and bitter row occurred when Naftali, with great effort, mounted a more honest—and far tougher—Watergate exhibit. The Nixon Foundation made hundreds of suggestions for changes to the new exhibit, including the omission of certain episodes, but all of them were ignored. In 2011, Naftali was forced out. While a long search for a new director was supposedly taking place, Nixon’s allies unveiled a new exhibit called “Patriot, President, Peacemaker,” which covered Nixon’s entire life but left out Watergate altogether. The Nixon backers explained that Watergate was already covered in the permanent exhibit—which of course covered the rest of Nixon’s life as well.
Patricia Nixon died in June 1993 and the nation saw a distraught Richard Nixon sobbing at her funeral. Recent discoveries suggest that they were closer than it appeared in public—their attachment apparently having grown stronger during Nixon’s exile. (Pat was delighted to be out of politics.) Nixon himself died of a stroke the following April 29, less than a year after his wife’s death. A grand array—President Clinton and his wife, along with three ex-presidents and their wives, and Henry Kissinger, Bob Dole and numerous othee grandees—gathered in Yorba Linda for Nixon’s funeral. Over a hundred members of congress were in attendance, as were a couple of hundred members of the diplomatic corps. Kissinger’s and Dole’s voices cracked as they delivered their eulogies (though Dole used to wisecrack about Nixon). The funeral was carried on national television.
Nixon would have been pleased.
Who Was This Man?
So, what are we to make of this man, and what is the meaning of his extraordinary presidency, unique in all of American history?
The tragedy of Richard Nixon is that he was a very smart man who had reached the pinnacle of political life in America only to lose it as a result of his own inner torment. No matter how high he went, or his historic international achievements (for which he became as noted in the foreign policy circles that meant so much to him as for his blatant disregard for the constitution), or the bankers and publishers he managed to impress, he never lost his resentments, his anger at those he thought had had it better than he did and he was sure lorded it over him, and his desire for revenge. Nor did he shake his awkwardness.
A former Republican congressman recounted having been summoned, along with some other back-benchers (led by the insurgent Newt Gingrich) to a meeting with Nixon at the Madison Hotel in Washington in1984. Nixon had been observing the group, and he wanted to meet some of its members—but only the new ones, no one with a direct memory of Watergate. Altogether about a dozen young congressmen met with Nixon in a large suite: the former congressman recalled meeting a very awkward man who didn’t know quite what to do after he greeted his visitors in the foyer of his hotel suite. It took an aide to suggest that they should move to the living