly approaches, historians should get involved. This plunge into the public sphere will provide more perspectives which can only enhance teaching, historical scholarship, and the stacks-centered life of the scholar. American democracy needs more scholar-citizens. Do not forget your laptop, because what you see might inspire your next book.


[1] Cushing Strout, The Pragmatic Revolt in American History: Carl Becker and Charles Beard (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958), 4.

[2] Jesse Lemisch, “2.5 Cheers for Bridging the Gap Between Activism and the Academy,” Radical History Review 85, no. 1 (Winter 2003), 241.

[3] Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century, 2nd ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2002), xiii, 8, 16.

[4] Thomas Carlyle, “On History” (1830), reprinted in Fritz Stern, ed., The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present (New York: Meridian Books, 1968), 93.

[5] Carl Becker, “Everyman His Own Historian,” American Historical Review vol. 37, no. 2 (January 1932), 236.

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    More Comments:

    N. Friedman - 1/1/2008


    You might have answered most of these questions, I don't know. After all, you basically say you are not sure. I would not wish to be in your position at the time. It sounds awful.

    Legally, if one does not know the answer 100%, the answer is typically "I do not know." If one does not remember 100%, the answer is typically "I don't remember." Normally, the next questions will be, "Do you know anything about the answer?" or "Do you remember anything about it?" or words to that effect. If one knows or remembers fully, one should answer with a complete answer, hopefully "Yes" or "No" unless you are asked an open ended question. At least the above are the most common answers when one has an attorney present. That, of course, turns a deposition into a game of finding information and, for the witness, of avoiding saying anything without committing perjury. In any event, a witness must tell the complete truth, as you certainly know. The 100% issue arises because one cannot say they know or remember the answer to the question presented if they do not know or remember it. Half way answers can sometimes be real misleading.

    Of course, in the case of your testimony, it sounds like the goal was merely to get you to say your role as a government employee. So, you were no doubt doing exactly what the questioning attorney wanted you to do.

    I agree with you that an historian reviewing the material could pull out snippets and work it into any lather desired. In fact, any imaginable lather can be created.

    I recall, with this in mind, that certain writers on the very far left of the political spectrum take a speech given by David ben Gurion in which he states, at one point, something to the effect that the country belongs to the Arabs, etc., etc. If one bothers to track down the speech to see what he was really speaking about, he was stating what Arabs thought, not what he thought. In fact, in the same speech - and this is in 1938 -, he says that his people's homes were being attacked but he wanted them to understand they were in a war, not merely suffering terror by odd gangs. And, he wanted them to understand that, while they thought they were defending their homes and lives, the Arab side saw things differently and he wanted them to know what they thought and why. Which is to say, it was a speech that showed considerable sophistication, understanding how two sides saw the dispute very differently. But, it was not a speech about what he understood the objective circumstances of the entire dispute.

    Such, you will note, is the way of the world, with historians and politicians willing to do anything to make a small point.

    On another topic, Mr. Paul has now made me out to be a warmonger for believing that the demise of the USSR was a good thing. Evidently, he visited the place and, while there, thought the health care system was good. I guess they gave him some aspirin.

    I hope that you have a very happy new year!!!

    Maarja Krusten - 1/1/2008

    N., since you are a lawyer and said in the comment under the other article that you found the extracts from my testimony to be fascinating, here are a couple of extracts from two pleadings filed by Public Citizen on behalf of Professor Stanley Kutler in Civ. A. 92-662-NHJ.

    The first is drawn from Plaintiffs' Opposition to Intervenors' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, filed August 31, 1994. All information in brackets has been added by me. I deleted the name of one of the witnesses who, as I did, testified about the meeting about deletions to the Watergate Special Prosecution Force tapes in 1989. Here's how Public Citizen told the story in that 1994 pleading, filed with the court on behalf of Stanley Kutler:

    "Under its regulations, the Archives has a legal obligation to "open for public access each integral file segment [such as the tapes] upon completion of initial archival processing on that segment," with priority to be given to processing abuse of power materials, insofar as practicable. 36 C.F.R. § 1275.42(a). The term "initial archival processing" refers to the archival review of the tapes undertaken from 1977-1987.
    Id. § 1275.16(g). [Footnote 2]

    [Footnote 2 reads: Initial archival processing expressly includes 'identifying materials requiring further processing,' which are then referred to the Senior Archival Panel under § 1275.46. When the archivists completed their archival review of the tapes in 1987, they had referred no issues to this Panel, nor were there any unresolved processing issues. Def. Resp. to Requests for Admissions Nos. 1-3.

    Therefore, the Archives should have begun the process of releasing the tapes during 1987. Indeed, during the mid-1980s, that was the Archives' plan. Specifically, the Archives planned to release the Watergate-related tapes in 1989, to be followed by release of cabinet and legislative leadership meetings later in the same year, with the subsequent release of six-month chronological segments in 1991 and each year thereafter through 1995 until all releasable portions of the 4000 hours had been made public. Letter to R. Stan Mortenson [one of Nixon's attorneys] from James E. O'Neill, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries (July 26, 1985) (Pl. Ex. B); Letter to R. Stan Mortenson from James E. O'Neill, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries (April 4, 1986) (Pl. Ex. C); Letter to R. Stan Mortenson from James E. O'Neill, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries (October 22, 1986 ) ( P1. Ex . D).

    During the period from 1985 through early 1987, Mr. Nixon worked behind the scenes to convince the Archives to let him (1) set a schedule for release of the tapes; and (2) choose the tapes that he wanted released last. See Pl. Exs. B-H. At first, the Archives appeared willing to accede to Mr. Nixon's demands in return for his agreement to establish a Nixon Presidential Library to be administered by the Archives. See Pl. Exs. B & C.

    The Archives shifted course when Mr. Nixon sought increasingly longer delays in public release of the tapes and more complete veto authority over particular releases. Letter to James E. O'Neill, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries, from R. Stan Mortenson (August 11, 1986) (Pl. Ex. E); Letter to R. Stan Mortenson from James E. O'Neill, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries (September 10, 1986) (Pl. Ex. F); Letter to R. Stan Mortenson from James E. O'Neill, Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries (November 14, 1986) (Pl. Ex. G).

    [Maarja's note: James O'Neill died in 1987. John T. Fawcett was named to succeed him as Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries later in 1987.]

    After Mr. Nixon failed to convince the Archives to delay opening the tapes in accordance with his proposals, he embarked on a new strategy for delaying their release.

    Mr. Nixon had his agents review the processed tapes to identify particular tape segments that he did not want to be released. Then, rather than filing formal objections in accordance with the Archives' regulations, which would be a matter of public record, Mr. Nixon brought 70 items from the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (and vetted by Judge Sirica for privacy and other reasons) to the attention of senior Archives' staff. Lyons Dep. at 30-34, 77; Nixon Resp. to Interrog. No. 12."

    [Maarja's note: You see a reference above by Public Citizen to Nixon's responses to Interrogatories. Earlier, NARA, in its own Interrogatory responses filed with the court in July 1992, made no mention of Nixon being the source of the 70 items. That Nixon was the source came out in subsequent testimony in August and September 1992. In its first set of responses to interrogatories in July 1992, NARA mentions a list of 70 items but the context suggests, incorrectly, that they were generated internally. NARA's interrogatory responses mentioned an Archives' referral to a Senior Archival Panel, an agency body which until 1989 only had been construed as having the authority to consider questions generated from within but *not from outside* NARA.

    In citing in this pleading Nixon's agent as the source of the list of 70 items, Kutler's attorney had to turn to later information: a deposition given in August 1992 by a NARA official and to a document filed with the court on behalf of Nixon in 1993. Nixon, in responding to plaintiff's interrogatories in 1993, did admit he was the source of the 70 items.]

    Here is some more information from the plaintiff's August 31, 1994 pleading.

    "The [Archives] staff objected to making the deletions because they believed that at least some of the items did not warrant restriction and because it would be improper under standard archival procedures to designate the deletions as based on archivists' determinations, when they, in fact, resulted from Mr. Nixon's objections. [Krusten Dep.] at 83, 86-91, 95-97, 197-200, 202, 204-06, 209-10, 247-48, 250; [another government archivist's testimony, name deleted by Maarja for purposes of posting on HNN] Dep. at 92-105. Several archivists were so upset by the direction to delete the 70 items that they sought work elsewhere, at least in part for that reason, and one archivist was demoted in what was viewed by others to be retaliation for her disagreement with the direction. Krusten Dep. at 101-05, 115-16; [other archivist's name deleted by Maarja] Dep. at 106-07; Graboske Dep. at 204."

    Kutler's attorneys noted in an earlier pleading that "Because the public scrutinized the Archives' processing of the Nixon tapes closely, the archivists wanted to be meticulous in identifying the source of the redactions. Krusten Dep. at 89, 92-100, 246." (Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel, filed July 19, 1993.)

    As I mentioned, as I read the pleadings, it was interesting for me to see how the lawyers for the different sides laid out the story, using various bits of evidence.

