Tuesday, March 15, 2005

On Applying Internal Standards of Evaluation

Today, the LA Times has a commentary which argues that, unlike other presidential papers, Richard Nixon's papers ought to remain under the control of the U.S. Archives, rather than his presidential library. Of course, Nixon's case is different from those of other presidents. Apparently, when Nixon was leaving office he destroyed some of his papers and attempted to take others with him, prompting the federal government to take control of them and denying the Nixon Library a chance to administer them, denying the Nixon Library status as an official presidential library within the presidential library system. In 2004, however, Congress approved a request to include the Nixon Library with the rest of the presidential libraries, a vote that would hand control over of the Nixon papers to the library.

David Greenberg, historian and author of Nixon's Shadows argues that Nixon's library is not able to responsibly handle these papers. Primarily citing the Nixon Library's recent decision to cancel a conference on Nixon and Vietnam, Greenberg points out that the Nixon Library is too devoted to crafting a particular image of Nixon to be trusted with the papers.
The cancellation provoked an uproar. The library claims that tickets weren't selling well enough, but most observers see political motives at work — more of Nixon's old concern with shaping his reputation.
Though there are probably constraints on the space Mr. Greenberg can take up with his arguments, (not so much the case with me and this blog!) I don't know if a historian who lauds the gathering of multiple viewpoints and perspectives on evidence should be so breezy with the evidence that lies at the heart of his own claims. Is it really appropriate to jump the gun and assume that the library is being deceptive and that this deception is part and parcel of a larger move to recraft Nixon’s image? It seems almost Nixonesque of Greenberg to conjure up this image of "the old" Nixon's hands reaching from the dirt to continue crafting his image. Now that Nixon is dead, do we have to hear from historians anthropomorphizing inanimate objects?

And it seems pretty bad form to talk about Newt Gingrich and Ari Fleischer like this:
Today, the museum's events typically include book-promoting speeches from the likes of Newt Gingrich and Ari Fleischer. The rare invitation to a serious historian will pair him or her with a far-out Nixon defender, like conspiracy theorist Len Colodny, one of the authors of "Silent Coup," which denies the basic facts of Watergate, maintaining it was a crisis imposed on Nixon, not a crisis Nixon imposed on the country.
Yikes! The likes of Gingrich and Fliescher--hardly the type to be confused with the serious historians.

Sometimes, I think this article reads like transcript of a bitter paranoiac seeing conspiracies and enemies around every door and window!


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