Dueling over Watergate

President Richard Nixon left Washington in August 1974, but the Watergate controversy followed him.
(Bob Daugherty / Associated Press)

In his March 1 Op-Ed article UC Irvine historian Jon Wiener criticized the Nixon Library’s “Patriot, President, Peacemaker” exhibit for glossing over Watergate, which prompted former library docent Paul Carter to write in a letter published Wednesday:

“Wiener is apparently upset that the Watergate exhibit is not the only display at the Nixon Library. All he sees about Nixon’s life is Watergate. Of Nixon’s 81 years, Watergate took up 26 months. There was much more to Nixon’s life and presidency than Watergate.

“Wiener fails to mention that the grand opening of the Nixon Library’s ‘Patriot, President, Peacemaker’ exhibit was presided over by U.S. National Archivist David S. Ferriero, a President Obama appointee. If Ferriero or the Obama administration had any issue with the Nixon Library, I have no doubt they would’ve handled it however they saw fit. That they chose to embrace ‘Patriot, President, Peacemaker’ flies in the face of Wiener’s allegations.


“I suspect that what really bothers Wiener is that anyone, especially the younger generation, is willing to examine Nixon and his life without the myopic single-issue lens that has clouded so many others.”

Jon Wiener responds:

I do not think Watergate should be the only display at the Nixon Library. The problem is that it’s missing from the new exhibit in Yorba Linda, which claims to present a “fuller picture” of President Nixon’s life than what’s in the museum’s other, permanent exhibit. I didn’t criticize the library or the National Archives for what is in the new show; I criticized them for what has been left out.

Is it really necessary to explain why Watergate belongs in the story of Nixon’s life? Nixon certainly thought it did. He was the first president ever to resign from office -- because his own party was not going to support him in the scheduled impeachment vote. The evidence of his obstruction of justice and abuse of power was overwhelming.

Carter cites the apparent approval of the new exhibit by the current U.S. archivist. That’s one of the things I was criticizing in my piece; that’s why I asked, “What is going on at the National Archives?” It’s the responsibility of the archivist to make sure that exhibits at official U.S. museums are responsible and accurate. The reason we have an excellent new exhibit on Watergate in the permanent galleries is because an earlier archivist, Allen Weinstein, insisted on it, and appointed -- and then supported -- a library director, Timothy Naftali, who did it right. Naftali resigned in 2011, and the National Archives has not appointed a successor.

Of course “Nixon Without Watergate” belongs in any exhibit about his life. There, the record is mixed. Yes, he did many good things: He brought about detente with the Soviet Union and the opening to China, and he signed legislation creating the EPA and permitting 18-year-olds to vote. But he also sponsored the coup in Chile that overthrew Latin America’s oldest democracy, and he extended the Vietnam War by several years, during which the U.S. killed a million or more Vietnamese -- and during which time about 21,000 Americans were killed.

All of that belongs in any story of Nixon’s life.


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