By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
In her July 18 "Letter From Yorba Linda," Evie Lazzarino, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace's communications director, gives Dick lovers a rundown of what happened at the compound's first-ever—and just concluded—Hands-on-History Summer Day Camp.
"Young campers studied the 1960s to the beat of the Austin Powers soundtrack, making their own tie-dyed T-shirts and love beads," writes Lazzarino.
The idea of impressionable 8- to 12-year-olds whiling away the summer at the shrine that deifies the dead, disgraced former president is weird enough. But what's weirder still is a library-sanctioned activity that involves kids dressing up as hippies.
With every fiber and stubble of his being, Nixon hated young people in tie-dyeds and love beads.
Of course, he also had hippies to thank for his victory in the 1968 presidential campaign. Middle Americans who didn't quite know what to make of hippies were baited into practically declaring war on them by Nixon's hysterical call for "law and order" at virtually any price.
And the Nixon White House knew quite a bit about dressing up as hippies. The 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami featured an army of hippie protesters. Years later, we learned they were actually hired by the White House Dirty Tricks detail to disrupt the Democratic gathering.
The mastermind of the fake-hippie operation was none other than Patrick Buchanan, who's now the Reform Party nominee for president. Buchanan was a young Nixon aide when he wrote a memo—unearthed years later, thanks to the federal Freedom of Information Act —that recommended the Nixon campaign plant hippie-looking "bearded types" with posters at the '72 convention.
Nixon's disdain for hippies was still evident years after he resigned. In a 1990 interview for Monica Crowley's book Nixon in Winter, the ex-prez says, "Isn't it ironic that I was the president to preside over the last years of the war and then finally to end it? It was a miserable goddamn thing. And to think that I was the one who had to face down those hippie hoodlums who opposed it. My God, I wasn't just from another generation from these people—it was like I was from a different planet."
We all know—partly because the Nixon Library keeps reminding us—about the then-commander-in-chief's meeting with Elvis Presley on the morning of Dec. 21, 1970. Presley arrived at the White House unannounced to deliver a rambling, five-page letter to Nixon on American Airlines stationery. In the letter, Presley wrote that he wanted to give Nixon a chrome-plated Colt .45—"a real collector's gun" (now on display at the library)—and obtain credentials to be an undercover federal agent.
"The drug culture, the hippie elements, the Students for a Democratic Society, Black Panthers, etc., do NOT consider me as their enemy or, as they call it, the Establishment," Presley explained. "I call it America, and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the Country out."
Normally, the occupant of the Most Powerful Office on the Planet would have ignored this prescription-pill-popping, peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich-inhaling hillbilly. But the King of Rock & Roll's offer to put the screws to hippies was so tempting that Nixon did something unprecedented in the history of the American presidency: he arranged an Oval Office meeting three hours after getting a request for one. At that confab, he gave Presley a badge, making him an honorary agent of the federal Narcotics Bureau.Thank you, thank you very much!
Even without the hippie activity, it's pretty strange to have children day-camping on the Nixon grounds. For one thing, it's supposedly an austere presidential library. For another, there's Dick's views on young'uns.
In a 1988 Playboy interview, liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. recalled Nixon moving into his New York City neighborhood after the resignation. "My children had been used to climbing on the fence that separated our two houses," Schlesinger said. "Shortly after Nixon and the Secret Service moved in, my children were hounded off the fence. So I got a stepladder and climbed up on the fence and harangued the Secret Service people, [telling them] 'This is outrageous. My children have always climbed this fence.'
"The fact that someone who, if justice had been done, should have been in the federal penitentiary was now trying to deprive my children of their historic right to climb the fence was unimpressive to me. The Secret Service replied that when my children climbed the fence, they disturbed certain security systems [the Secret Service] had set up. I said that was their problem."
The Schlesingers eventually won. Soon after that, Schlesinger came home to hear his wife say, "You know, I'm beginning to feel a little sorry for Nixon." She explained their 6-year-old boy was on the fence when she looked out the window and caught a glimpse of Nixon in his garden, giving the lad "a little wave." Schlesinger just had to ask his son about this apparently heartwarming scene.
"Yes," the boy replied, "he was waving at me to get off the fence."
Lazzarino's missive concludes by saying, "If you missed the fun this summer, never fear. We're already planning next year's program."