They say that Orange County is home to the Happiest Place on Earth. For most people, that’s Disneyland. For a cynical left-wing historian, it is the Nixon Library. When I visited Orange County last month, it was my top priority to visit, way more than the beach (which was nice too). I was not disappointed.
Presidential libraries occupy a weird space. They are operated in association with the National Archives, but the museum section is usually put together by some sort of private group. That means that there is a real tendency for hagiography, especially with recent presidents. The downside and the upside is exactly the same–eyerollingly ridiculous interpretation of controversial events. Although opened in 1990, the Nixon Library is still mostly in the hagiographic phase, with Nixon’s partisans talking about how great he was. There is one exception here. The historians have taken over the Watergate section so that whereas I understand that section actually stuck to the claim that the 18 1/2 deleted minutes of tape was totally an accident, today, it says that Nixon was really wrong. It is however so detailed and confusing that there’s almost no way any regular visitor is coming out of it with a good understanding of just what happened.
For the sake of learning about history, let’s hope the rest of the Nixon Library follows into more professional interpretation. But I am glad to visit before it did. Because it is amazing. Now it’s time for a photo tour. Here’s the first thing I saw when I went into the bookstore.
The blue ones read “Silent Majority: Tanned, Rested, and Ready”. I was sorely tempted to buy one, but you just can’t wear that ironically. I did however get a “What Would Nixon Do?” bumper sticker for my office. My friend bought some Nixon Library hand sanitizer as well. It was very exciting.
The books available for sale? Only the finest in politics and history:
Prominently displayed is also the book by the next president of the United States, Dr. Ben Carson. Rick Perlstein? What are you a commie? Of course that’s not for sale. I’m also curious about that secret plot to make Ted Kennedy president. Was that the 1980 Democratic primary?
The museum’s presentation of policy is uniformly horrible, combining cheap and ancient yellowing displays, way too much text that no one is going to read, and right-wing talking points. Nixon was the true environmental president because he signed legislation that passed the House 372-15. He was the true civil rights president because Jackie Robinson voted for him or something. I won’t even bother with most of it, except to say that the My Lai section was “under renovation.” Yeah, I’ll bet. If I have to sum up the policy displays in 1 image, this discussion of Miranda rights will suffice:
I’m not sure the museum staff, who were obvious Nixon partisans, appreciated my friends and I openly mocking this stuff.
One thing presidential libraries often feature is the gifts presidents receive from other heads of state. So it was just natural to display the maté set given to Nixon by Augusto Pinochet.
Gifts from other really nice leaders like the Shah, Suharto, and Ferdinand Marcos are also there for you to see. As are weird things that people gave Nixon. Like this, possibly the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen displayed in a museum.
I was hiking around my ranch and I saw this rock that looks like your head. I thought you would enjoy it.
Finally, there is the greatest thing ever. Out back is the helicopter Nixon took from the White House to Camp David when he resigned. And you can go inside! Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures inside, but if you could you would see the amazing shag carpet that is preserved in the cockpit. However, you can imitate Nixon’s wave goodbye to the nation when he got on the helicopter. I don’t know that anyone had ever done that before; certainly the tour guide was taken aback by my sheer joy at this opportunity. This was really one of the greatest moments of my life.
My wave was so vigorous that my shirt got out of whack. I guess that’s my version of Nixon sweating during the 1960 debate. That’s OK, I can own it. Because I got to imitate Nixon’s wave. If I ever get kicked off this blog, my last line is “You won’t have Loomis to kick around anymore!” I’ve always wanted to use that.
After seeing this, as well as the bed where Nixon was birthed (look at this cute little baby!) we were on the way out when we realized that a wedding was about to begin. Yes, someone had rented out the Nixon Library for their wedding. Where the couple was going to take their vows was about 20 feet from Nixon’s grave. Now, I think we’ve all wanted to play a little Dick and Pat on our wedding night, but this was a bit ridiculous. This was the least romantic spot for a wedding ever. Although I hope I am invited to an irony-themed wedding there in the future.
Obviously, if you are ever near Yorba Linda, you need to experience this joy for yourself.