Richard Millhouse Nixon was the 37th president of the United States. He built his early political career as a conservative and staunch anti-communist, but as president he went on to normalize relations with communist China and establish the Environmental Protection Agency. He was known for his keen intellect and deep interest in foreign policy, but critics say he could also be ruthless and paranoid when it came to his political enemies. (Photo: National Archives)
If you love 20th Century American history or are just a political junkie, visiting the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda is a little like being a kid in a candy store. The library is an enormous storehouse of memorabilia related to the personal and political life of the man who went on to become America’s 37th president. Beneath the public areas, visiting scholars can study millions of individual documents and audio recordings relating to Nixon’s tenure in office and his conduct of both domestic and foreign policy.
But Nixon’s presidency was one the most controversial in American history, with his final years in office marred by multiple scandals that led to the threat of impeachment and Nixon’s resignation.Those controversies have persisted over the decades and they’ve often cast a pall over the management of the Nixon Library. Many historians and political commentators argue that the institution has too often downplayed Nixon’s full record in office, warts and all. Critics have also worried about the role of Nixon loyalists and family members in running the library.
Those concerns have been renewed recently with the appointment of Michael Ellzey as the new director of the Nixon Library & Museum. Ellzey’s supporters say he is a skilled manager who will provide much needed leadership for an institution that hasn’t had a director in three years. But critics worry about Ellzey’s credentials and whether he has the experience to run a presidential library, especially one that involves a chief executive as controversial and divisive as Richard Nixon.