Recently we went to the Nixon Library, in fact the day after his 100th birthday anniversary. I figured the crowds would be gone and the place spic and span for the celebration. How right I was. There were a few hardy souls but basically the place was deserted. I had never been there and other than the Clinton Library in Little Rock, AR, had seen few presidential libraries.
However, after seeing such libraries as the Huntington, portions of the Getty museums, several in New York City, even the downtown Los Angeles Public Library, I feel that I know what a good library should be. As nice and big as Nixon's library is, and it is big, I left feeling that this was Nixon light. All of the parts of his life were there, in fact some of the videos were fascinating and brought back memories of my youth, but as they say, "where's the beef?"
I remember watching the "Checkers" speech though I didn't fully understand it at the time. I remember the presidential debates with Kennedy and the further debates at home between my parents. Still living in Oregon, I missed the abortive run for governor and the comments that followed.
However, I do remember the election of 1968 as I was in the jungles of Africa and we listened first to the demonstrations in Chicago and then the debates at weird times on Voice of America. Just as well, the signal was better at night on my shortwave radio.
Who can forget the storm over "The Pentagon Papers" and the shock and dismay many of us felt over what it revealed. If there ever was an unholy design, the war in Viet Nam qualifies. If you don't think a war is designed, take an ROTC course or read Clausewitz. The Viet Nam war WAS designed.
The best part of the library (other than the fascinating photos and bio of his family) was the section on Watergate. There in unflinching detail was the timeline, the interviews, the articles and what everyone else said as well, shown in all its detail. It was sad. Nixon may have had many flaws, what great person doesn't (read the Bible and study Moses closely) but he deserves better than this.
After nearly an hour spent in just the Watergate section, listening to what everyone said, reading what they wrote, you felt that this what was missing everywhere else. Even the trip to China was very peripheral. We forget what a breakthrough this was. Here, Richard Nixon the red baiter and hater flew to China, one of the most vilified places on earth and talked face to face with Mao and both agreed to disagree. He opened the door to the most populous and soon to be the wealthiest country on the planet. How can it not be? It has five times the population of the United States and a people who have always been as creative and inventive as any in history. Nixon was wise and he deserves more credit for it.
Also missing were the people that made his a success. Kissinger is given a mere handshake, Eisenhower is seen and remembered as a shadow. His talks with the Russians are barely mentioned other than a rather tacky creation of onion shaped domes in one of the rooms.
You feel in some ways cheated. In trying to sanitize the man, you make him a cartoon. I couldn't help but think, just consider what the curators at say the Huntington could do here. After all, its all just a matter of design.