Over the years, the Richard Nixon Library, Birthplace, Museum, Taqueria & Polo Grounds in Yorba Linda has hosted such speakers as Ann Coulter, Hugh Hewitt, Bill O'Reilly, William J. Bennett, Dick Cheney and probably even more repulsive folks--if that's even possible--that I'm forgetting.
After the partisan Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation that had been running the place turned over the keys to the National Archives--which now calls it the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum; please keep up--executive director Tim Naftali vowed to bring a more diverse roster of speakers than the usual group who were generally split between those on the far right and those on the marginally less far far right. Among the first guests of the new regime was former Los Angeles Times columnist and current TruthDig editor-in-chief Robert Sheer, who occupies the left seat on KCRW's Left, Right & Center. (Or is Arianna Huffington supposed to be the one on the left? Can't keep my godless Communist pinkos straight without a scorecard these days.)
But now comes word that a man who puts the "F-U" in "functions" at the Nixon Library will be making his first appearance there at 7 p.m. on June 17. It is none other than Dick's former White House counsel, John Dean.
That hisssssssssssssssssing sound you hear is coming from the Nixon Foundation faithful, soon to be followed by the loud popping of their blue-haired heads exploding.
Dean, as any Old Guard Nixon Lie-brary Watergate display will tell you, was the one who masterminded the notorious break-in(s)--under the Commander-in-Chief's nose, but of course. Even more damn-your-eyes-worthy was Dean being a staunch critic of the way the then-private Nixon library used to be run. Addressing the August 2008 convention of the Society of American Archivists, Dean spoke about the politicization of the presidential libraries, singling out the Nixon library in particular. Of course, by then the gub-ment was in charge.
Nixonites have battered right back, making Dean one of their favorite pinatas. A university professor once wrote about visiting the Old Guard library's Watergate exhibit and being approached by a breathless young man born years after the break-in(s) recommending the historian read Silent Coup, which blames Dean for Watergate.
I haven't read anything where John Taylor has explicitly blamed Dean for the break-in(s) and cover-up(s)--if Taylor has, my apologies to him--but the Nixon foundation's former executive director certainly has nosed around that conclusion over the years in chastising anyone who suggests Dick knew anything about illegal activities. In Taylor's view, the most recent shame was Dean's defense of historian Stanley I. Kutler, whose 1997 book Abuse Of Power, Nixonites charge, mistakenly gave Dean cover from his own White House sins.
This even ties in to Dean's upcoming appearance at the facility Taylor once slaved over. The most recent ruckus over Kutler's book prompted Dean to think about resurrecting his own tome on the Watergate era, Blind Ambition. Sure enough, he'll be signing new editions of the book at the Nixon library. Admission is free, but call (714) 983-9120 or email email@example.com to reserve a seat. And don't forget to . . . uh . . .
Hissssssssssssssssssssssssssssss . . .
For those whose gray matter has yet to stain the floor, we return you now Taylor, who left the foundation to become an Episcopalian priest in Rancho Santa Margarita, writing Jan. 31 on his always entertaining The Episconixonian blog:
A few scholars and writers--James Hougan, Len Colodny, Joan Hoff, Jonathan Aitken, and James Rosen--have challenged the conventional wisdom about Watergate, especially the role of White House counsel John Dean. Some even assert Dean covered up the Watergate break-in to obscure his own crimes, not President Nixon's.
Among Dean's friends and boosters is scholar Stanley Kutler, whose 1997 book Abuse of Power contains transcripts which he seemed to edit to make it appear that Mr. Nixon had known in advance about the September 1971 break-in by the White House Plumbers at the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. When I challenged Kutler an American Spectator article, he corrected the most egregiously misleading passage in the paperback edition.