    Maarja Krusten - 1/1/2008

    Hi, N., thanks for the note. In 1996, the parties (Professor Kutler, the National Archives, and President Nixon's estate -- he died in 1994, two years after I was deposed) settled. The case never went to trial. So there was no judgment by a court.

    Of course, I recognize the difference between evidence in litigation and historical evidence. In providing extracts from my deposition, I was thinking of what someone might do if they were writing about the National Archives and about my former colleagues and about me as an historian. Even an historian could cherry pick what I have said in testimony to paint whatever picture he or she wanted of me. Or he or she might not track down or be given access to pertinent documents about me and my colleagues. So I understand why people are leery of what others may write about them.

    As to lawyers, after I was deposed in September 1992, I used to go down to the District Courthouse and read the file in Kutler v. Wilson. I found it very interesting to read the pleadings and to see how the lawyers all cherry picked the evidence. From where I sat, Nixon's lawyers and the government's lawyers appeared to march in lockstep, especially in 1992 and 1993.

    I'm a federal employee, I had no private representation when I was called as a witness in the Kutler case. Attorneys from the Department of Justice ostensibly represented me and all the Archives witnesses. Given the fact that some of my testimony was not helpful to Mr. Nixon, I felt that I was on my own while I was being deposed. It was difficult but I accepted that, it happens that way sometimes in Washington. That's why I keep telling historians, know yourself, think through the pitfalls of entering the political world, and be prepared to man up if it comes to that.

    Since Dr. Lauck suggested that historians engage in the world of politics, here's some more advice from me to archivists and to historians who might decide to work for the government. In cases involving Presidential records, historians and archivists should keep in mind that the sitting President names the Attorney General, who is at the top of the reporting chain for the lawyers in DOJ's Civil Division. DOJ speaks for executive branch agencies in court. If you're called to testify in a case, think carefully about who DOJ's client is -- don't assume that it is you, even though you are a federal employee. Be prepared to be on your own, depending on what is involved in the case. Hire private representation if you don't want to go through the experience alone. I had no private representation, I had only my wits to defend me.

    Here's another snippet from my testimony. Again, this is a discovery deposition:

    BY MS. GOLDMAN [PLAINTIFF KUTLER'S ATTORNEY, PUBLIC CITIZEN]: Do you have an opinion as to why the 4,000 hours of tapes have not been released?

    MS. KOFSKY [DOJ ATTORNEY REPRESENTING NARA]: Objection. Relevance. You could answer.

    THE WITNESS [MAARJA KRUSTEN]: I would cite what is written in the University Publications's forward to the microfilm publication [Papers of the Nixon White House] published in 1988 and placed with the [Nixon Project's] President's Office Files finding aids in the public Research Room. The Forward to this publication stated that Mr. Nixon's attorneys felt that review of the tapes had not proven feasible under the negotiated agreement, the 1979 negotiated agreement, and that they should be reviewed for stricter application of the privacy standard. Of all the public statements that I have read, that one seems to be closer to the truth, as I see it, than anything else I have seen.

    [question and answer about title of publication deleted for brevity]

    MS. GOLDMAN [PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY, PUBLIC CITIZEN]: Can you explain, in your words, then, the reason that you glean from this publication that there has been a delay in releasing these tapes?

    THE WITNESS [MAARJA KRUSTEN]: There is a long public record on this issue by attorneys representing Mr. Nixon. I recall Mr. Miller [Nixon's lawyer] stating sometime in the late '70s or early '80s that none of the tapes should be released, that if a president chose to be profane with an advisor, solicitous of a congressman, or contemptuous of a political adversary, that that should not be listened to by anyone. Similar comments had been made in the press during the 1980's. If that represents a bottom-line position, then it would be in the interest of Mr, Nixon's attorneys to have the strictest possible review decisions made on the tapes.

    MS. GOLDMAN [PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY, PUBLIC CITIZEN]. And that goes to Mr. Nixon's interest. Why do you think the Archives has not released the tapes?

    MS. KOFSKY [DOJ ATTORNEY REPRESENTING NARA]: Objection as to opinion.

    THE WITNESS [MAARJA KRUSTEN]: An excess of caution.

    MS. GOLDMAN [PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY, PUBLIC CITIZEN]: Do you have any other opinions about why the Archives has not released the tapes?

    THE WITNESS [MAARJA KRUSTEN] [Refers to previous testimony about a meeting at NARA in 1989]

    N. Friedman - 1/1/2008


    A idea in a lawsuit is a bit different than the idea in an historical analysis. The lawyer for each side does cherry pick evidence. That is the whole point. The idea is to present, in a summary form that can be understood by a trier of fact (e.g. judge or jury), the position of the client of the attorney. Moreover, a good attorney attempts to present evidence that makes the other party to the dispute have a more difficult case to present. This often involves finding contradictions.

    Consider: History has contradictions in the evidence most particularly because not everyone involved has the identical agenda. Finding and explaining the direction of the bulk of the evidence is the job of an historian.

    For litigation, while some degree of contradiction in the evidence is inherent in any complex dispute for the same reason, pointing out contradictions is a fertile approach for cross-examination for obvious reasons. The point, however, is that one hunts for material with which to undermine an opponent's case, not to get at the truth.

    The trier of fact's job is to listen to the summary evidence that is presented and decide which story seems more credible. That means, in many cases, paying close attention to how witnesses comport themselves and to the logic of the story and to the believability of the evidence.

    A lawsuit is not history reproduction. It is, rather, a method to resolve disputes. There are judges who take the view that justice has little to do with the result. Rather, the goal on such approach is to get a result without stirring people to pick up weapons. For such judges, there is no way to get at what laypeople call justice in a system with each side attempting to cherry pick evidence. Hence, such judges often rely on technicalities or any other device to end a case or to force a settlement.

    Your testimony sounds very interesting. It also sounds like you must have had a terrible time. It is no fun to be deposed. It also sounds like what you said was the truth.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/30/2007

    In an interview published in the Chicago Tribune on May 26, 1986, John Ehrlichman “chuckled as he recalled his last conversation with Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security advisor. Henry said: ‘John, you know, you and I are going to look pretty stupid when those tapes are all out. Nixon’s going to be sitting there saying perfectly outrageous things and we are not protesting . . . How are we going to explain to history that there was a unique way of working with Richard Nixon?’ I said, ‘Well, Henry, I’m less concerned with that than you are.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I am very concerned about it.’”

    At a time when a mere 63 hours of tapes had been released by NARA, Alexander M. Haig asserted in his 1992 memoirs, _Inner Circles_, that verbatim transcripts might be misleading. “Without the softening effects of the wink, the nudge, the smile, and all the other subtle disclaimers involved, words spoken in such circumstances tend to make those who speak them sound like fools or thugs or worse.” (page 447)

    I’ve quoted parts of the abuse of governmental tapes in our exchanges. The requirement that the National Archives reveal at the earliest reasonable date “the full truth” about such is unique to Richard Nixon. No other archivists working with any other President’s records have had to work under a statute which gave prioritiy to releasing the worst that a President had done. I’ve often wondered in retrospect, was it fair to do that to Nixon? On the one hand, he had resigned from office amidst serious charges of abuses of power. On the other hand, his predecessors had been spared early release of information about contentious matters.

    However I myself viewed what happened, as a federal employee, I took seriously my obligations under law. You have to, the public depends on you. I’ve discussed elsewhere that prior to Nixon leaving office, the practice at donor-restricted Presidential Libraries was to set aside records dealing with contentious matters so as to let the passage of time cool things down. Unfortunately, while I’ve tried to trigger debate as to what is the better course (I myself lean more and more towards sealing records for longer periods, in part because it seems to me that the Archives struggles largely alone with its difficult mission), it is a debate in which historians largely are missing in action.

    You make an interesting point about Martin Gilbert, access to records, etc. I haven’t read the Appeasers but based on your description, I definitely plan to do so.

    Evidence can be tricky, both for lawyers and for historians. When you hear a fragment of a conversation, you don’t always know what else is going on. Since you’re a lawyer, I’ll mention that, as you know, witnesses are not always questioned about everything that happened. There are a few things that I would like to have gotten into the public record during my deposition in 1992 but no one asked me the trigger questions. There is, of course, more latitude in a discovery deposition than when a case goes to trial.

    It’s just as tricky for historians. They may hear about a meeting but not know everything else that happened. A discussion at a face to face meeting does not always tell the whole story. Someone may walk away and write a thoughtful memo in which he or she expresses concerns to one of the powerful principals. If you don't find it, you don't know about those concerns. For lack of a paper trail, the historian may not be aware of other actions taken in the matter.

    And then there is the question of cherry picking evidence. Contrast these two descriptions (quoting from my Nixon tapes deposition) of two meetings held at the National Archives. In one I describe myself and others as speaking up to ask for a referral to the Presidential Materials Review Board, an action that was not taken. In the second, later meeting, we sit silent when informed of the planned use of a senior archival panel. If you only knew of the latter, where I said that no one said anything particular in response, you might conclude we were passive and not engaged. Not so.

