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.