Taylor later points visitors to new questions being raised about whether Kutler's personal friendship with Dean has blurred the historian's scholarship, pulling out this nugget from Peter Klingman's unpublished submission to American Historical Review:
[L[ongtime critics of his transcripts say Mr. Kutler deliberately edited the tapes in ways that painted a more benign portrait of a central figure in the drama, the conspirator-turned-star-witness, John W. Dean III, the White House counsel who told Nixon that Watergate had become a "cancer" on his presidency.
Such mysteries abound when it comes to the accusations that periodically swirl around John Dean. His role as the repentant, whistle-blowing hero seems to be so important to the prevailing Watergate narrative that alternative theories not only aren't investigated, they're essentially aborted. The most recent example is the odd decision by the [New York] Times itself not to review James Rosen's full-scale, carefully researched biography of former attorney general John Mitchell, The Strong Man, which raises many questions about Dean as well as the opportunistic actions of Watergate prosecutors.
Speaking of choosing not to do things, when he was still the Nixon Library chief Taylor abruptly cancelled a Vietnam conference in spring 2005 that was to feature many critics of his former boss's administration. Taylor blamed poor advance ticket sales, but his decision drew the stinging letter below--reprinted in George Mason University's March 3, 2005, History News Network--from a scheduled panelist. Don't worry; Dean works his way into this, too.
Dear Mr. Taylor:
Thank you for appending me on your response to Professor Berman yesterday. I remember with fondness my day at your Yorba Linda facility a few years ago, after which I emerged from my immersion in your selection of the Watergate tapes understanding for really the first time ever, that John Dean had actually masterminded the Watergate break-in and all the other dirty tricks and had stuck his victimized chief executive with the blame. Ever since, I have featured your exhibit as a case study at the summer institute on archival research that we teach here at George Washington University, and no few of those graduate students have ventured to Yorba Linda to hear the selection for themselves, the better to tell the story to successive generations.
Thus, I was sad to find out in November 2003 that the Nixon library and birthplace sought to become a professional archival repository, part of the Presidential Library system. All of the other presidential theme parks have taken the treatment, but surely President Nixon would have appreciated the outlier status that you have cultivated. Perhaps it was a budgetary matter, and the opportunity to dip into the public till (even minus the percentage that your lobbyists at Cassidy must take) was too tempting to pass up. Whatever the motivations, there was a silver lining that at least the deal promised to reunite, at long last, the spliced Nixon tapes, putting back into the National Archives (or at least into an adjacent storage room) the personal and Republican Party portions of the tapes that had been eviscerated from the corpus over the past 30 years.
But my gloom lifted with the joy of realizing that Nixonianism is not dead, in fact, as William Faulkner would have remarked, it's not even past. Your plug-pulling on the Vietnam conference brought back memories of going off the gold standard without telling the Japanese. Your laser-like focus on advance ticket sales (as of March 3 for an April 28 event) brought back memories of Donald Segretti's monitoring of attendance at Ed Muskie's events in 1970. Your brilliant efforts to string along your ostensible colleagues from Whittier College, your outstanding dramatic performance in a minor role to pretend that the likes of Stanley Kutler were actually welcome in Yorba Linda, your extraordinary marketing, advertising, and public relations blitz to gain the largest possible audience for the conference (how big exactly was that email list that produced seven registrations seven weeks in advance?)--all reminded me of President Nixon's own face, lifted toward the chandelier, intoning solemnly, "If we need the money we can get the money. We can get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten but the question is who can handle it?" (Later, of course, he remarked, "And it would be wrong.")
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Indeed, your cancellation convinces me to agree with you that it would be wrong for Yorba Linda to host real scholarly conferences. Bar mitzvahs are far more lucrative. Of course, you are also suggesting that it would be wrong for Yorba Linda to host real archival records, and you may well have a point there as well.
You really don't want scholars around, anyhow. They have this annoying habit of clustering near the truth. And that would definitely mess with your marketing, such as it is.
Thomas S. Blanton
Director, National Security Archive
George Washington University
Well, Thomas S. Blanton doesn't have John Taylor to kick around anymore.