    And these are just a few snippets from one person’s testimony (mine). Not all the people present at the meetings that I described even were noticed for deposition. One official who was present at the first meeting happened to be the first person deposed; the meeting and the debates over what to do with Nixon’s list of deletions were not mentioned in the transcript of that testimony that I’ve read. Of all the witnesses questioned about the meetings, I gave the most detailed accounts. Although he also apparently read the other depositions, Seymour Hersh drew in large part on my testimony when he wrote his article for the New Yorker in 1992.

    Another Archives official did testify that some archivists (I named among them) expressed concerns regarding how deletions should be made to Watergate tapes. A third NARA official (my boss in the tapes processing unit) testified about telephone conversations he had after the meeting with me and with two of the other people present at the meeting at which the people expressed to him similar concerns to what I described. (He himself did not attend either of these two meetings as he was on detail from NARA to the White House at the time.)

    Again, just setting aside the other testimony, anyone writing about me could choose to cherry pick from my deposition testimony and write only about the follow up meeting at which I testified that we said little. (The passage that I have numbered 5, below.) Based on that, as a hypothetical, he or she could quote from it, then assert that this was typical of how I handled workplace matters at NARA. As a reader of that person’s account of me, if you didn’t know what I testified to regarding the earlier meeting, and had no access to the transcript of my testimony (which happens to be public record), you wouldn’t know better.

    Again, look at how differently I come across in the two meetings that I describe (items 1-4; 6 versus item 5.). That being the case, I understand why Nixon’s aides may have wondered how they might come across to historians and why, in the first passage I cite in this long post, Kissinger expressed concern about the taped conversations.

    United States District Court for the District of Columbia
    Excerpts from the Deposition Testimony Of Maarja Krusten,
    In Civil Action 92-662-NHJ,
    Stanley I. Kutler, et al., Plaintiff v. Don W. Wilson, in his official capacity as Archivist of the United States, Defendant,
    Richard Nixon, Intervenor,
    As copied from Transcript of Proceedings

    1. KUTLER’S ATTORNEY: “Tell me what happened at that meeting. . . . in August or September of 1989.

    KRUSTEN: “Mr. Fawcett [Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries] began the meeting by saying, he understood that we had a problem with something we had been asked to do. He said, in general terms, that we needed to work in such a manner as to be fair to Mr. Nixon. He cited examples from his Presidential Library experience at the Johnson Library, which was a donor-restricted library, and cited examples of where [a]rchivists had to withdraw materials at the request of Mr. Johnson, although they did not always agree with the archival standard being applied.

    Ms. Howard [supervisory archivist, Nixon Project, textual processing unit] responded by telling him that those examples were not relevant, because the Nixon Materials were not being [handled]. . . as a donor-restricted library would, in the sense that they had to conform to the Presidential Recordings and Materials Act and its implementing regulations. And she stated that it was all of our desire that we continue to operate within our regulations.”
    [Krusten deposition, Civil Action 92-662-NHJ, 94-95, September 22, 1992)

    2. “. . . . Mr. Fawcett cited additional examples of processing at the Johnson Library.

    I shook my head, at that point, because I felt they were not relevant, and he noticed that and said, ‘Don’t shake your head, Maarja.’

    Ms. Howard, at that point, said, ‘John, you don’t understand. We are operating under different regulations. We don’t do things exactly the same way as you would in a donor-restricted library. We have certain procedures, such as Presidential Review Board, which we must use for consideration of such objections, and that we would want these items to be withdrawn in a fashion similar to objections raised in connection with the opening of the White House Special Files.

    Mr. Fawcett at that point said that he did not understand why we were so concerned whether material was restricted on the basis of our “C” restriction code [pending or approved claim against release] or our “D” [privacy] restriction code, because the end result would be that it would be withdrawn from researcher use.

    Mr. Schmidt, at the point, said that he did not feel comfortable lying to researchers and that he objected to being asked to do something that was unethical, improper, and possibly illegal.

    Mr. Fawcett, at that point, asked, ‘Are you all telling me what you’re being asked to do is unethical?’ No one dared reply directly to that, but I did tell him that, based on my experience in working with researchers, such as Bruce Oudes, Stanley Kutler and others, that I had noticed that they asked very pointed questions about our processing, in the sense that they wanted to know the procedures that were being followed in separation of independent archival review from President Nixon’s objections.

    I was thinking of the fact that Mr. Oudes had filed a FOIA to obtain access to the White House Special Files objection list, and I cautioned Mr. Fawcett that it was my expectation that anything we did with the tapes would be under equally close scrutiny. . . .

    Ms. Howard, again, said that she wanted us to follow our regulations, and we all . . . urged that a Presidential Materials Review Board be the proper source of handling such objections.”
    [Krusten deposition, Civil Action 92-662-NHJ, 96-97, September 22, 1992)

    3. “During the course of the meeting, Mr. Fawcett asked if it would make us feel better if he reviewed the list and decided what should be deleted and what should not, and my response to him was, ‘No, that would not make us feel better because you’re in our direct line of supervision.’

    KUTLER’S ATTORNEY: What did you mean by that?

    KRUSTEN: I meant that would be a unilateral action by someone who had supervisory authority over us, that he could compel us to do whatever because he had supervisory authority over us, and that such action was not in conformance with . . . our regulations.”
    [Krusten deposition, Civil Action 92-662-NHJ, 99-100, September 22, 1992]


    4. “We discussed the fact that we were uneasy about the fact that we were potentially embarking down a path which did not seem to give us much protection, and we expressed concern that this action might not be properly documented. . . .

    "I also expressed an opinion that we weren't serving the former president very well, and that's based on the fact that I had worked on Mr. Nixon's '68 campaign and was known amongst staff members as someone who had supported him in his policies and had some personal sympathy for him. I felt that the worst thing that could happen to him would be to be accused of covering up the cover-up, and that we should protect him as well as ourselves and act in conformance with our regulations."
    [Krusten deposition, Civil Action 92-662-NHJ, 111, 112, 113, September 22, 1992]


    5. “KRUSTEN: “I don’t recall saying anything, in particular. I had already applied for my job at [my current agency] at that point. I had already decided I don’t want to stay there any longer, and I remember sitting there during the meeting thinking, hopefully I won’t be around when all of this takes place.

    I don’t recall that we said anything in particular. For various reasons, we felt that no more objections to this situation would be entertained.

    KUTLER’S ATTORNEY: Why did you feel that way?

    KRUSTEN: I personally felt that way because, shortly after the meeting with Mr. Fawcett, Joan Howard was reassigned.

    As I recall, a memorandum was sent around at the end of September, informing the staff that she was being sent downtown to the Presidential Library Central Office on what was described as a cross-training assignment that was interpreted by the staff as a punitive action.”
    [Krusten deposition, Civil Action 92-662-NHJ, 101, September 22, 1992]


    6. “KUTLER’S ATTORNEY: Do you have any concerns that any adverse actions could be taken against you or someone else because of the testimony you are giving in this deposition?

    DOJ ATTORNEY: Objection. Compound.

    KRUSTEN: No. It’s my feeling that I and everyone who worked on the materials tried their very best to adhere to the regulations. When we felt that we were being asked to do something unethical, we protested to the extent that subordinate employees may do so without suffering punishment.

    I think we were within our rights to warn supervisors that they were on a path that might not stand up to close scrutiny.

    Certainly, I think it would have been in the Archives’s interest and Mr. Nixon’s interest to have the [Record Group] 460 [Watergate Special Prosecution Force tapes] opening handled in a manner other than it was, and I think I did everything I could to warn people that this should be done.

    I know of no reason to punish people for attempting to warn an agency to conform to its regulations. And, in fact, to attempt to do so might be construed as an admission of guilt.”
    [Krusten deposition, Civ. A. 92-62-NHJ, 154.]

    N. Friedman - 12/30/2007


    The only case I ever testified in was when I testified that I had seen a rat in a building. That was when I was in law school. Since, then I have asked questions and, of course, answered questions posed by judges - but not under oath. I do not envy you having to answer questions by "big" lawyers. My cases, which often are very complex - and the only rats now in my case are an occasional witness -, involve arcane matters of interest only to those involved even when the litigants are all well known.

    Returning to your topic, I see your point. You and I will be in retirement before the pertinent information will come to light. And, even then, such a study needs to compare "likes" and Nixon's circumstances were not typical and maybe less comparable to Clinton or Reagan's circumstances than meets the eye.

    For what it is worth, I cannot remotely imagine the likes of Kissinger to be a "yes" man. The same for Haldeman and Erhlichman. They seemed to be experienced people and Kissinger was all too clever to play the "Yes" role. He was more likely the sly manipulator.

    Given the system of records publication you have detailed, I can imagine unscrupulous historians and propagandists making hay out of partial document releases - and, if sufficiently unscrupulous, I suppose even full releases. I can well imagine how and why a president may want to hold back documents for a very long time.

