Take a Letter - but That's All

Ah the perils of being a presidential secretary! At one moment you have New Yorker writer Henry Louis Gates Jr. praising Richard Nixon's faithful assistant, Rose Mary Woods, as exhibit A in his long essay on political loyalty. After all, she took the rap for causing that 18-minute erasure in the potentially incriminating Oval Office tapes that were the smoking gun of Watergate. And she stuck by her boss, lips sealed, for years after exiting the White House. No telltale, she.

Then, next moment, you find that longtime paragon of Camelot, John F. Kennedy's secretary Evelyn Lincoln, turned from saint to alleged klepto. And who was accusing her of purloining her boss's doodles, notes, and memorabilia? Little John John, who once crawled under dad's desk so beguilingly in the days when she had to keep the place in order.

Then suddenly it's today, and Betty Currie, current occupant of the job is supposed to have grabbed a few of her boss's alleged doodles and memorabilia - like hat pins, t-shirts, and inscibed volumes of Walt Whitman - and said they were hers, or at least her ideas. Let the Smithsonian sort that out!

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Actually, we don't think the public and careful historians will have any trouble concluding that all three secretaries were loyal to their bosses, sometimes in trying circumstances.

Author Gates raised a significant question when he decided to lament the demise of loyalty in public life. But he focused on only the more obvious side of the matter: whether aides are loyal to their bosses in the political life. How about bosses who are disloyal to their assistants? And how about a higher loyalty for bosses and aides? As public servants, both should be as loyal to the truth as to each other. Owning up to erasing a tape or testifying honestly under oath are, after all, forms of loyalty to the public they are supposed to serve.

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