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Confession of a Nixon Hater:
Or Thoughts on Christmas Catalog Shopping at the Nixon Memorial Library

 

by Peter Werbe

Article Status: ***
Illustration(s) Status: ***

 

I know it's no longer fashionable to hate Richard Nixon. C'mon, get over it, people say. After all the guy got bounced from office in disgrace more than twenty years ago and he's been dead for over three.

Still, I've got to admit it; I'm an unreconstructed Nixon hater. In fact, I'm a second generation Nixon hater; my parents despised him as well for his vicious and opportunistic anti-communism in the 1940s. He manipulated the terrible tenor of the times to red bait his way into office and came to national prominence by destroying people during his tenure on the infamous and irresponsible House Un-American Activities Committee.

And, I'm not alone. Millions hated Nixon. In the 60s and 70s, folk singer/anti-war activist Phil Ochs sang to cheering crowds across the country, “Here's to the land you've torn out the heart of; Richard Nixon find yourself another
country to be part of.” He was easily the most despised American politician of the twentieth century.

When I heard the news that Nixon died on April 22, 1994 , I noticed the flag at the local McDonald's was at half mast; “Good,” I thought. “The bastard is finally gone.” A vicious thought; pretty different from what usually goes around in my brain.

But everyone from pop psychologists to Zen Buddhists counsel that holding on to anger is destructive, so maybe it's time, in the spirit of the season, for me to forgive Richard Nixon. After all, New York Times liberal columnist Frank Rich wrote at the moment of the ex-president's death, “Making peace with Richard Nixon proved in the end an essential part of growing up.”

So, maybe we should forgive the man for his mendacity and corruption, for his “secret plan” to end the Vietnam war which was really an escalation of the conflict costing additional tens of thousands American casualties and hundreds of thousands more Indochinese lives.

Maybe we should forgive him for ordering the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected government of Chile in 1973 and ushering in a decade and a half of fascist rule. Why not forgive him for his relatively petty offenses at Watergate even though he spat on the Constitution he was sworn to uphold and the office he so coveted?

Maybe we should forgive him for ordering FBI and CIA harassment and surveillance of the anti-war and civil rights movements and the resulting deaths and jailings. Maybe I should even forgive him for putting me and other activists on a round-up list for “preventative detention” in the event of a “national emergency.”

Other people from that period have softened some in the intervening years. Arlo Guthrie said on a radio special aired last Thanksgiving that he thinks the eighteen-and-a-half minute gap on the Nixon tapes, universally thought to have been erased by his secretary Rosemary Woods to hide its damning content, has a more benign explanation. The folk singer speculates that the deleted section was his epic ballad, “Alice's Restaurant,” which turns out to be the identical length of the missing recording.

Social satirist Paul Krassner, who founded the Yippies along with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, believes Nixon may have been driven from office because he wanted to find the real killers of John Kennedy. This is a long way from those who think Nixon was behind the assassination.

And, it should be remembered, there were those who loved the 37th president and some who still do. In fact, so enduring is his memory that The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace is doing a booming business this holiday season.

The Yorba Linda, Calif. facility is a nine acre gallery, shop, theater, and garden at the restored boyhood home of the ex-president and is Nixon's and his wife Pat's final resting place.

Pamela, the self-described “Nixonette” who answered their 800-number (and for some inexplicable reason described herself as having red hair and green eyes), says the Library gets at least 50 orders a day from its 16-page Christmas catalog of Nixon memorabilia and patriotic kitsch.

She says some envelopes they send out come back with ripped up catalogs or messages denouncing Nixon, but estimates those are a small minority. “People love him,” Pamela feels. “They say he was the last great president.”

For the discerning Nixon lover, the catalog features stocking stuffer items like golf balls with the “RN signature,” photos of the ex-commander-in-chief, and Nixon Library playing cards. There's also the Nixon 32 stamp encased in Lucite for $12.50, or on commemorative envelopes, but definitely not the ones produced by the Santa Rosa-based Tricky Envelope Co. making it look like the prez is behind bars. For the big-time Nixon lover there's a $1,500 signed, limited edition autobiography.

Kevin Cartwright, Nixon center public relations director, says the facility gets “an amazing response.” He recommends the Library's Presidential Forum, a display where visitors can ask and receive answers “directly” from President Nixon on anything about his life. The beyond-the-crypt feature is accomplished by using a computer touch screen and hundreds of video interviews stored on laser disks which are keyed to specific questions.

“This includes Watergate,” Cartwright emphasizes.

Cartwright says the museum is very proud of Elvis Presley's admiration for President Nixon and has on display a silver-plated World War II Colt .45 and seven silver bullets the King presented to the president during a 1970 visit. Although the main purpose of Elvis' visit was to scam a federal badge, the Library offers numerous items for sale featuring the famous picture of the two on mugs, coasters, t-shirts, a framed photo, and even a watch.

Elvis wrote Nixon a gushing letter requesting the meeting where he hoped to be appointed a Federal Agent-at-Large,
but never got a badge.

I promised Cartwright I would give the street and WEB site address for the Library's catalog, so here it is:
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda CA 92886; 800-USA-8865; and www.chapman.edu/nixon.

But forgive Nixon?

I don't think so.

Peter Werbe is the Public Affairs Director of WCSX-FM in Detroit.

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