    I recall reading Martin Gilbert's book (along with Richard Gott), The Appeasers, which concerns the history of why the UK government set its course to appease the Nazi regime. The book is based, among other things, on an examination of internal UK records and shows pretty well that the effort by that group to justify their failure to re-arm Britain is an after the fact invention. In fact, his history largely backs up Churchill's assertions before the war. I suppose one might say that Gilbert - famed historian that he but also famed "official" historian of Churchill - was biased in favor of the Churchill's position. But, it does appear that the record is largely biased that way, with Churchill reading Hitler correctly from the outset and the government deceiving itself by ignoring clear spying intelligence about what was really going on.

    I would bet that, given the chance, Chamberlain's group would like to have kept the actual records bottled up indefinitely. As things turned out, the world is lucky that an historian as skilled as Gilbert was given access. I can only imagine what would happen today, with historians who claim that history is only narrative and that facts ought not get in the way of good narrative telling.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/29/2007

    Hi, N., I moved our thread on politics and power over under a new heading rather than continuing under the existing thread. You described as awful the tone of the Nixon tape excerpts I cited as and asked if I have studied the records of other Presidents. I have not done much direct research in their records although I do read contemporaneous and retrospective accounts of the activities of modern Presidents of both parties. I don’t have the time to do much research at the moment with their records. Frankly, it takes so long to get at the records, given the FOIA process under the PRA administered Presidential Libraries, it’s not something I’m inclined to do right now. It can take decades for some of the most sensitive or controversial records to be released and that hasn't happened with all the Presidents you mentioned.

    For example, you mentioned Iran Contra and also events during the Clinton administration. I’m not convinced the story of the former ever will be known. Clinton’s records still fall under the 12-year period during which the former President has a lot of say over what is released. See Sharon Fawcett’s excellent interview at http://news.nationaljournal.com/articles/071217nj1.htm
    Ms. Fawcett is in charge of the National Archives’ system of Presidential Libraries.

    As to the tone of the Nixon tapes, yes, there is much there that is dismaying. John Taylor himself admitted in 1998 that Nixon’s “were tough, ideologically charged times, and his tapes make tough reading.” When I testified in the Nixon tapes lawsuit (Kutler v. Wilson, Civ. A. 92-662-NHJ), and read the testimony of my boss, it seemed to me that Nixon’s attorney (who questioned both of us) was surprised that in screening “abuse of power” information, we marked passages that were exculpatory as well as inculpatory. My boss at the National Archives and I (who trained most of his subordinates in how to review the Nixon tapes) both believed that this was the right thing to do. While the law required the Archives to identify and first open passages which covered the designated “abuse of power categories,” we then believed that archivists also should mark passages that showed that Nixon passed up opportunities to abuse power – or said, no, let’s not do this – in addition to the ones where his darker side came out. The fact that we Archives employees would try to be fair to Nixon that way seemed to startle his lawyers in 1992.

    For other Presidents, there are no other records such as the Nixon tapes, recorded by a sound-activated system which ran automatically whenever the President was present in a room that was wired. I cannot say with certainty just how different Nixon was in his view of power from his predecessors or his successors. No one ever will know, definitively. You have to guess, based on the glimpses of character that are revealed elsewhere.

    To get a definitive answer, you’d really have to have tapes or other reliable records which showed Nixon’s predecessors or successors placed in similar situations and saying, yes, let’s do it (break in to Brookings or whatever), or no, it’s out of the question. And no such comprehensive records exist for any other President. I do believe that people with power (corporate, governmental, even academic) can become carried away. The extent to which it happens among any given President and those around him is difficult to discern. Nixon himself believed he acted much as his recent predecessors had done, only he got caught.

    Part of the problem lies in the fact that the President is just a human being (you or I or many of the people who write on HNN could be President). But he has all this power. Think of the effect of having absolute power to fire people around you. That’s not unique to the White House. (I often say that the White House is a workplace like any other.) That in itself makes it difficult to tell the top guy, “no.” Whether he wants it that way or not, it’s hard for the President not to end up encased in a bubble created in part through sycophancy. It takes enormous skill to keep that from happening. (Don’t you see sycophancy, echo chambers and bubbles in some internet forums? I do.)

    As much as H. R. Haldeman bears responsibility for the way things worked in the White House for which he was chief of staff, I do give Haldeman credit for sometimes declining to do what Nixon demanded, if it seemed outrageous or wrongheaded, instead walking away and bearing the brunt of the President’s anger until it burned out and Nixon said, “just as well.”

    Interestingly, Haldeman told Nixon on June 14, 1971, as the Pentagon Papers case broke, why he thought their revelation was significant: “But out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: . .you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the – the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the President can be wrong.”

    Haldeman later proved very insightful in talking to us about what went wrong in Nixon’s White House. I’m very interested in getting and reading Egil Krogh’s book as he also tackles that tough subject. Not everyone in the political world is capable of that. As John Podhoretz noted in _Hell of A Ride_, it might even get in the way of their being effective operatives.

    That’s why I tell others, in deciding whether the private or public sector is the best place for people to use their skills as an historian or lawyer or whatever, know yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses. I recently read an article, “Empathy, It Could Be What You’re Missing.” http://tinyurl.com/3974kz
    The doctor noted, “People who suffer from EDD are unable to step outside themselves and tune in to what other people experience. That makes it a source of personal conflicts, of communication failure in intimate relationships, and of the adversarial attitudes -- even hatred -- among groups of people who differ in their beliefs, traditions or ways of life.”

    He added, “Unlike sympathy -- which reflects understanding of another person's situation, but viewed through your own lens -- empathy is what you feel when you enter the internal world of another person. Without abandoning your own perspective, you experience the other's emotions, conflicts or aspirations. That kind of connection builds healthy relationships -- an essential part of mental health.

    EDD develops when people focus too much on acquiring power, status and money for themselves at the expense of developing those healthy relationships. Nearly every day we hear or read about people who have been derailed by the pursuit of money and recognition and end up in rehab or behind bars. But many of the people I see, whether therapy patients or career and business clients, struggle with their own versions of the same thing. They have become alienated from their own hearts and equate what they have with who they are.”

    A President sets the tone at the top – and as the article I just cited and others I have read suggest, human beings are awfully complex. No matter how high he rises, the President is just a man. So it takes enormous effort and skill to set the right tone. It doesn't surprise me that so many of them falter, one way or another. We all falter, sometimes.

    Thanks for making your way so patiently through my lengthy ruminations, N., I've enjoyed cyber chatting with you.

    Take care,


    N. Friedman - 12/29/2007

    Thanks Maarja. It sounds, as with many things involving Nixon, pretty awful.

    By the way, have you examined archives, etc., from other presidents? If so, do any of them have the horrid tone of some of the Nixon tapes?

    I suppose that comparable periods to examine would, with reference to presidents under attack, have involved Reagan and Irangate, Clinton and Whitewater, his dropping trousers and the get him lawsuits filed, not to mention the investigation conducted by the special prosecutor. I suppose that Johnson's problems that led him not to run again might also have some nastiness.

    But, the tone of the Nixon material you have posted - not to mention the portions I have read or, remembering back to when I was a lot younger, from watching CBS act out, with reporters playing the different parts on TV - is just so Machiavellian. It just sounds awful.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/29/2007

    Some of you who have read my post at
    may wonder why I don't tell historians not to enter the politial world, it's just too dangerous! I don't say that because I believe any workplace can be dangerous. Wherever you work, there never are any guarantees that you will find smooth sailing. The only behavior you can try to control is your own.

    No matter where you work, there is a chance that you will encounter people who may use underhanded methods against you. You can become the subject of efforts at intimidation or harrassment in the academic world or the corporate world, not just in the political world. Conversely, you can work your way through difficult and challenging issues and succeed at a job in the political world, just as you can in the academic or the corporate world.

    Businessmen and academics are no more immune to acting on bad impulses than anyone else. And people don't all share the same values. What seems like negative methods to one person may seem like standard operating procedures to another. Wherever you work, some of you may have been subject to intimidation, others actually may have been the intimidators of others. Given the fact that historians are just as human as people in any other profession, it's not for me to tell HNN's readers where you should work and how you should use your skills.

    However, I would say that wherever you choose to work, you should do your best to act ethically. It's not always easy. And it does not always seem doable. Sometimes the best course is to zig zag around some issues, even retreating at times on some small matters so as to live to fight another day on some bigger ones. But I believe that taking the high road is your best defense. It might not always save you, especially when others choose to act ruthlessly against you, but at least you can live in peace with yourself, knowing you did the best you could under the circumstances.

    Here's the link to Egil Krogh's website, which I forgot to insert in the post earlier this morning.
    I like the quote from Heraclitus.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/29/2007

    Hi, N, glad you find the posts useful. I don't *think* anyone is monitoring what I post. However, posting on message boards does create a public record, in this case, one in which the time and date of the postings are apparent. When I remember to do so, I take care to point out that I am not using a government computer when I post. The reason lies in something that happened to me a few years ago.

