Ethics Heroes: The Nixon Foundation And The Richard Nixon Presidential Library

Pop Quiz: Who is missing from this picture from the dedication of the Nixon Library in 1990, and why?

Pop Quiz: Who is missing from this picture from the dedication of the Nixon Library in 1990, and why?

I can’t stand the Kennedy Library in Boston, with all its triumphal, sentimental hagiography of both Jack and Bobby. A presidential library will naturally try to put the best spin on the accomplishments, failures, and character deficits of its subject, but it has an obligation to history too. I once was determined to visit all of the libraries, but after the first few I decided that these structures were more like the pyramids than fair and enlightening representations of the men they honored.

The worst in this respect, as you might guess, was the infamous Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, which opened 26 years ago.The Watergate exhibit, approved by Nixon himself, painted Nixon as an innocent and heroic victim brought down by the media  and his sinister foes. This was certainly Nixon’s view, but it has no relationship to reality. So convinced was Congress that the Richard Nixon Presidential Library would display the same lack of ethics as its namesake that it passed a law in 1974 requiring his presidential records to be stored with the National Archives and out of the library’s control, where they might be altered or “lost.”

Nixon’s library entered the official presidential library system under the auspices of the National Archives in 2007, and to finally make it more than the presidential library equivalent of  Fantasyland, the Nixon Foundation ordered the old Watergate exhibit to be overhauled.

From the LA Times:

“The museum’s heavily edited rendition of the “smoking gun” tape that implicated Nixon was replaced with the full recording, and the new exhibit placed the Watergate episode in the context of a larger campaign of presidential secrecy and sabotage. Now a $15-million renovation focuses on the rest of the museum’s decades-old galleries, set to reopen in October, with the aim of building an unflinching but well-rounded portrait of a complicated man whose long career has often been overshadowed by his quick and stunning fall from grace…The renovation is being paid for by funds raised by the Nixon Foundation [ whose board includes many  Nixon loyalists, including his daughters Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower]… But the gallery designs and exhibit content will be the result of an ongoing collaboration between the foundation and the federal government. Construction kicked off in January, with Karl Rove and Christopher Nixon Cox, Nixon’s grandson, in attendance.”

Eliminating the whitewash is fairer to Nixon, too. A visitor who wasn’t misled by the original library cover-up would have no reason to believe anything else in the museum. Nixon, before his fall, had a remarkable Presidency, and in many ways was a deft administrator whose achievements in both foreign and domestic policy were far reaching and influential to this day.

Said Michael Ellzey, director of the museum since 2014, in an interview,

“The intellectual honesty and integrity of this was very important to us. We wanted to be beyond reproach.”


Meanwhile, The William J. Clinton Presidential Library, built with $165 million in private donations through the Clinton Foundation, has an exhibit on Bill’s impeachment. It explains the episode as being “not about the Constitution or rule of law, but…instead a quest for power that the president’s opponents could not win at the ballot box.”

Of course!


Source, Facts and Graphic: LA Times

[Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at]

34 thoughts on “Ethics Heroes: The Nixon Foundation And The Richard Nixon Presidential Library

      • You wont get any argument out of me on that one. I admire a lot of the things he has done since he got out of office but always felt him to be an arrogant asshole who thought he was better and knows better then everyone else.

          • I think he also loses points for his attempts at freelance diplomacy in the run-up to the first Gulf War, which, come to think of it, was right about the time of that picture. Maybe he was over at the UN, trying to convince Jordan and Yemen to vote against giving the US authority to take action in Kuwait, which ended up being, in the words of Thomas Pickering, the then-ambassador to that body, “the most expensive no vote ever cast,” as the US subsequently curtailed aid to those nations sharply. I know arresting him for violation of the Logan Act wasn’t going to happen, but it’s still wrong to undermine your own nation’s policy by private action. If he wanted to get back into government there was nothing stopping him from running again for the second term he never got.

      • He was in this case or he is more generally. I would accept the former and even the latter, with the removal of “jerk.” By all accounts he’s a kind human being and wonderful to spend time with. Having the occasional bouts of pettiness or being sanctimonious doesn’t qualify someone as a “jerk,” though.

        • How about his hosannas to the PLO and the now-thankfully-dead Hugo Chavez? According to Carter, the 2004 election here was questionable, but the near-contemporaneous election that gave Chavez another term was on the up-and-up.

        • No, Jimmy’s a caring, sincere, hard-working, passionate, honest…jerk. These features aren’t inconsistent at all. His jerkness was much commented on when he was President. It was jerky for him, as an ex-Potus, to engage in vigilante foreign policy, as in Haiti and elsewhere. It was and is jerky for a past President to vocally criticize a sitting one. It was unbelievably jerky to pronounce himself the greatest ex-President, and would have been even if he was (he wasn’t). There’s enough evidence. Snubbing Nixon was one of te least offensive examples, but it is the kind of partisan pettiness that has metastasized into what we have now.

