Just about the time Watergate memories begin to shorten and it appears former president Richard Nixon is on the verge of regaining some respectability, he seems to go out of his way to encourage new derision and embarrassment.
Nixon now has renewed his legal battle to be paid for the Watergate tapes and other White House papers he was forced to turn over to the government as part of the probe of the scandal which resulted in Nixon's resignation in 1974.
A federal appeals court has reserved its decision after hearing lawyers for Nixon and the government argue over who owns the documents. A three-judge U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has expressed skepticism, at times outright hostility, to claims by a Justice Department lawyer that history shows the papers belong to the American public.
``I'm astonished at your argument,'' presiding Judge Harry Edwards told Justice Department lawyer Neil Koslowe after the attorney said tradition shows presidents are expected to donate their papers for public inspection. Koslowe said Nixon's old vow to destroy the tapes if they remained in his possession boosts the government's case that the public interest must be protected.
Nixon is appealing a December 1991 ruling by U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn, who said the papers and tapes belong to the American people and that the government owes Nixon nothing for taking them. Nixon sued in 1980, seeking an unspecified amount of compensation, including damages for depriving him of his constitutional rights of privacy, speech and association.
It's not a case of Nixon needing money to survive. He has profited quite handsomely from his public service and disservice, including his miserable handling of his role in the Watergate mess. Now he has enhanced the negative image many have of him by allowing further appeals regarding the Watergate material.
Why doesn't the ex-president just quietly slip away from such a scene and quit reopening wounds caused by his errant deportment in the Oval Office? The material involved belongs to the American public, not Richard Nixon. Each time he does something else like this he weakens the chances of his presidential tenure being evaluated in a more objective light which some day could lead to his being thought of as a more honorable and capable man who simply made serious mistakes.
Nixon already has paid dearly for bad judgment. Hasn't he learned anything from the ordeal? Why keep courting new disasters?