    Here's what happened, it actually tells you something about Washington. In the mid-1990s, I occasionally visited the research room of the National Archives at College Park, MD. As you know, I am a federal employee. When I did research for my present employer, I did so on official (government) time. However, when I did research in my own area of interest in the Nixon records (including looking at some of the Nixon "contested items" that I later wrote about here on HNN and in the letters to the editor I've had published), I did so on personal time. That means that I dipped into my accrued vacation time and signed for "leave" in the necessary hourly increments during the workday. I always was scrupulous about separating the two types of research projects, when possible. I work in Washington so going out to the National Archives in College Park involves some travel time. If I needed to do research for my employer but also wanted to look at Nixon materials for my own research during the same trip to the National Archives, I always signed for leave and did it all, even my government work, on personal time.

    After one visit to look at the Nixon records during the 1990s, an unidentified person within the government complained to the National Archives' Inspector General anonymously that I was doing personal research in Nixon's records on government time. My guess is that the person did not like the fact that I was examining some issues and that the complaint was a minor form of harrassment. I was able to rebut the charge easily as I proved through my "time and attendance" records that on the day in question, I was on personal (vacation) time. It was a small matter but a reminder to me of how some people play the game in Washington.

    Since then, I've always been careful to point out when I post on sites such as HNN about Nixon that I am doing so on personal time. You can make enemies anywhere in the public sphere. It is possible that some people have come to regard me as an “enemy” because of what I’ve written about on HNN. I have a sense that in some instances, what I’ve written has caused annoyance, at least, although not always in areas where one might assume I would face the most criticism.

    Since you never know what measures someone will decide to use against you, it pays to act with care --, not just in substance but also in form and process -- when you speak up. It's not that I think I'm a particular subject of interest to anyone, it's more that I know from listening to Nixon's tapes and from once having had this complaint made about me how some players act in Washington. It’s not how I would act but it simply is unrealistic, and can prove dangerous, to think that people will deal with you as you would with them.

    As for the National Archives, in the aftermath of the Pentagon Papers case, the Nixon tapes capture a September 10, 1971 conversation in which the President and aide John Ehrlichman discuss a break in to the National Archives to see what is in papers deposited there by two Johnson administration officials. According to the transcript in Kutler's book, Ehrlichman tells Nixon, "Now I'm going to steal those documents out of the National Archives." Nixon replies, "You can do that, you know." Then he asks how it can be done. Keep in mind that at the time, the National Archives was a service within the General Services Administration (GSA). Ehrlichman replies that the GSA administrator "can send the Archivist out of town for a while and we can get in there and he will photograph and he'll reseal them." Nixon replies, "There are ways to do that?: Ehrlichman responds, "Yeah. And nobody can tell we've been in there. . . . "

    Ehrlichman tells Nixon how the papers came to the Archives in the first place. According to him, three officials (Paul Nitze, Morton Halperin, and Leslie Gelb) “made a deposit into the National Archives under an agreement” made “on the eve of the publication of the Pentagon Papers.” The term “deposit” indicates to me they came in as materials to which the individuals had legal title, rather than as a result of records management under the Federal Records Act (FRA). FRA controlled materials would not require a signed agreement for deposit, title would reside with the creating agencies rather than individual officials so they would come to the Archives as institutional records from government offices.

    In his new book, _Integrity_, former Ehrlichman aide Egil Krogh writes, "In 2007, I learned from [a National Archives official] that an operation at the National Archives was in fact carried out. Whoever was responsible for this operation did not work with me in the Plumbers group." (_Integrity_, page 76). For more on Krogh and his book, see

    As to Henry Kissinger, yes, the released tapes show him as being present at discussion of a possible break in to Brookings in the wake of the publication of the Pentagon Papers. (According to Anthony Lewis’s review of a book about the Pentagon Papers, “John Ehrlichman . . . thought Kissinger was responsible for Nixon's decision to act against the Times. ‘Without Henry's stimulus..., Ehrlichman said, "the President and the rest of us might have concluded that the Papers were Lyndon Johnson's problem, not ours.’" As to Kissinger being present during some of the discussions recorded on the tapes, see
    for what he later said when asked about Brookings. Keep in mind that the article discusses the belated release by the National Archives of 201 conversation segments related to abuses of governmental power. These are the ones my colleagues and I identified during the 1980s and took so much heat for doing so. I understand why that happened, it could not have been easy for Nixon to contemplate having such materials opened for research while he was alive. It’s one reason why I try to this day (effectively or not) to protect my former colleagues and why I think and write so much about when Presidential records should be opened (given what I see as a lack of practical support for the National Archives' mission, is it realistic to think this can be done while a former President is alive? Would it be better to seal them for longer periods?) and how.

    N. Friedman - 12/29/2007


    Gee, I hope that no one is watching over your shoulders when you post.

    Regarding the substance of what you posted, It did not know that Kissinger was involved in conversations related to breaking in to places. Or, is the discussion more general than I realize?

    In any event, this is interesting stuff. Thanks, as always.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/28/2007

    The context of the July 1971 conversation is the Pentagon Papers (Daniel Ellsberg) case. Nixon saw the leak of the papers as a conspiracy and was looking at ways to counter it. Part of that involved finding out what was in other records generated by Democratic officials during the Johnson administration. He believed some such materials were held at Brookings. Again, hastily copied from Stanley Kutler's book:

    July 1, 1971

    PRESIDENT NIXON: . . . The difficulty that I'm seeing right now is getting the facts to move to the papers. That has to be done by a man directed, and how do you get the facts. Who's going to break into the Brookings Institute? Who's going to go out, for example, and pull all this-the strength of this conspiracy to get this? I mean, Laird's got lots - he said there's a conspiracy. (Unintelligible.)

    HALDEMAN: Can't really worry about that. If the guy is saying sensational enough stuff, it's trying to get stirred up in the papers. You're in the old McCarthyism business.

    PRESIDENT NIXON: That's right. We want somebody to be a McCarthy. Is there a senator?

    KISSINGER: . . . There's no one.

    PRESIDENT NIXON: In other words, our people should (unintelligible) that the press now is putting their right to make money, to profit, to profit from publication of stolen documents, that they have a constitutional right to profit - take this very carefully -- from the publication of stolen documents under the First Amendment and that that overrides the right of an American who is fighting for his country. . . . John, you've got to get to get into some of this material. Hit it and keep hitting and ream them and [send] letters to [the] editor embarrassing, you know, Senator[s]-elect poison pen and so forth. I know how this game is played.


    PRESIDENT NIXON: Brookings has got tons of documents in safes over there. Now, we have got to start protecting the security of this government. Brookings and Rand, now G-----n it, Haig hasn't done this - because Henry welshed on these, you know. He's a little afraid. He's got some friends at Brookings (unintelligible). But anyway, he said publicly - he told me he was for it. But he's dragging his feet or something. You've got to get this stuff from Rand and Brookings. John, you mop up. You're in charge of that. And I want it done today and I'd like a report-

    PRESIDENT NIXON: In view of this case, I want the new-look at it much deeper. I want them to give recommendations with regard to what can be done about World War II. What can be done about Korea. . . . This Goddamn thing hasn't come in here yet. Now where is the Cuban confrontation material? The Kennedy library has got it.
    Where is Pearl Harbor? Hyde Park has got it. Now, it's just ridiculous, John. And these are the things that will embarrass the creeps. Put it out."

    Interestingly, Egil Krogh, in his new book (Integrity), discusses the contemporaneous effort by Nixon officials to break in or otherwise secretly get access to documents deposited in the National Archives by two former Johnson administration officials. See
    for a review of his book, in which he discusses Nixon's reaction to the Pentagon Papers case.


    Posted on personal time (I've been on vacation since the afternoon of December 5, in case anyone is keeping track)

    N. Friedman - 12/28/2007


    What you cite is terrible stuff. It well explains why Nixon was properly headed for impeachment. Interestingly, I just finished reading a book about how the Western countries have, by becoming so rational, lost the ability to see their own group - what the author calls "tribal" - interest. The author would have really liked Nixon, at least if Nixon were set on using his ruthlessness to protect the country.

    The book is called The Suicide of Reason. Radical Islam's Threat to the West and is by Lee Harris. The first part of the book is rather interesting. But, Mr. Harris may be quite a bit too ambitious. He hopes to teach that today's "reason" based West is exceptional - an accident in history - while the fanaticism of other parts of the world, most particularly in the Muslim regions, is the norm and, if current trends continue, may return to our part of the world.

    In any event, he might see the ruthlessness of Nixon as an enlightened form of tribal-lite thinking. That would be, as he might see it, a remedy for our time.

    Back to your topic: in the above quoted material, Nixon appears to be getting even with perceived enemies. Why the Brookings Institution? What did it do? What did he think it did? What was the context of the proposed raid? My memory is that he was still really popular in July of 1971. He surely knew that.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/28/2007

    Use your professional capital however you think is best. If you feel the advantages of plunging into politics outweigh the risks, do so. If you feel more comfortable lecturing from a podium or acting as an armchair analyst of past events, do so. There is no right or wrong way to use your training as an historian, it's up to you, do what best suits your personality type. There is no shame in whichever choice you make, whichever choice you make, it won't make you smaller or bigger than would going the other way. It's just a different choice.

