Stanley Kutler, the great Nixon historian, gadfly, and all-around mensch, has passed away.
“He did the historical profession—and the American public—a huge favor with his lawsuit to open the Nixon tapes,” says journalist, historian, and Rutgers professor David Greenberg, a fellow Nixon scholar.
Best known for his successful legal battles for the release of the tapes that verified Nixon's participation in the Watergate cover-up, Kutler is the author of the definitive books, "Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes,” and "The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon,”
More recently, he worked with Harry Shearer on the play “I, Nixon” and the television series “Nixon’s the One.”
Those projects delighted and energized him in recent years.
“He really devoted the last decades of his life to making sure that the historical record was set straight about Nixon and Watergate,” says Greenberg.
Besides being a towering figure in his field, Stanley was a generous spirit, full of fun, kind, helpful to his younger colleagues, and interested in their work.
Greenberg remembers that Stanley was delighted when he learned that Greenberg’s birthday was August 8, the day Nixon resigned—a special date his family nicknamed “Stanleymas”.
I got to know Stanley over many pastrami lunches at Gotham Bagel. He would email my husband, Mitch, and me, to set up these lunches with a one-word subject line: “Nu?"
Twinkling, full of good humor, bad jokes and political insight, Stanley was a treasure.
When we last saw him, in March, he was recently out of the hospital and seemed to be in high spirits. He waved away questions about his health—he had more important things to discuss.
Those topics included, most urgently, this week's election in Wisconsin, and, as he put it, “what they are doing to Shirley,” meaning Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Abrahamson, a brilliant progressive jurist, is the bane of the corrupt rightwing majority on the court and its corporate backers. Yesterday, on the day Stanley passed away, Abrahamson's opponents succeeded in passing a constitutional amendment to demote her, changing a 126-year-old system that appoints the chief justice by seniority. Now, the conservative majority on the court will elect a new chief justice.
Particularly outrageous to Stanley was Governor Scott Walker’s personal campaign to cut Abrahamson’s pay.
That business interests, including the largest lobbying group in the state, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, spent more to demote the chief justice than they did on a contested supreme court seat shows how serious they were about taking her down.
Stanley and Shirley were cut from the same cloth—unintimidated champions of democracy, transparency, and public institutions that serve the public, not a shadowy private cabal.
It’s no surprise that the battle over her position on the court concerned him.
A sparkling writer and speaker and a deep thinker, Stanley frequently connected the lessons of Watergate and the Nixon Administration to current news, as in a recent Huffington Post column he wrote, chastising Tom Friedman and other American apologists for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
“The ever-accommodating New York Times’ Thomas Freidman will not disapprove or denounce Netanyahu’s repeated interference and public undermining of American policies,” Stanley wrote. “Freidman thinks it gives the United States some broad strategic advantage, enabling it to tell Iranians, 'Look, our friends are craaaaazzzy. And one of them has a big air force. You better sign quick.’ . . . Freidman must admire Richard Nixon’s so-called ‘madman theory’ for dealing with the North Vietnamese.”
In another piece, “'Israel Can Do No Wrong’: Jewish Dissent, Jewish Repression,”
Stanley recently denounced the demand that American Jews “unequivocally support Israel . . . against criticism” when “Israeli policies of the moment can and do betray values held by a large swatch of American Jewry.”
Stanley was not one to brook repression, censorship, or the betrayal of values.
He was a happy warrior, a great American, and a great guy.
We miss you, Stanley.
Ruth Conniff is editor of The Progressive.
Image credits: Jeff Miller; Arthur Wang