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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

Nixon, the full story

THE Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda, Calif., now the only presidential memorial of its kind without federal funding, wants $3 million in tax dollars to pay for moving the 37th president's hitherto secret political tape recordings to the library from the National Archives.

Given that library operations will be handed over to the federal government next year, it should get the money, along with millions more required to build a new wing to house the material.

Another plus is the commitment of the Rev. John Taylor, executive director of the library foundation, to release the tapes for public scrutiny next year.

He may be doing that in part to compensate for the embarrassment that befell him and his cohorts with the cancellation of a conference of historians at the library that planned to examine Mr. Nixon's role in the Vietnam War. This is not a fair trade-off. The public records of Mr. Nixon's presidency - and certainly these tapes are that - ought to be open as soon as they arrive and be available until they do. That's what being public is all about.

Mr. Nixon was as controversial a president as the current incumbent. His detractors, and there are many who have valid reasons for disliking him, rarely acknowledge the positive achievements of Mr. Nixon's "new American Revolution."

They ran the gamut from using personal diplomacy to open Communist China to the world to instituting a guaranteed annual income via the negative income tax for the poorest of Americans. He encouraged cancer research, pushed school desegregation forward in the South, and saw the Clean Air Act of 1970, which latter-day Republicans seem to be trying to dismantle, through to enactment. He also backed a policy of self-determination for Native Americans.

That he was also responsible for the heinous deeds of Watergate, which led to his resignation, is no reason to forget the good he did, just as any reflection on his achievements cannot overlook Watergate.

In short, like the rest of us, Richard Nixon was a flawed human being. There is a tendency among those who protect memories to try to bury facts that may tarnish them. That is a mistake President Bush has already made by sealing presidential records unless presidents unseal them. Keepers of the flame of any historic person must acknowledge all sides of his or her character.

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