Monday, June 20, 2005

Thoughts on Nixon's Library

So last week I spent a few hours at Nixon's library in Yorba Linda, California. I'm a history and presidential buff, so the fact that the library was just a few minutes from where I was staying was a perk.

The library was fascinating, really. I went through rather fast, so I didn't read every plaque, every entry, every comment. But the overall effect was obviously very favorable to America's 37th President.

I have to admit, try as I might to be objective, some of the Watergate section seemed designed, bound, and determined to rewrite history on Nixon's knowledge, participation, and actions. Oddly I happened to be there on the 33rd anniversary of the actual initial break-in at the Watergate Hotel (DNC headquarters), something I didn't realize until later. The narrator of several of the components of the Watergate exhibits intoned deeply about how little the President knew, and how poorly served he was by his staffers. I can agree with the latter, not the former.

In following a few older ladies around the museum, I was struck by how defensive they were in talking with one another of Nixon. I don't know if they were locals or from elsewhere, but as I walked along in silence next to them they continued to talk about what the Democrats did that tripped Nixon up. I would have been more concerned if they hadn't been so completely wrong in their history of the events as I listened to them talk to one another about it. Listening to them made me aware of the Red/Blue state divide, even when it comes to history. It is perhaps fitting that when we arrived at the section on the First Lady's gowns, they lingered for a long time while I took a quick glance and moved on to the rest of the museum.

All in all the museum was well done. The preservation of Nixon's birthplace and the history of his family was very interesting. Despite the fact that it really is in the middle of a bustling town setting, at the cross-section of several state highways, it had a calm and placid feel to it. The gravestones where the President and Mrs. Nixon are buried are well-kept.

At the library now, and for the rest of this year, is a traveling exhibit of a brilliantly detailed scale replica of the White House down to the paintings on the walls. This exhibit has been around the country, and won't be at the Nixon Library permanently, but it was worth the price of admission.

Coming on the heels of the Mark Felt/Deep Throat admissions, I wasn't surprised to see no mention of that episode, but I was a little disappointed. I haven't been to Little Rock yet to see the Clinton library, but I'd be intrigued to see how it handles the impeachment. I would expect the same sort of defensiveness, but history is better served if these museums would report the facts as they are known, and update them accordingly.

Nixon, I was reminded, had a tremendous domestic and international record of success and progress. By today's standards he would be considered a political moderate and a rather effective president. But his personal demons, never slayed, proved to be his undoing. The story of Watergate has fascinated me since I was young (no explanations for that) so to finally see my first presidential library, and the fact that it was Nixon's was very unique.

6 comments:

Maria said...

You know -- I was at the Clinton Library in April and I'm hard pressed to remember how they dealt with the impeachment at all... Maybe that's just because I'm a die hard D, or maybe it was because my feet hurt and I was anxious to get back on the bus, or maybe it was because I was awestruck by a pic of our own Larry Echohawk. Whatever it was, I guess we're all a little guilty of remembering historical events through our own lenses...

Mike said...

Of course, some people are so smitten with the former President Clinton they forget he even WAS impeached... ;-)

Anonymous said...

lessee, Tricky Dick in a squeaker, beat HHH by claiming he had a secret plan to end the war. In the summer of '68, his soon to be NSA/Sec. State Kissinger convinced the South Vietnamese not to cooperate in the Peace talks that were coming to a conclusion, and may have concluded before the election, assuring a Dem victory.

Dick comes into office, and proceeds to kill a million+ South East Asians, and another 20,000 brave American boys, before signing a "Peace with Honor" deal that was anything but. He destroyed whatever faith existed in a just and honest government. The US Armed forces were decimated and demoralized. Oh, but he opened up China, so that today we can have 1/2 cent a piece happy meal toys and $35 DVD players made by Chinese child slave labor.

What I want to know is, where's Nixon's grave? I have an excess of saliva and a hankerin' to dance a little jig.

Bill McCrory said...

anonymous,

President Nixon is buried on the grounds of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

Mike,

Next time you go down there, go see the Reagan Library. I haven't been there since the "Five Presidents" meeting, but it is fascinating. If you can wrangle a tour of the warehouse underneath the Library, it's worth the trip. Most people don't realize how much lies beneath the surface.

Mike said...

well, hell, anonymous, I never said the man was a saint, did I? I can't support desecration, but his grave is right there at the museum and birthplace in Yorba Linda.

Mike said...

Bill,

It's next on my list. I actually am old enough to remember Reagan, and I have great fondness for him as one of my first political icons (along with Mayor Ed Koch of New York, if you can believe that). I'll check it out - thanks for weighing in.