On Friday Sarah, Mariah and I planned to visit the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. Their website intrigued us. It described how up to 50,000 years ago, naturally occurring asphalt, sticky when warm, provided the optimal conditions for entrapment of small mammals, birds, and insects inadvertently coming into contact with it. The feet and legs of heavier animals at times were held fast, too, until they died of exhaustion or fell prey to passing predators. It sounded fascinating. However, with many of the La Brea exhibits outside and temperatures in the 90’s, we opted instead to visit the air-conditioned Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
The Nixon Library is not presented in traditional chronological order. As soon as you enter, you are shown a large format film about his resignation. This man’s downfall hits you right in the face upon your arrival. Next, there are exhibits that describe the terrific challenges the nation faced prior to his presidency. Subsequent displays detailed accounts of his domestic and foreign policy achievements including his historic trip to China.
His landmark legislation and his liberal and progressive policies are then described and are thoughtfully placed into a historical context. Then his re-election for a second term by a landslide is depicted.
A significant percentage of the museum is then devoted to the series of events which when taken together are known as Watergate. The events and participants are described and illustrated in detail. The library does not attempt to make excuses for Nixon or for the others that were involved in criminal activities. And then, in contrast with all the other Presidential libraries we have visited, the museum returns to the beginning of his life and describes Nixon’s childhood and family. Finally, as their exhibit concludes they jump ahead and show films from his funeral including the moving admonition from then-President Clinton, “Today is a day for his family, his friends, and his nation to remember President Nixon’s life in totality. To them, let us say, may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.”
It was an extremely thought-provoking experience. Nixon’s achievements were enormous and his self-inflicted fall complete. As others have observed, his life would have provided an ideal narrative for Shakespeare. It may sound trite, but as Sarah, Mariah and I followed the timeline of his successive criminal actions during Watergate, I couldn’t help but think of him as somehow falling into a tar pit of his own making.