Monday, June 16, 2014

YORBA LINDA, CALIFORNIA: RICHARD NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY, Part 2,Nixon's Legacy

The second half of 1973, the first year of Nixon's second term, was very rocky. Watergate hearings got underway in July, and in November Nixon delivered his "I am not a crook" speech. In May 1974 impeachment hearings began, and on August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned the Presidency.

I expected that a large section of the Presidential Library would be devoted to the Watergate Affair. There are 2,719 hours of White House recordings covering conversations from February 1971 through July 1973 available for listening, and besides, the word "Watergate" has become synonymous with "Nixon." However, there was room after room of other Nixon-related memorabilia before we got to the Watergate display.

It's pretty common to have a re-creation of the Oval Office in Presidential museums, but this is the only replica of the White House East Room.  It is not just a pretty room, however. It can be rented for wedding parties. Was Nixon a party animal? From what  I have read, it sounds like he hated parties, but he felt compelled to give a lot of them--and to micromanage every detail.
I loved the room full of displays related to Nixon's international connections. This structure protects the shipping box that brought the one of the first giant pandas, a gift from the People's Republic of China, to the U.S. in April 1972:
They were named Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, and we Americans fell in love at first sight.
A piece of the Berlin Wall stands before a model of Moscow's St. Basel's Cathedral. Nixon looked over the Wall and made a speech there in 1969:

Nixon looks over the Wall from a platform.  Photo from here.

The Moon landing happened in the first year of Nixon's Presidency. This is a reproduction of Apollo and Beyond, painted by Norman Rockwell in 1969 to commemorate the key people behind the Apollo 11 mission. It was commissioned to illustrate an article written by Arthur C. Clarke for Look magazine. The astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins are on the left, and their wives are shown in the bottom right corner. The back-up crew members are included, as well as Werner von Braun and other NASA scientists. The launch tower at Cape Kennedy, Florida, is in the top right corner.
One of my favorite sections of any Presidential Library is the room that houses the gifts from foreign dignitaries:
Beautiful Chinese collage of jade, mother-of-pearl, ivory, mahogany, and lacquered wood inlay:
Believe it or not, this is needlepoint, not a photograph. It shows Nixon with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai during their historic meeting in 1972. The Chinese government had it made in Shanghai and presented it to the Library in 1991.

Other memorabilia include this portrait of Pat Nixon, who in my opinion was the very best thing about Richard Nixon:
. . . and the 1967 Lincoln Continental Limousine used by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford:
Finally, we wandered into the Watergate exhibit. I was surprised by how relatively small it was, really just a long hallway:



I think my favorite part of museum was this gallery of world leaders. Nixon requested that it included statues of the major world figures with whom he had dealings during his political career.
A disclaimer on one of the signs in the room says, "The presence of the statues in this gallery does not imply that the United States government, which has operated this museum since 2007, takes a position on their legacies."
Chou En-lai and Mao Tse-tung of the People's Republic of China
Shigeru Yoshida, Prime Minister of Japan
My favorite guy with Winston Churchill of England,
Charles de Gaulle of France, and Konrad Adenauer of Germany
Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Krushchev of the Soviet Union
Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Golda Meir of Israel
The flags of each nation hang from the ceiling:
I enjoyed this display of Time magazine covers featuring Nixon, who, at 54 appearances, is the all-time most-featured Time magazine persona. Who knew?  He first graced the cover when he was nominated for Vice President in 1952, and his last cover was the week of his death in 1994.

 

The museum also has displays of other magazines whose covers he has adorned, along with the twelve books he penned:
Nixon seemed to be extra photogenic, or maybe it was that he was so easy to caricature with his sloping nose, hunced posture, and in-your-face attitude.
I really enjoyed the parts of the library where the more personal parts of his life, the parts the public rarely saw, are highlighted, including this invitation to his 80th birthday party that features him as a doting grandpa:
I also love this picture of five living presidents spending time together like old friends. It was taken in 1991 at the opening of this library. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall. Hmmm. Eavesdropping on Nixon? Turn about is fair play, right?
We actually currently have five living presidents, but only two, Bush Sr. and Carter, are from the group above. 
This picture is the perfect segue to the first of my reading recommendations.

