I’m not playing politics; it just so happens that there are two presidential libraries in California, and they are for Republican presidents. Last year I visited the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley. It was time to take on Richard Nixon.
The above photo of the portrait mural is just the beginning of the library’s attempt to re-educate the visitor about the man who is widely remembered for the scandal of Watergate and little else. I was ready for a some education, but first I visited Nixon’s roots.
He was a native son of Yorba Linda, the site of the library. The house in which he was born and raised is still there…on the library grounds. Because it was a bright, warm day, I visited the house first and saved the cooler museum for later.
Built in 1912, the year before Nixon’s birth, this tiny house is small but charming. There is one bedroom downstairs for the parents and another upstairs for boys. None of the rooms are large but there is space enough for a piano, and music must have filled the house. While there were hardships and tragedies, I suspect it was, for the most part, a happy house.
The family lived here for nine years before moving on to nearby Whittier.
The Political Climb and Fall
Back in the library and the exhibit proper, I roamed the corridors of Nixon’s early life and his start into politics. He often didn’t win, but as he said, he wasn’t a quitter. He persevered until he finally made it to the presidency and the oval office of the White House.
As I continued to walk through the corridors, each representing a decade in history, I was reminded of my youth, and the chilling experiences of the Sixties and Seventies. I’m sure the curators meant to educate, but I felt it more as a reopening of old wounds which hadn’t healed completely. I didn’t need to be reminded of the assassinations or the race riots. I lived through the days of the draft and the protests.
I processed the above photo in black and white because the era seems stark to me. I confess I rushed a bit through these corridors. In all fairness, I should add that Richard Nixon ended the military draft in 1973. Yet that positive step was outweighed by Watergate.
Oh dear, that had to be one of lowest points in our history. Such strife, unrest, deceit, and contention! Watergate and the Vietnam War changed the way we look at government. At least I felt the change then. My days of childhood innocence were over. I no longer could believe the words on the television.
Woman in the Shadows
This was a difficult time for the Nixon family. Pat Nixon had created a life for herself as first lady. She was respected, well traveled, and very supportive of her husband. Then suddenly Watergate hit and life would never be the same for her. More and more she was isolated. The men of the Oval Office closed ranks against her.
This is a poor image of a large display case riddled with reflections and shadows. I’m including it because it feels like Pat Nixon to me. She was a woman in the shadows in many ways. The oval office was definitely a man’s world, and especially so during Watergate. Life was murky then, but she focused on keeping the family calm and together.
I am not a Quitter
Forced to resign rather than be impeached, Nixon moved on with his life. I’m sure that wasn’t easy, but he proved that he wasn’t a quitter. Just as he had managed to pull off a second term in the presidential race of 1972, he looked toward the future and his next step.
Nixon went on to be an elder statesman to several later presidents. Lest I judge him too severely, I also will state that he was responsible for many social programs. His administration gave us the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), peaceful desegregation of schools in the southern states, and Title IX, prohibiting gender bias. He was brilliant at foreign policy and reached out to China and the Soviet Union when such things were almost anathema. He certainly created a strong and lasting persona.
In the end he returned to the place from which he started. He and Pat, his wife of 53 years, are buried on the grounds of the library.
Of course these are my impressions from the Nixon Library. You may find other messages when you visit.
If you would like to see more images from my visit, please click here.