To celebrate Presidents Day, Stephanie, Fletch and I took a trip down to scenic Yorba Linda and visited the Richard M. “Dick” Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. I’m a fan of Presidential Museums and my family is very, very understanding. Plus it meant getting out of the house. So everybody sort of wins, and especially me.
As soon as we got there we were knees deep in the awesome. It being Presidents Day and all, the library was waving the entrance fees for everybody. Of course this meant that it was an absolute zoo — we had to park in the overflow lot across the street, which is the exact opposite of how parking usually is at these places — but it also saved us $24. Braggable.
Further — further! — there was a gang of presidential impersonators hanging out in the lobby, including but certainly not limited to my all time most favorite president ever, Mr. Harry S. Truman.
Being a fan of the former president, I was very, very excited to whip out my “let’s mess with the impersonator” science and ask him to say hello to Tom Pendergast for me. But wouldn’t you know it, the second I told him that I was from Kansas City — an inexcusable rookie move on my part — he brought it up himself! Which was pretty cool, but less fun for me than him trying to make some assertion that he didn’t owe the entirety of his (character’s) career to the mob. Oh well.
Since Stephanie and I were last at the Nixon museum it’s been turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It was formerly run by the private “Gosh Golly we love us some Dick Nixon Library Foundation” or something like that. I think NARA has done a really bang-up job with some of the other museums it runs, and the Nixon museum has always been a little less of a museum and a little more of a shrine, so I was really excited to see what NARA had done with the place. They mentioned in the (formerly mandatory) intro film that their mission was to modernize the museum and make it more interactive, which would be a big, big step forward.
From there they launched in to the same film that they old Nixon Library Foundation folks put together, that glosses over Watergate, Cambodia, etc., and highlights Dick’s missions to China, which is well and good. But then it went on to glorify his time at HUAC, which strikes me as kind of crazy, as that’s perhaps the least-good thing he ever did to our nation. Oh well.
Much of the first section of the museum is about Nixon’s political campaigns, as is pretty customary for these museums. You can find the customary array of pins and buttons, all of which I think are great. They also have some pretty wonderful letters from dignitaries and celebrities to the Representative/Senator/Vice President/President available. Fletcher especially found the letter from Dr. King to then vice-president Nixon interesting.
The whole time we were there, I had a really, really hard time keeping my inner-14-year-old in check. Seriously. How can you not laugh at something like this?
From the campaign years we moved on to Nixon’s foreign policy. Like any president, he had his ups and downs, but it’s really hard to ignore him opening a dialog with China. Even though we don’t really agree with them on all so much, it’s useful that we talk to them. You know: keep them involved in the world’s conversation. (If only that weren’t such a contentious notion today.)
Of course, as every cold-war presidential library does (and should), Dick’s museum has a chunk of the Berlin Wall.
Maybe now that NARA is running things they’ll find a better way to display this. Reagan has his mounted outside overlooking mountains and what have you. (Where’s my picture of that? I thought I had one?)
Probably the most unfortunate thing about the RMNM&L is that it really gives short shrift to some of Nixon’s truly great accomplishments. For example, Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s the sum total of the mention it got:
Further, the reading of Miranda Rights became compulsory on Nixon’s watch. That didn’t even get a full display, instead just getting a blurb in his “tough on crime” display.
I think the contents of this are worth repeating:
When President Nixon took office, the cop on the beat had to carry an extra piece of “equipment” besides his gun and badge: the Miranda rules advised suspects of their rights. Richard Nixon changed the focus back to the victim’s rights
If you were Richard M. Nixon or his estate, wouldn’t you want to play that up?
Another brief 14-year-old moment. You all know the game with Spiro Agnew’s name, right? About how you can rearrange the letters? Yes, I’m aware that Dave Barry has been all over that one for ages.
Now, on to the Watergate room. Perviously this was a long, dark corridor with really small, dense and horrible white-on-black copy describing the events of watergate and “white house recordings” cued up to static. Now it’s not even that.
NARA is renovating the room, hopefully to include something that doesn’t make you want to leave as quickly as possibly, as was the intent of the previous exhibit. Notable missing pieces from the former exhibit: a letter from Ben Stein positively gushing about what a great guy Dick was. Notably still there: the best resignation letter, ever. I’ve patterned all save one resignation letters after this.
Rather unfortunately, it was raining and the birthplace museum was closed. This was certainly for the best, as tracking mud through a museum is rarely a win. A short recap, as I’ve seen the place before: it was really small. A bunch of folks lived there. Nixon played the piano.
New since I was last there is the Marine One that Nixon used. I heard from a family that was very excited about all things Nixon that George W. Bush himself rode in on the chopper when it was delivered to the museum. Mission Accomplished, I guess.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that neither Stephanie nor Fletcher are crooks.
Although Fletch is apparently a Vulcan.
Nixon’s final resting place is indeed on the grounds of the museum. It’s easy to bag on the guy, but at the end of the day he was still our president, and if you’re going to leave the world with a parting thought, it’s hard to beat the one on his headstone.