    Make the choice that feels best to you, and if you feel able, speak up and let other people know why you are doing what you do. And listen to others. Don't be afraid of people who don't see things the way you do.

    Bill Leonard, the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Official who is stepping down, in part because of what happened this past year with the Vice President's Office, noted in an interview this week in Newsweek ("Archivist Challenges Cheney") that "we seem to have a habit—when we restrict information, we're often times find ourselves in a position where we're ceding the playing field to the other side. We allow ourselves to be almost reduced to a caricature by taking positions on certain issues, oh, we simply can't talk about that." He was discussing classification and declassification of information, a risky area with many pros and cons to the various approaches. My point is, whatever you do as an historian, don't let yourself be reduced to a caricature. It can easily happen in the political world.

    If you decide you are going to deal with matters in the political realm, know what you're getting into, man up, and be prepared to deal with the consequences. Nixon viewed politics as a rough and tumble game, his view of it was bleak. Gerald Ford didn't believe that politics always had to be that way.

    In 1975, Robert Strauss, the then chairman of the Democratic National Committee said of President Ford at the Gridiron Dinner, "Our friends here in the press consistently write, 'Jerry Ford is a good man, but' . . . Mr. President, let me say to you that you are not 'a good man but.' You are 'a good man and.' And as chairman of the Democratic Party, let me say you are what this country needed."

    According to Tom DeFrank, Ford responded with a letter to Strauss in which he wrote, "It has always been my experience that political competittion can be tough without being unpleasant and vigorous without becoming vicious." He added, "Thank you for going the extra mile the other night."

    If you do get involved in politics, it is my hope that you enter the sunnier world of Gerald Ford, not the darker one of Richard Nixon. And I say that having voted for Mr. Nixon. After all those years listening to the tapes, I still retain some personal sympathy for Nixon as a human being. I think often about what he did and why he "gave his enemies a sword." And why his aides acted as they did in the halls of power. But I would not hold up Nixon's approach to politics as an example for anyone.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/28/2007

    . . . that is a better rendering of the sentiment I was trying to convey about Nixon than what I wrote, using the word "before."

    What is interesting to me is the reaction of Nixon's aides -- and his own perception of aides such as John Ehrlichman -- when he discussed matters such as a proposed break in to the Brookings Institute. The dynamics are interesting. If I actually nudge other historians to discuss these things (which I recognize I cannot), I would love to hear what any of them would say, if they were sitting in the room with Nixon. I know what I would say -- and I know I probably would not have kept my job with him.

    As excerpted from Stanley Kutler's book, Abuse of Power, consider these segments from tapes that I and my colleagues once identified as relating to governmental abuses of power. Note how he says on July 2, "they did that to me."

    July 1, 1971

    PRESIDENT NIXON: . . . . These kids don't understand. They have no understanding of politics. They have no understanding of public relations. John Mitchell is that way. John is always worried about is it technically correct? Do you think, for Christ sakes, that the New York Times is worried about all the legal niceties. Those s--s of b-----s are killing me. I mean, thank God, I leaked to the press [during the Hiss controversy]. This is what we've got to get - I want you to shake these (unintelligible) up around here. Now you do it. Shake them up. Get them off their G-----n dead a---s and say now that isn't what you should be talking about. We're up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They're using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?

    Did they get the Brookings Institute raided last night? No. Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute's safe cleaned out and have it cleaned out in a way that it makes somebody else.

    July 1, 1971

    PRESIDENT NIXON: . . . Actually, when Mitchell leaves as Attorney General, we're going to be better off in my view. . . . John is just too d--n good a lawyer, you know.
    He's a good strong lawyer. It just repels him to do these horrible things, but they've got to be done. We have to fight this. . . .

    July 2, 1971

    PRESIDENT NIXON: Let me say this. Time is awasting. These people are beginning to get onto the fact that they don't want to get caught up in a conspiracy. Mitchell is -- I think Mitchell's statement was good which is we're going to prosecute got to prosecute everybody. Don't you think so?

    COLSON: Excellent.

    PRESIDENT NIXON: Does that bother you as being repressive?

    COLSON: Oh, hell, no.
    HALDEMAN: We've got to be repressive.
    PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, they did that to me. . . .
    HALDEMAN: Well, I think we've got-we are unduly sensitive.
    PRESIDENT NIXON: I don't give a d--n . . . I told Ziegler yesterday. I said I know I'm repressive on this--"

    Maarja Krusten - 12/27/2007

    Hi, N., I don't think you misunderstood my earlier comment, Nixon did indeed view politics as a rough game where he and his opponents used harsh or underhanded measures against each other. According to the released WH tapes, he could not prove or find evidence that some of the things that he thought had occurred actually had taken place. But what is important is that he believed that they had and that they represented the way the game was played. Whether his approach was paranoid or not, in the clinical sense, I can't say. But his certainly was a dark view of the political world and the use (and misuse) of power.

    Take care,

    N. Friedman - 12/27/2007


    Thank you for the information and post.

    My paranoid Nixon comment was based on your version of the Nixon ethic, as in do unto others before they do unto you. Of course, Nixon had a reputation of being paranoid and your noted version of his ethic is consistent, which was my only point on the topic. I took your version of his ethic to be a form of conformation in part on that point. Maybe, I should only have taken it as a quarter so, given your post immediately above.

    Be that as it may, he had notable virtues and extraordinary ability although, were I old enough at the time, I doubt I would have voted for him. My predilections at the time were the civil rights movement and the hope that the war in Vietnam would somehow end - hopefully not as a complete disaster but end nonetheless.

    Nixon was, as I recall, only half-hearted about the civil rights movement, being willing to exploit Southern resentment of the ongoing changes. Being a Northerner, that seemed to me to be a sell-out although, no doubt, he thought it as a necessary - likely distasteful (although, you could enlighten me on that matter) - move to garner a majority.

    His war idea of Vietnamization certainly made sense in theory but, more than likely, not in practice, at least not on a time schedule where all involved knew the US was, in due course, leaving. My thought on that war match Barbara Tuchman's thesis, borrowed from Edmund Burke, that a right divorced from interest is folly.

    In any event, I wish you a very happy new year!!!

    Maarja Krusten - 12/27/2007

    Thank you so much for your kind words, N! Nixon has been described as paranoid by some observers. I haven't used that word myself in anything I've written about him but I do know that he believed executive powers had been used against him in the past. For example, he was convinced that his campaign airplane had been bugged during 1968. See
    for George Lardner's account of released tapes in 1997. Nixon thought if he could get evidence of that, he could blunt charges against himself for his own Watergate abuses of power. Lardner notes: "'The plane was bugged, John, in that whole two-week period by [then-FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover, and Johnson knew every conversation that took place,' Nixon told former Texas governor John B. Connally, then head of Democrats for Nixon, in the fall of 1972. 'Johnson had it bugged.'" Johnson's former aide, George Christian, doubted that this occurred.

    John Taylor, who served as Nixon's last chief of chief in the period after he left office (and now is an official with the Nixon Foundation), wrote in 1998 of Nixon and his use of power:

    "His were tough, ideologically charged times, and his tapes make tough reading. As with so many men and women in his profession -- one of cycles and seasons, ins vs. outs, and wildly swinging ideological pendulums -- President Nixon practiced the fine art of giving as good as he got. What angered him most was seeing the double standard flying high. His taxes had been audited under the Kennedys, and he hadn't forgotten. Who does? In September 1971, after Billy Graham told him he had been grilled by the IRS, he said to his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, 'Please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats... Could we please investigate some of the c----------?...Here IRS is going after Billy Graham tooth and nail. Are they going after Eugene Carson Blake (president of the liberal National Council of Churches)?' As one who never heard Nixon utter an anti-Semitic word in ten years of almost daily conversation, I find this to be a classic example of Nixonian political theology. He was thinking: When I was out, their government audited my friends and me. When I'm in, my own government is auditing my conservative Baptist friend. Why isn't it auditing liberal Jews?"

    Of course, not every politician has this dog-eat-dog view of power. Look at how Gerald R. Ford conducted himself as President and in his post-Presidential life. Ford understood power and politics but didn't resort to the type of abuses that some other Presidents did.

    I'm currently reading Thomas DeFrank's _Write It When I'm Gone_, which provides interesting insights into Ford. As an employee of the National Archives' Office of Presidential Libraries, I worked on the move of Ford's White House records out of the White House in January 1977. I cherish the thank you note I received from former President Ford soon thereafter. Ford's Presidential Library has always has a good reputation within the National Archives' system of such libraries.

    The political world can be treacherous. Still, some navigate it better than others, not just in producing results, but, as David Brooks noted, retaining a sense of their basic humanity. Just as in any workplace (cororate, governmental, academic), where some people lead by positive example and skillfully zig and zag around danger spots without losing their moral compasses, and others use negative methods to get what they want), it really just depends on the individual.

    Thanks again for the nice words, N, I hope you have a Happy New Year!

    N. Friedman - 12/25/2007


    Thanks for your insights.

