I remember the shock and outrage of a nation when it became known that Nixon had made secret recordings of nearly every conversation that took place in the Oval Office (and the subsequent reverse outrage at the missing 18 minutes of recordings…). However, as it seems political figures are now being held to 100% accuracy standards when it comes to remembering past conversations, it would seem that Nixon was nothing but prudent.
I haven’t followed the Libby trial, but have heard enough to know that there is no way that someone with my flaky memory could ever be in public office. I don’t remember details of conversations I had yesterday, much less a year or two ago. And, considering that Scooter Libby (as does Tim Russert and the others involved) probably had conversations with dozens of people daily, I never had a problem with the fact that memories conflict; especially about someone whose name no one seemed to know, or really care about (“Valerie who?”).
I’ve sat through many courtrooms over the last 25 years, and often heard witnesses asked about conversations they may have had 4 or 5 years earlier. The fact that anyone has what appears to be an especially accurate memory is actually suspicious… it usually means that the memory has been somehow “enhanced,” through a person’s own tendency to interpret and by doing so revise their memories. Memories are not set in stone; I’ve found that memories seem to include – and sometimes are dominated by – our emotions and prejudgments of things. This is then impacted by others’ memories and their interpretations of situations.
So, no matter who is under fire with regard to past events, without a Nixonian system of recording all conversations I believe they are being unfairly measured against a standard of perfect memories which doesn’t exist in reality; it is, rather, “the stuff that dreams are made of.” But, as long as we’re under a two-party system, with the main goal of each party to discredit the leaders of the opposing party, reality will not be anyone’s standard.
A word to the wise: if you ever consider running for public office, begin carrying an mp3 voice recorder and start taping everything. You never know when you’ll be asked to remember something.