Tag Archives: Richard Nixon

The problems with presidential libraries

Running a presidential library might just be the toughest gig in public history.

Michael Koncewicz, who worked at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, shares a few war stories over at Contingent Magazine.  It’s like a perfect storm of administrative and interpretive nightmares.

Private foundations raise the money to build and operate these institutions, while the federal government is generally responsible for the records themselves.  This can lead to tension over control of the programming.  The subject matter is inescapably political—and since you’re dealing with an individual’s life and legacy, it’s also personal.  The history is often recent and raw.

To top it all off, the subject’s family and associates likely sit on the foundation’s board, looking over the staff’s shoulders.  In the case of the Nixon Museum and Library, the subject himself was looking over everyone’s shoulder, weighing in on the exhibit content.  As Koncewicz writes, it led to some…well, problematic interpretive approaches:

The original exhibit on Watergate blamed the president’s enemies for his downfall and glossed over the key sections of the infamous tapes that led to his resignation. The text read, in part, “Commentators sought to portray Watergate strictly as a morality play, as a struggle between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, good and evil. Given the benefit of time, it is now clear that Watergate was an epic and bloody political battle fought for the highest stakes, with no holds barred.” Museum visitors were told Nixon did not obstruct justice, and Watergate was nothing but partisan politics.

There was also the small matter of spying on the tour guides:

I was also informed they were upset that I had recently rushed through a temporary Nixon centennial exhibit during one of my school tours—which meant, among other things, that I had been spied on! I was further told they were less than thrilled with my dissertation research, a study of Republicans who resisted Nixon’s orders. (The project was born out of my time working on the revamped Watergate exhibit, and was an early version of what eventually became my first book, They Said No to Nixon: Republicans Who Stood Up to the President’s Abuses of Power.) Finally, there were another two or three instances in which I was spied on during a tour, and there were probably others I was not aware of.

Nixon’s presidential limousine at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Happyme22 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Leave a comment

Filed under History and Memory, Museums and Historic Sites

Monday Night Massacre?

UPDATE: Check out this HNN piece by David Shorten, who notes the problems inherent in interpreting current events with simple historical analogies.  He urges us to “give up on historical comparisons and replace them with historicism—to quit analogizing and start contextualizing.”

Well, look on the bright side.  This administration is going to be a freaking bonanza for historians looking to get on the talking head circuit.  The Lincoln folks had all the fun for eight years, but now we’re less than two weeks into the new regime and the Jacksonian scholars are already passing the mic to the Nixon experts.

U.S. President Donald Trump fired the federal government’s top lawyer Sally Yates on Monday after she took the extraordinarily rare step of defying the White House and saying the Justice Department would not defend his new travel restrictions targeting seven Muslim-majority nations.

The White House said on Twitter that Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, would replace Yates, an appointee of former Democratic President Barack Obama, as acting U.S. attorney general.

…There have been only a handful of instances in U.S. history of top Justice Department officials publicly breaking with the White House. The most famous example was in 1973, when then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

And it looks like things are only gonna keep spiraling down from here.  If society totally breaks down, maybe us backcountry Rev War guys will get our fifteen minutes on C-SPAN.

NSFW but apropos and amusing:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

‘Deep Throat’ parking garage is a goner

Usually you hear about a historic site disappearing because somebody is building a parking area.  This time a historic structure is disappearing because somebody is demolishing a parking area.

One of the most historic U.S. journalism sites will vanish after a Virginia county board voted to demolish the building and parking garage central to the Watergate political scandal of the 1970s.

The Arlington County Board agreed on Saturday to raze the Rosslyn garage where FBI official Mark Felt secretly met with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal. The investigation led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

Felt was known for decades as Woodward’s source “Deep Throat.”

Kind of seems like a shame, but at least there’ll be a marker at the spot.

Leave a comment

Filed under Historic Preservation

Watergate neither important nor historic subject, says commentator

Out of the realm of online punditry comes this tirade from Debbie Schlussel over the placing of a historical marker at the parking garage where Deep Throat met with Bob Woodward.  She doesn’t think the spot is worth it.

“It’s just not important, nor is it history, even in the most elastic use of the word,” she writes, thus establishing once and for all the fact that the downfall of a sitting U.S. president really isn’t that big of a deal.

After all, it “contributed nothing to America and the survival of the West.”  See, you can’t interpret or commemorate historical events without glorifying them, so the only aspects of the past we should be marking are the ones that elevate our collective sense of general worthiness.  We seem to be having a hard time keeping that straight, don’t we?

2 Comments

Filed under History and Memory