    You have had a rare honor to examine history and political power from the inside. I cannot imagine a better person to be assigned such a task. I can only learn from you.

    As for your comments, Nixon the president sounds a bit paranoid; at least that is what your rendition of his golden rule sounds like to me.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/24/2007

    Sorry for the broken link, I should have compressed it. (Sorry also for all the typos in the comment above, I had to leave the house for a brief while at 11 am and posted hurriedly before headin out -- only to realize later I had several errors and typos in the posted comment.) Here is the link to the Allen Raymond book which I believe is due out in January:

    Over the years I have read many books by both Republican and Democratic Presidents and their advisors as I am interested in the political world in general as a result of my experiences in listening to the Nixon tapes. As noted earlier, I'm an Independent who voted straight Republican between 1972 and 1988.

    Maarja Krusten - 12/24/2007

    Hi, N, it's always good to hear from you!

    Even when one has listening to some 2,000 hours of White House recordings, as I have with Richard Nixon, i’s hard to separate in Presidents a desire for personal power from the desire to serve the public. How do you ever know precisely how one intersects with the other or, in some cases, masquerades as something which it really isn’t? I don’t think we can ever say for sure what someone else’s motivation is; we have enough trouble unraveling why we ourselves do what we do.

    It gets especially murky in politics. Some people give off a strong vibe of absolutely wanting to crush those who hold opposing views. Does campaigning force them into that mode or is it intrinsic in their nature? (In extreme cases, there might be a psychological basis that may go beyond wanting a candidate to prevail so as to achieve office.) Other people seem to signal that while they genuinely accept that there are differing philosophies of government, they simply believe the one they hold would best serve the nation.

    So with the caveat that I have no specialized training in studying what motivates people, except what I’ve seen and heard, I’ll offer a few observations. I think Nixon generally was a good Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower, handling quite well what was required of him in that role. But when he gained executive power, things went awry because he appeared to believe “do unto others before they do unto you.” And “if the President does it, it isn’t illegal.” It’s a shame he did not have a better moral compass to match his intellect, which actually was quite good.

    I’m very interested in the moral relativism that creeps into Presidential politics. Candidates present themselves to the voters as best suited to take the reigns of power, often based on character or values as well as experience, executive abilities, etc. They genuinely may believe that their values are exemplary. Yet there are instances where their operatives (often acting deliberately in a way that offers plausible deniability to the candidate him- or herself) use methods that ordinary people would shudder to have their colleagues use against them in the workplace. Then, once the candidate is elected President, he and his aides plunge into the governmental environment, where certain ethics rules apply. The need to do a turnaround from campaign mode to governing mode presents some challenges, reconciling values and methodologies can be problematic if a “crush ‘em” mindset prevailed while the candidate was running for office.

    One of the most disheartening conversations I ever heard during the 1980s as a National Archives’ employee on the then secret but since released Nixon tapes was the one where Nixon discussed using Secret Service agents to spy on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. See

    One of the reasons I came to respect Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, when I met him in the late 1980s was the fact that he was courageous enough to face his past. Haldeman proved very insightful and reflective when we at NARA talked to him, both informally and during the course of oral history interviews. Of course, Haldeman served some time in prison after Watergate. Speaking of which, when it is published next month, I’m interested in reading Allen Raymond’s book (http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&;pid=592156&er=9781416552222 ). Having been tasked with identifying abuse of governmental power categories on Nixon’s tapes, which included certain campaign practices, I’m very interested in the subject, regardless of which political party is involved.

    I’m glad you asked me the question, N, it really made me think. I wish HNN brought readers and writers together better than it does. That it does not is not a reflection on the site, but on the self selecting group of people drawn here. We all have such diverse experiences -- academic, governmental, corporate, military --, it would be great if people could talk more than they do *with* rather than *at* each other here. That this rarely happens is a great disappointment to me but there is little I can do to get others to open up more than they do. I am very thirsty for knowledge and insights, even at the age of 56..

    N. Friedman - 12/22/2007

    Hi Maarja,

    I hope is well with you.

    I wonder whether, with your experience reviewing the Nixon records, you found him to be a good public servant. Or, was he a man into getting power?

    Maarja Krusten - 12/18/2007

    I tend to agree that the number of people who will be affected by what historians say about candidates is rather small. To some extent, I think historians write political pieces for each other. Or they may write in order to feel useful. And perhaps in the hope that they *just* might reach a small portion of their fellow Americans. I understand that, all of those are entirely human reactions.

    Some voters, as you note, vote without being able to clearly articulate why they voted for whom they cast a ballot. Others struggle to find someone in whom they can entrust the reigns of government. And others confidently cast straight party ballots year after year at the local, state and federal level. Obviously, the extent to which emotion comes into play varies greatly across the spectrum for voters of all parties.

    Emotion sometimes plays a large role in other areas of politics, as well. Years of listening to Richard Nixon's White House tapes ("Try him in the press. . . . get it out, leak it out. We want to destroy him in the press" or "when [John] Mitchell leaves as attorney general, we're going to be better off . . . It just repels him to do these horrible things, but they've got to be done") have left me with a bleak picture of how things sometimes are done. I'm afraid I'm generally rather pessimistic as a result, it's awfully hard to be optimistic about human nature after listening to thousands of hours of those tapes.

    I sometimes even hesitate to post on sites such as HNN (especially under articles such as this one) under my own name. You'll notice my careful use of "posted on personal time" as an end line. Especially in the political world, you never know whom you will anger and how they will react.

    Given my experiences with the Nixon tapes, I actually am pleasantly surprised when I hear of a person in the political world for whom the end did not after all justify the means. Of course, you can find emotional actions (fueled by fear, anger, jealousy, etc.) in any workplace. I recently gulped when I read a column in the online version of the Chronicle of Higher Education in which young professors sought advice on what to do in the face of harrassment by older colleagues on campus. There are always people who decide to take the low road; fortunately, in most professions, there also are those who struggle to take the high road, as well. In some environments, it is more of a strugle than in others. . . .

    J. Feuerbach - 12/18/2007

    If Freud taught us anything, it is that human beings are essentially irrational. And this applies to all spheres of life and the act of voting is no exception.

    Of course historians can share their insights on past US presidents. However, it's unrealistic to think that people will listen, incorporate the new information and act upon it. I've found that people vote for rather emotional reasons. The amygdala beats the neocortex most of the time. Here's how some people explain their voting behavior: "She looks so cute (ugly) with her new hairdo," "I always vote Democrat; it runs in the family," "I like (hate) him/her but don't ask me why," "He/she looks so presidential," etc. etc.

    Bottom line? The fact that 70 historians support Obama has more chances to influence voters than the reasons that inform historians' decision to pick him as a candidate. And please don't tell me that these 70 historians weren't aware of this. However, I'm sorry to inform you that nothing can compete with Oprah's endorsement. Some people will vote for Obama in the primaries because Oprah is supporting his candidacy. Period. They don't need anything else to make up their minds. Define irrationality...

    Maarja Krusten - 12/18/2007

    History puts you into the insight business, backing candidates or working on their behalf puts you into the foresight business. And going on a politician's payroll puts you into the advocacy business as you're being compensated for working on his or her behalf.

    If I've interpreted their comments correctly, I think some historians argue that while they have no more ability to predict the future than anyone else, insights drawn from looking at the past -- especially by those who have specialized in studying the Presidency -- enable them to form some general conclusions about what qualities a successful President has. The quality of those insights vary, some historians do better in analyzing what happened and why than others. And, of course, their findings are dependent on available information (oral and written evidence).

    Of course, voters (historians among them) cannot predict or control the future. A President elected during an election year when domestic issues were at the top of voters' concerns may find his term defined largely by what happens abroad. And vice versa.

    Obviously, for historians as for people in other professions, there is a difference between endorsing a candidate (individually or collectively) and acting as a paid campaign worker or staffer.

    Posted on personal time

    Maarja Krusten - 12/18/2007

    Thanks for your reply to my lengthy ruminations. Whoever writes the follow up book to Ian Tyrrell's Historians in Public certainly will have a lot to cover. (See

    I suspect that someone trained in law as well as history might move more readily into advocacy than someone who studied history, only. However, there are public sector history related jobs which demand nonpartisanship. My views are shaped by (1) my fourteen years (1976-1990) working as a federal employee responsible for screening Richard Nixon's tapes and documents for public disclosure or restriction, an experience which provided many insights into how that President and his advisors operated in Washington; and (2) the approach Nixon's lawyers took in attempting to limit disclosures from his records while he was alive.

    No one could tell from my work with Nixon's records that I had voted straight Republican between 1972 and 1988 (since 1989, I have been an Independent). That is how it should be. As far as federal archivists were concerned, the public depended on our ability to act in a nonpartisan fashion and we took that requirement very, very seriously.

    Nixon's lawyers, of course, argued issues as partisans, doing whatever it took to protect their powerful client's interests. This included charging that archivists, my boss among them, were biased against Nixon, an approach that I didn't find at all courageous on their part but one which I recognize fits with what litigators are trained to do. In litigattion, lawyers often try to impeach the credibility of perceived opponents. That reputations, such as that of my former boss at the National Archives (a Vietnam veteran who actually also had voted for Nixon), were at issue seemingly meant nothing to Nixon's lawyers.