  1. Jack said, “It explains the episode as as being “not about the Constitution or rule of law, but was instead a quest for power that the president’s opponents could not win at the ballot box.”

    Of course!”

    I’m not entirely sure of the intent; so, was it the intent of that “of course” to be sarcasm?

    • No. Of course the Clinton library warps history that way. I wouldn’t expect anything else. I also don’t expect a later Clinton library board to tell the truth.

      (I got rid of the extra “as” thanks. Always copy the text with typos included. Serves me right.

      • Jack said, “No. Of course the Clinton library warps history that way. I wouldn’t expect anything else. I also don’t expect a later Clinton library board to tell the truth.”

        Okay, I understand the full context now and I agree.

        Jack said, “I got rid of the extra “as” thanks. Always copy the text with typos included. Serves me right.”

        My mind blew straight over it and never saw it; I had to look three times in my quote to see it too. On that note; have you ever considered using something like MS Word or the equivalent to type your blogs and then copy and paste into your blog entry form; Word would flag some things that you might miss; I try to do that for longer comments because my typing skills seem to be getting worse and worse the older I get.

        • It’s just a matter of time. Adding the tags, checking the facts, all of the mechanical stuff…it adds up, and that’s one more step. Penn has me trained now to read the damn things for errors twice, and once out loud, but sometimes I can’t until later, and I STILL miss some things. The WordPress check is supposed to flag double words.

  2. I have been to all the libraries and probably my favorite was HST. Jack hit it on the Kennedy Library that seemed like a giant PR venture. The LBJ one was interesting, but so is the city of Austin.

  3. Try the Gerald Ford Library in Grand Rapids. It’s one of my favorites, although I enjoyed both Truman’s in MO and Ike’s in KS. It’s one of the least pretentious of the Libraries….which is in keeping with its inspiration from one of the least pretentious Presidents.

  4. I’ve visited the Nixon Library many times. It’s an interesting place to go as it does chronicle the turbulent times in which Tricky Dicky was president. The Library has a policy to invite speakers like Jake Tapper and even George McGovern who flew B-24 missions during WW2 in Italy and Germany. Although I was never a big McGovern fan, from what I’ve read about him post Nixon, he certainly wasn’t as much of a jerk as Carter.

    • yes, blame for the rise of Trump rests squarely on the Democrats who pioneered, perfected and abused the kind of populist pandering the Republicans under Trump have only recently decided to stoop to.

          • Nah, Trump is just a miracle Republican after holding 30 years of Democrats beliefs and benefiting DIRECTLY from the Democrat built Government-Industrial complex.

            Yeah, miracle conservative there…

            • He’s a non-partisan populist candidate. He should have been forced to run a 3rd party candidacy, which he wouldn’t have done. I called it a year ago. It wasn’t hard, but they don’t call the GOP the stupid party for nothing.

        • Democrat plant? I dunno. I doubt it.

          I think it’s more likely he’ll use his campaign to finance the Trump Network, All Conspiracy Theory, All the Time. Alex Jones without the PC veneer. Telling the Trump voters only what they want to hear. Fox at its worst, but taken to extreme insanity.

          I don’t think he’ll go L. Ron Hubbard, and found his own Religion, but you never know.

          Right now I’m more concerned that without any rational opposition, HRC will go completely off the rails.

          • zoebrain said, “Democrat plant? I dunno. I doubt it.”

            Another way to look at it…

            All Clinton has to do to win is to keep the focus on Trump and his lunacy.

            All Trump has to do to loose is to keep the focus on himself and his lunacy.

            Go figure that both Clinton and Trump are doing exactly what’s needed for Clinton to win.

            Trump really is the perfect too good to be true storm for the Democratic Party and Progressive ideology. Usually when something is too good to be true, (like Trump) then it probably is and we intuitively start looking for deception. How often is your intuition about too good to be true incorrect?

            Makes you wonder, makes you think…

            zoebrain said, “HRC will go completely off the rails.”

            The real problem will come after Clinton wins the election in an epic landslide; Clinton, the Democratic Party, and likely every single person left of center will FALSELY claim that the election proves that they have an overwhelming mandate from the people of the United States to support their ideology and policies and the phrase “elections have consequences” and “we won” will be plastered in everyone faces thus demanding the total capitulation of their opposition to their ideology. They will not have received a mandate of any kind other than people wised up, figured out that Trump was dangerous, and voted AGAINST him, not FOR Clinton, the Democratic Party, or Progressive ideology.

        • texagg04 said, “Then again Trump is just a Democrat plant anyway.”

          Trump is literally a caricature come to life of all those Progressive/Liberal cartoons over the past 50+ years; he’s one of those seemingly impossible too good to be true phenomenons for Progressive ideology.

          Makes you wonder, makes you think…

          • I’m going to avoid “literally” for a while after Sean Hannity said that the new media literally kiss Hillary’s and Obama’s ass every day. I may end up banning any word Hannity ever utters. Fortunately, his vocabulary isn’t very large.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.