With the election top of mind, last Saturday morning we were looking for things to do with our out-of-town house guest. Visiting all 13 presidential libraries is something I added to my bucket list last year. But ever since COVID hit, both Southern California’s Presidential Libraries (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) have been closed. But we took a chance by doing a Google search to see if anything had changed.
And—lo and behold—although the entire permanent collection was not open, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library had a special collection that was open for visitors along with free reign of their beautiful gardens.
I have attended several events at The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum over the years, including my daughter Sophia’s senior prom, but I have never toured the actual museum. Because it was a rainy day, and due to COVID, there were actually no other visitors while were there. It was amazing to have the time to read every document hanging on the walls and to not feel rushed.
Richard Milhous Nixon was born and raised in a small farmhouse in Yorba Linda, California. Apparently when deciding the site for his presidential library and museum, a significant parcel of land was purchased surrounding that childhood home, and that is where the museum is located. It was amazing to see the humble house he grew up in, in contrast to the huge buildings, exhibits and the presidential helicopter in close proximity, which are all part of the presidential library and museum compound.
The small exhibit that was open highlighted the special relationships between presidents and their predecessors. Barack Obama was inspired by John F. Kennedy, Nixon was fascinated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and obviously there was a special relationship between George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. There were photos of how Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush became close friends after they left office, working together to raising money for humanitarian aid after a ravaging tsunami in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The theme was really about the special brotherhood (at least for now it is all men). In fact, hanging on the wall in the exhibit is the cover of a book entitled, “The Presidents Club, Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity.” I have put that book on my reading list.
As you enter the museum, there is a larger-than-life quote made by President Bill Clinton at the funeral of President Nixon (who is best known as the only president who resigned and left office due to implications from the Watergate scandal):
“May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.”
So, what was it about President Nixon and the more than four years he served as President that was so remarkable? Here are a few highlights:
- Achieved peaceful segregation of schools in seven Southern states.
- Welcomed home the Apollo XI astronauts after their historic 1969 landing on the Moon.
- Established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.
- Signed Title IX in 1972 prohibiting gender bias at colleges and universities receiving Federal Aid (changing the face of sports forever)
- Issued the Shanghai Communique in 1972, which has guided U.S.-China relations ever since.
- Attended the Moscow Summit in 1972, becoming the first President to make an official state visit to the Soviet Union.
- Signed the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, ending the war in Vietnam.
Especially during the last few months of watching the presidential election campaigns, many of us may ask ourselves “What motivates someone to run for public office when every part of your personal life will be scrutinized, and you will never again have privacy?” As I walked through the exhibit, I could see the passion and love of county of so many incredible leaders: Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, FDR, Reagan, Bush (#41), Bush (#43), Clinton, and Obama. Each of them left their special mark on our nation and the planet.
As an adult, the only things I remember distinctly about President Nixon was that he was impeached due to the Watergate scandal, that he debated Kennedy during the first televised presidential debate, and his “salute” as he boarded Air Force One after he resigned. I never knew anything about what he did for women, in sports and in business, and I vaguely remember that he opened up trade with China.
I am so glad we spent a couple of hours touring his presidential library and museum. It was just a tease for me. I hope in 2021 that the full museum will open up so I can learn more and now, more than ever, I want to be sure I find a way to visit the other 12 presidential libraries. There is so much to be learned from history.
And, in this digital time, when we are in the habit of “googling” everything or attending all meetings by Zoom … it is even more important than ever to see history, “in person.”