READING:
After reading another one of my posts on a Presidential Library, my sister Chris recommended the book The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It is a great read if you are interested in Nixon because out of the twenty-six chapters that cover Presidents Hoover to Obama, EIGHT chapters deal with Nixon and his relationships with various other Presidents, beginning with Eisenhower, under whom he served as Vice President and whose grandson married Julie, Nixon's daughter. The authors are editors for Time magazine and are Presidential historians. They are pretty hard on Nixon, but they do give an interesting context for a lot of his misdeeds. He was operating in a political climate of manipulation and dishonesty, and he got caught while others did not. I found Nixon's activities after his Presidency especially interesting. He had no problem offering advice to each of his successors. I was really surprised by the collegiality among them all. Political party doesn't seem to matter once a President retires from office. Each sitting President asks his predecessors for advice, and then often follows that advice. I had no idea. Each President also makes an effort to keep past Presidents in the loop, even giving them special assignments.

Describing one gathering of living Presidents in 1993, Gibbs and Duffy write:

For the first time since Lincoln's inauguration in 1861, five former presidents were alive to see the swearing in of the sixth [Bill Clinton]. The five--Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush--represented twenty-four years in the Oval Office. . . . [A]s a quintet, they were particularly distinctive. Except for Reagan, all had left the white house under unhappy circumstances: Nixon resigned; Ford was defeated after two years; Carter and Bush were rejected after one term. Nixon spent twenty years in retirement, Ford more than twenty-five, and Carter is likely to become the longest-living former president in history . . . . Nixon, the thirty-seventh president, was elected to Congress in 1946, the same year that Clinton, the forth-second president, was born.

Early in Clinton's presidency, he and Nixon actually become personal friends and started to drop in on each other for visits. That doesn't mean Nixon approved of all of Clinton's decisions or of his personal behavior, and vice versa, but there was a genuine respect for each other. I had forgotten than President Clinton even delivered the eulogy at Nixon's funeral:

Overall, it is an excellent book, one I will refer back to when we visit other Presidential libraries.


There are many other books about and by Richard Nixon, but in my mind one of the things that really made him interesting (and successful, for that matter) was his stalwart, supportive, intelligent, and charming wife. I just finished reading Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage by Will Swift. It shows a side of Dick that most people never saw, one that is quite likable. I was surprised by Dick's reliance on Pat. From the very beginning, she helped him to keep going in the face of strong opposition and to confront the many demons in his life. Dick penned these words in his book In the Arena (1990): "Pat was always stronger. Without her, I could not have done what I did." Pat was often the victim of bad press, which painted her as wooden and passive. Her drive for perfection may have made her appear a bit robotic, but she was anything but passive. The Presidency years were very stressful for the Nixons' marriage, and sometimes Dick really was really hard on Pat (along with everyone else), but in the end they weathered the storm. 

Their marriage lasted fifty-three years, and at Pat's funeral, Dick ". . . was overcome by wrenching sobs. . . . Dick tried to regain control. He covered his mouth with a handkerchief. But this man, who had been so careful not to show vulnerability in nearly fifty years of public service, could not contain himself. With his 'shoulders hunched forward' and his body quivering, he continued to weep."  Dick died just ten months later.

My understanding of Richard Nixon was broadened and my admiration for Pat was reinforced and greatly expanded by this book.

2 comments:

  1. It's a little sad that Nixon's legacy is nearly completely eclipsed by his scandal. He's a complex and interesting character, and I came away with the same feelings you did after reading The President's Club.

    The needlepoint is astonishing!

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  2. I think Nixon's presidency is the most interesting of them all. It was a momentous time in history, both in the US and abroad. Price freezes and long lines at the gas pump, Viet Nam, China, and of course, Watergate, which seemed interminable to me as it eclipsed other tv programs that I would rather have watched as a youth.

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