I have come to enjoy visiting Presidential Libraries. The two in Southern California—those of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon—have been visited by me several times. When Presidents Nixon and Reagan occupied the White House, I was dead set against them. I voted for neither of them and, in fact, threatened to leave the country if Reagan were elected.
Today, Martine and I spent a few hours at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in the Simi Valley. It’s funny how time tends to remove sharp edges. Now I look back and see a gifted speaker who sincerely believed in what he was saying and who was able to convince listeners of his sincerity. Even though his presidency fell apart somewhat toward the end with the whole Iran-Contra negotiation; even though the whole Savings & Loan fiasco was the result of a horrible miscalculation; even though his mind couldn’t wrap itself around that truck bomb in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. military; even though he trusted that sanctimonious snake-in-the-grass Colonel Oliver North—he did not turn out to be an irredeemably awful president like the Current Occupant.
Probably what I liked most about Reagan were the sentiments expressed in his epitaph: “I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” I could forgive a man who believed that, and I do not think that Ronald Wilson Reagan was given to lying.
Earlier this year, Martine and I paid another visit to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. As President, Nixon may well have been paranoid, but he was also brilliant. The videos of his speeches were articulate and, overall, impressive. Granted that he was not at his best after the Watergate break-in forced him to go into defensive mode, he succeeded in ending the Viet Nam War and opening Communist China. Both were considerable accomplishments, and could not be altogether diminished by the whole Watergate fiasco.
Also, there was a real humility about the man. His presidential library also includes the house in which he was born which was built by his father from a kit. It was as humble a house as any log cabin. And directly outside it is where Richard and Pat Nixon are buried.