“The Strong Man” Visits Yorba Linda
Greetings once again, supporters and students of Richard Nixon! Just a note to report on my visit to the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda this past June 17, and to thank all the folks there who made it a special and unforgettable experience for me.
John H. Taylor and Sandy Quinn of the Nixon Foundation, and Tim Naftali and Paul Musgrave of the National Archives, and their respective associates, were unfailingly gracious as they led me through the museum and archival areas, and various meals, explaining the storied past and bright future of the institution.
Exceptionally powerful and moving was the personal tour I received from Olivia Anastasiadis, the Library Curator, of the small frame house where President Nixon was born. The smell of history literally overcomes you as you step inside and see firsthand the modest but proud home where the young Nixon grew up, buffeted by illness, financial anxiety, and family tragedy. You commune, trance-like, with the era just before the Great War, represented in the period antiques, piano and sheet music, and other artifacts furnishing the home, many the original possessions of the Nixon family. It was a real challenge to contain my emotions as I stepped foot into the small bedroom where Richard Nixon was born; there I pondered the incongruous enormity of the life he led — the global stakes of his atomic-age presidency, with its virtuoso masterstrokes and sad ending — and the humbleness of its origins. That the house is just a few steps away from the simple, spare headstones and burial places of the former president and Mrs. Nixon inevitably adds to the emotional impact. I can’t imagine anyone, Nixon supporter or detractor, or the previously disinterested citizen, coming away from the experience unmoved, and I strongly recommend it to all Americans.
As a former college intern, in the summers of 1987 and ’88, at the Nixon Presidential Materials Project, the branch of the National Archives that (for now) controls the presidential papers and tapes, it was a pleasure to meet the many students donating their time to the archives this summer. “See what you can become?” Tim Naftali said jokingly to the interns, as we posed for a photograph together. Whether I make a fitting model toward which any young person should aspire I am reluctant to say, but I am unhesitating in stating here my admiration for these students’ passion for history and their earnest dedication to government service.
The discipline of “Nixon Studies” is, of course, in its infancy, and the plans for the institution’s expansion, including the construction of a 15,000-square foot facility to accomodate the presidential materials and the researchers who will examine them, are exciting, indeed. No regime in human history has ever been, or likely ever will be, as well and richly documented as the Nixon administration; as a result, students and scholars will have a grand time of it over the next century and beyond, poring over all the papers and tapes and enjoying the window they offer, uniquely, into policymaking at the highest levels of the postwar American government. The decisions taken now by those helming the Foundation and Library will shape this emerging discipline for decades to come, and one hopes the Nixon family will also remain actively engaged in these decisions.
That evening, in the Library’s auditorium — soon to be demolished and remodeled — John Taylor introduced Tim Naftali, who then introduced me for a brief lecture before a generous audience. Tim then served as moderator during a robust question-and-answer session. First, however, the audience was treated to a long-lost clip from NBC News’ coverage of the federal indictments, issued on May 10, 1973, of John Mitchell and Maurice Stans, in connection with the so-called Vesco case — charges on which both men were eventually tried and fully acquitted. The clip, led off by anchor John Chancellor, neatly conveyed the immediacy of broadcast news in the saturation-coverage era of Watergate, and, too, the camera-crew frenzy that surrounded those, like Mitchell and Stans, caught in the middle of the maelstrom.
After my impromptu remarks, the audience poured forth with questions submitted to the moderator on index cards which I saved after the event, and whose contents I reproduce below. We didn’t get to all of the questions reproduced below, but we covered a lot of them; I reprint them as evidence of what was on the audience’s mind.
Lastly, there was a book-signing in the well-stocked gift shop. There I happily purchased two shot glasses adorned with the embossed seal of the Library, and was pleased to make the acquaintance of the volunteer staff, an irrepressible gang of the kindest, loveliest ladies you’ll ever meet, each and all attractively attired in red, white, and blue uniforms that bespoke their patriotism and unmistakable inner goodness.
Thanks again to all those in Yorba Linda who made my trip such an informative and enlightening visit, with especial thanks to Jonathan Movroydis, my Sherpa, chauffeur, hard-nosed interrogator, and master of this blog.
Author, “The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate” (Doubleday)
QUESTIONS SUBMITTED AT MY LECTURE:
1. How has [sic] the media changed since Watergate?
2. Why is it that all inquiries about John Dean’s Watergate role seem to end up in the hands of judges rather than historians?
3. What did the break-in at Watergate actually give to the people who ordered it?
4. Please comment on MacGruder’s [sic; Jeb Magruder’s] statement [IN 2003] that he heard President Nixon approve [the] Watergate break-in.
5. Should John Mitchell have turned down the Atty. Genl. job?
6. On Joint Chiefs [spying against Nixon and Kissinger] — elaborate please.
7. What do you consider to be John Mitchell’s greatest accomplishment?
8. You received an award in 2003 for being the funniest journalist [sic; celebrity!] in D.C. What earned you this honor, and, can you tell us a joke?
9. How do you view Mitchell’s 1987 recorded opinion that the CIA was behind the whole [Watergate] thing? [brackets in original]
10. You developed an early interest in Richard Nixon. In what ways did you “reach out”?
11. So what are we to believe out of Congress?
12. What sparked your interest in writing this book? And what will your next book be about?
13. How involved was H. [Hillary] Clinton in changing the testimony of witnesses between the executive sessions and the public sessions[?] Who was involved in the changing of the testimonies[sic]? [sic; the questioner confused my discussion about the variations in testimony between the executive vs. public sessions of the Senate Watergate committee with the hearings of the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment deliberations, on which Senator Clinton worked as a young attorney, and which I did not discuss at all]
14. You seem to dismiss Martha Mitchell as a ridiculous + inconsequential figure. Was her role totally w/o importance in the history of the Nixon administration?