I highly recommend a trip to the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, which we just visited.
I understand it once existed to spin Nixon’s legacy after his death. But then a new director was appointed with a mandate to make the library a full reflection of Richard Nixon’s career.
So you can learn about his trip to China, but also hear Virgilio Martinez tell how he and Gordon Libby broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. There’s a display of all the places RMN had microphones so as not to miss a word: chandeliers, lights, telephones, desks in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, Camp David — the guy just wired it all up.
There’s a permanent display about Watergate.
You do come away with a feeling for the deep complexity of the man — who signed laws creating the EPA, the National Endowment for Arts (and Humanities), strengthened the National Institute for Health and National Cancer Institute — and how his own obsessions were both his strength and weakness, leading to his success and eventual demise.
You also come away with a strong impression of how the Republican Party has changed since then. I have trouble imagining the Nixon who signed that legislation being welcome in this Republican Party.
The gift shop is great. Lots of swag with the photo of Nixon and Elvis — I got a mint tin with Nixon and the King and a bottle of sunscreen with Nixon and the King.
There’s also a whole section dedicated to the question, What would Nixon Do? I’m not sure where this comes from, and what the point is, but I now have a bumper sticker, two coffee mugs, and a magnet and a keychain (WWND?), so that at the crucial moments of my life I can remember to let this question guide my actions. I passed on the WWND? t-shirts.
I also now have two shot glasses on which are printed, apparently without irony, the following quote from his farewell speech to WH staff:
“Only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”
A little later in the speech, he said the words that defined his Shakespearean presidency: “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”