    Needless to say, there was a power imbalance between the former President and his advocates and the government archivists, most of whom had graduate degrees in history. The experience of working with Nixon's tapes generally made me very leery of mudslinging, demagoguery, and name calling. I much prefer reasoned, fair debate and an acknowledgement that reasonable people can disagree. But from my past experiences, I certainly learned the relative value of a former President's reputation as measured by his lawyers against those of history trained archivists. Still, it was a fascinating job and I wouldn't have missed the experience for anything. It was, in its own way, a fantastic experience in participatory history.

    Again, thanks for writing.

    J. Feuerbach - 12/17/2007

    I'll start with a brief introduction and then I'll make a point.

    A better title for this piece could be "Politics embrace historians." History isn't written in a vacuum and historians are product of the culture that engulfs them. The discipline of history per se has serious problems regarding "objectivity." There's no such thing as "objective" history. There are "multiple" histories written or told (let's not forget the power of verbal traditions that are never formally captured or officially sanctioned) from particular perspectives. When historians hired by powerful publishing houses attempt to solve this tension, they write "balanced" history textbooks. These "balanced" approaches will always fail to capture the multidimensional nature of "history."

    Here's my point. If a historian, in the light of what I said, then decides to use his/her profession to support a particular candidate, things get even murkier. (Let's not even discuss what happens when you are on their payroll.) A true historian should continuously work on examining where he/she is coming from, what are the biases that guide his/her reading of history, what do he/she filters in and out and why, etc. That's a difficult task to accomplish in itself.

    In sum, historians are already embraced by politics. We all live in the polis. There's no such thing as being apolitical. The type of political involvement Lauck is proposing just complicates things further. We need to get politics out of history, not the other way around!

    J. Feuerbach - 12/17/2007

    I fully agree. Historians have civil duties and responsibilities, just like architects, physicians, carpenters, plumbers, etc. US historians are US citizens who happen to have embraced a particular profession: history. That's the right order; not the other way around.

    Mr. Lauck makes reference to a group of historians who call themselves "Historians Against the War." He then adds, "Most historians, unfortunately, do not ascend to this level of political involvement. Even fewer write about such political experiences. I wish they would." I couldn't disagree more with Mr. Lauck. That's not the best way to measure political involvement. For instance, in the Presidential elections of 2004, the war in Iraq was high on the political agenda. I'm sure that many historians voted in 2004 for President Bush and many others voted against him. My point? The act of voting was and continues to be the highest level of political involvement that exists.

    Historians, as members of any other profession, have the right to publicly express their political views before an election or regarding a particular issue but they should do it as private citizens. Declaring one's profession is, most of the time, irrelevant. THE ONLY PROFESSION IN WHICH PROFESSION COMES FIRST IS POLITICS. All other US citizens, regardless of their profession, should join the political party that best represents their own ideology or values.

    Who knows, you might find out that ideologically, you have much more in common with other white and blue collar citizens than with your fellow historians!

    Maarja Krusten - 12/17/2007

    An historian who decides to enter the political world by acting as a partisan certainly can apply his training both in the advice he gives a candidate and in any accounts he may choose to write about it. But while he may gain perspective on how the campaign in which he participated played out, and write an retrospective account of it to add to the books written by past Presidents and politicians about such matters, he might weaken his or her ability to engage later in other activities.

    Some twenty years ago, George T. Mazuzan, a former historian at the National Science Foundation, stressed the importance of applying solid standards of academic scholarship in the public sector. He believed this was the best way to counter charges that government historians produce “sanitized” histories. Mazuzan noted in 1988 that “federal historians must not be ‘guns for hire’ in the sense that their agencies define the content of the work that they support. To do so is the quickest way to compromise and undermine not only the historian’s individual scholarship, but also the scholarship of all government history. It is essential for the historian to insist on internal agency freedom to perform the work he has been trained to do.”(Mazuzan, “Official Government Historians and Standards for Scholarship," in Government Publications Review, 15 (1988), 227.)

    Mazuzan candidly discussed the challenges faced by historians in *nonpartisan* positions in the public sector. Dr. Lauck argues that historians can act credibly as partisans, also. I believe a decision to do so should involve a careful assessment of all the risks.

    For example, in a hypothetical, if I were to circulate a petition dealing with the National Archives and the records it holds in its Presidential Libraries, would I have to steer clear of historians who trailed partisan baggage? Whether it is warranted or not, an historian on the payroll of a politician might be open to the charge that he wants to get into the files of Presidents of a party he does not support in order to expose them to opposition research – and to seal to the maximum extent the records of the politicians of the party he supports because he is afraid of what the light might reveal.

    There are a number of questions to consider. Does an historian who becomes a publicly known partisan on the payroll of a politician have to consider message discipline? He wouldn’t play the same role that a Mike McCurry or Scott McClellan might but he still would have an obligation to place his public statements within the framework of the politician’s overall communications strategy.

    Talking freely becomes easier after a politician or those associated with him no longer are active in politics. It’s hard to picture a politician who plans to continue to run for public office telling David Brooks, as he reported this past October of one conversation, “‘I was appalled by what I had to do.’” Brooks mentioned a “look of disgust” that crossed the face of the politician during a discussion of direct-mail letters sent in her name.

    Brooks concluded that “Politics, as you know, is a tainted profession. Professional politicians cannot serve their country if they do not win their races, and to do that they must grapple with a vast array of forces that try to remold and destroy who they are.

    There are consultants who try to turn them into prepackaged clones. There are party whips demanding total loyalty. There is a culture of workaholism that strangles private life and private thinking. There are journalists who define them based on a few ideological labels.

    And then there is the soul-destroying act of campaigning itself.”

    I’d like to hear more about how Dr. Lauck assesses the risks for historians who enter such a world. It seems to me that the hyper nature of much of the political blogosphere adds to the baggage that an historian who enters politics has to take on. Can an historian on a politician’s payroll easily distance himself from the shrill name calling and seeming fear of fellow Americans who think differently from the posters that often fill comment boards on the left and the right? If he cannot condemn those who refer to supporters of the opposing party as Rethuglicans or Defeatocrats, or worse -- because the politician he supports needs the support of the name callers, does his silence imply consent to or agreement with inflammatory rhetoric?

    In some echo chamber political message boards, the members shout down dissenters or engage in silly pissing contests. There’s an awful lot of demagoguery. Some boards seem filled with intimidation but I see few protests against that. I have to say that I’ve seen few displays of courage, as I define it, in the political blogosphere. If the historian must remain silent about such problems, due to loyalty to the candidate, does he risk losing what Brooks calls the war to retain one’s humanity in the political world?

    This essay would be more useful to historians if it addressed the world Brooks examined in his column this past fall. Since not all of HNN’s readers are registered to read the NYT, I’ll quote from some of Brooks’s conclusions:

    “there are two kinds of politicians: those who become creatures of the process, and those who . . .resist and retain the capacity to be appalled by what they must do.

    An amazing number gladly surrender. ‘Public people almost eagerly dehumanize themselves,’ Meg Greenfield wrote in “Washington,” her memoir. ‘They allow the markings of region, family, class, individual character and, generally, personhood that they once possessed to be leached away. At the same time, they construct a new public self that often does terrible damage to what remains of the genuine person.’

    These politicians become denatured pantomimes. They have no thoughts in private that are different from the bromides they utter in public. They confuse public image with real self. They talk to you as an individual the same way they would address a large crowd.

    These simulated creatures end up successful, Greenfield emphasized, but also sad and lonely. . . .

    But the other politicians — the more interesting and impressive ones — struggle to preserve their personal integrity. Many of those who struggle hardest have suffered a personal trauma, like the death of a child or time in a P.O.W. camp, which has created a private space that they refuse to sacrifice to politics.”

    As a former archivist and subject matter expert on the Nixon tapes held by the National Archives, I’ve been looking (largely in vain) for “a few good men” (or women) to examine in an independent and objective fashion what happens to historical records throughout their life cycle, starting with creation. That, too, is an avenue for public engagement, perhaps nobler than working to elect a particular candidate. If more historians acted as Dr. Lauck suggests, they might help their candidates gain historical perspective, and produce some interesting “here’s how it looked to me” books, both of which one can argue are worth doing. But it would diminish the already small universe of scholars who can engage credibly in some other areas that also deserving of attention. How one spends one's professional capital is an interesting question, and I'm glad to see historians writing about it from various viewpoints.

    Posted on personal time

    John D. Beatty - 12/17/2007

    ...As private individuals. We should not use our positions as anything but citizens. Anything else would be abuse of whatever celebrity or authority we may have in our fields.

    If say Eric Foner comes out for Clinton, it has equal weight among some of his fans as Sean Penn would among some other voter blocks, and that is just influence-peddling.

    Endores a cantidate or a platform, but do it without your titles and honors. Historians are no better judges of future political performance than anyone else.