The Big Mac Blog

Big Mac Travel Blog: The Nixon Library & Museum

The grounds inside The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif.
The grounds inside The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif.

In terms of ranking U.S. Presidents, Richard Nixon ranks ahead of Andrew Johnson, and ... more than just the man that botched Reconstruction, only Nixon’s legacy is just a bit tainted because of that small, fringe detail that is Watergate.

In terms of fascinating presidents, put this man near the top. Whatever your political preferences are, Richard M. Nixon is a compelling case study of power, paranoia, hard work, ambition, idealism and ultimately hubris run amok. He clearly was a victim of his own massive ego and a society that was in the midst of a massive change.

His exit is used to define his entire life, and a tour of this library is a reminder he was more than Watergate.

Nixon’s life and presidency are nicely displayed in the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum located at the site of his original home in Yorba Linda, which is about 40 minutes east of Los Angeles. It is an odd spot for a Presidential Library and Museum - it literally sits in the middle of far West L.A. suburbia.

As far as Presidential Libraries/Museums go, this is not the best (this was my fifth). It lacks some of the cute, interactive toys available at either of the Bush Libraries in Texas, and Nixon’s personal collection of “stuff” is not extensive. As far as personal and professional story arcs go, however, this man’s life is fascinating.

His story alone, and the one hallway dedicated to the Watergate scandal, make this a worthy tourist destination in a region stuffed with touristy options. This museum is a nice look back at Nixon’s rise from a modest home in Southern California to the U.S. Navy to Duke law school to lawyer to a rising politician.

As this man’s museum, do not expect a rip job on a President that resigned from office in total disgrace. It is a pro look at his entire life, and career, but does acknowledge the flaws. He did have an enormous impact on foreign policy, and pushed for reforms ranging from Title IX legislation to pro environment measures that are normally more often associated liberal presidents.

By the time he left office in 1974, he was viewed as a bitter, angry power-hungry President that had made far more enemies than allies, and was viewed as the most prolific abuser of the power in the history of the Oval Office.

It is rather amazing this man lost a presidential election, followed that with a loss in the run for Governor of California, and then was elected President of the United States.

The Watergate portion of this museum is the main attraction, but Nixon’s time in office did include his famous run for office against John F. Kennedy, the controversial bombing of Cambodia, the end of the Vietnam war and his famous visit to China. He lived in interesting times, and he made them interesting.

The Watergate exhibit rolls out the timeline of events from the break-in to cover-up to the infamous Midnight Massacre to Nixon’s resignation. Included are video interviews from key players, including Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, and clips from Nixon’s famous chat with David Frost.

As Nixon said, he viewed Watergate as purely political problem; in his mind, spying on the Democrats was nothing more than just dirty politics. He failed to recognize that it was a reckless abuse of power.

The tour pretty much ends at Watergate; the grounds are immaculate, which include his original childhood home as well as the burial sites for the President himself and his wife, Pat.

Whether you are a Republican or Democrat does not matter. Richard M. Nixon was a President, and one of the more fascinating political figures in the history of the U.S. His museum and library is worth a visit.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof