My wife and I ventured forth and found a unique experience. We visited two presidential libraries over the past three months. First we toured the Richard Nixon library in September, and then the Ronald Reagan library just last week.
We were enamored with the Nixon library. That’s what motivated us to see how Reagan was doing as a librarian. But although we enjoyed it, we didn’t love it. It was just okay. This left us feeling kind of disappointed. Our high expectations were unmet. I guess Tricky Dick is a hard act to follow, even by a former movie star.
I mean, here’s a president who fell from office in disgrace and dishonor. For years, he was the most reviled man in our country. Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan left office riding a massive wave of popularity. Since then he has been idolized, oft-quoted, and used for reflective glory by aspiring politicians who never seem to come close to actually matching him.
So naturally we expected Reagan to outshine Nixon in the library department. After all, a presidential library is intended to celebrate a president’s legacy. And Reagan’s legacy far outshines Nixon’s, most would agree.
Yet we still found ourselves more intrigued with the Nixon library. It detailed his presidency, and historical events surrounding his presidency, in an informative and painfully accurate manner. And it put Watergate and other Nixon scandals, on full display. It whitewashed nothing about this man, but instead seemed to give equal time to both his successes and failures. The open honesty disarmed us, and we liked and respected Nixon better after leaving his library.
But the Reagan library seemed artificial. It emphasized his successes, while making little or no mention of his failures. For instance, it celebrated his success at tax reform. It highlighted his ideology concerning the evils of big government. And it hailed his victories in the Cold War. This left us with the sense that Reagan was proud of his achievements, proud of his ideology, and proud of his country. Quite possibly in that order.
Meanwhile, we found no mention of the Iran-Contra scandal in his library. Perhaps it was in an exhibit hidden in some shadowy corner, but we sure couldn’t locate it. I believe a man with more pride in this country would highlight what makes it so great. And that is our freedom to debate anything and everything, and our liberty to challenge the authority of our leaders, including the highest leader of the land.
Nixon’s humility and honesty, compared with Reagan’s ego and elephant-in-the-room elisions, left us respecting Tricky Dick better than the father of our modern-day GOP.
We were also unimpressed with the panhandling we encountered at the Reagan library. While standing in line to buy our admission ticket, a nattily attired library employee introduced herself and began a friendly conversation. She was personable and demonstrated an inquisitive interest in us, leaving us feeling flattered. Then she handed us a flyer and made a pitch to get us to donate to the GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program. We politely declined, then proffered our $29 per person admission fee, and quickly slipped away from her in the least awkward manner possible.
While perambulating through the library, we encountered more panhandlers. This was usually in the form of photographers, trying to persuade us into having our photo taken in front of an exhibit. I don’t know what these photos cost, because we always declined their advances.
However at the Marine One exhibit, I found I could not refuse the persistent paparazzo. She would not allow me into the helicopter until I stood before the door, held a flag that she handed to me, and waved, saluted, and performed other poses for her camera. I finally got rid of the fucking bitch and made it inside the stupid aircraft to see where Reagan always planted his ass when flying off to Camp David. Perhaps it was my mood, but I felt much less impressed than I felt while touring Nixon’s helicopter.
By the way, we encountered absolutely zero panhandlers and professional photographers at the Nixon library. This left us feeling much more welcome and free to enjoy his premises, than we felt in Reagan country.
We found that the most impressive aspect of the Reagan library was Air Force One. The complete, full-sized, original Boeing VC-137C that seven presidents used, from Nixon to Bush 43, was on full display in a hangar. And we were actually allowed to stroll through it, from the cockpit to the rear exit (after circumnavigating the photographer stalking us at the front entrance).
We also loved the view. The Reagan library is constructed atop a hill that affords a panoramic vista of orchards, fields, and settlements in Simi Valley, California. The weather was mild and the pellucid air felt delicately cool that day, and we found ourselves more inclined to tarry outside and enjoy the view, than return inside and endure more dry, dull showcases of Reagan’s perpetual successes.
All in all, we left the Reagan library with a lesser opinion of the man than we held when we walked in. But I still like Ronald Reagan. In spite of my semi-liberal attitudes, I believe he was an overall good influence for our country. But I wish his library possessed the same honest humility we witnessed at the Nixon library.
Perhaps Reagan had been steeped too long in Hollywood before entering politics. Perhaps for him it was more important to put on a good show than to bare himself as a fallible human being. And perhaps that’s why he rarely excelled in Hollywood beyond being a “B” movie actor.
As president he was, in my opinion, Grade A. But as a librarian Reagan seems to have retrogressed into the same “B” status as his old movies. In my view his caliber as librarian falls far short of that master Grade A librarian, Mr. Tricky Dick.