LOS ANGELES (AP) — Built to polish the image of the only president to resign in disgrace, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace has ended up carrying on his legacy of controversy.
There is a struggle among historians, heirs and political patrons about who will oversee his papers. There is a battle with the government for control of his White House tapes. And now there is a furor over disclosures that a new building under construction was bankrolled by the family of a Nixon confidant who was a raving anti-Semite.
“All this kind of feels like Nixon is still alive,” said historian Stanley Kutler.
The library, which opened in 1990 at the site of Nixon’s boyhood home of Yorba Linda, traces his career as a congressman, vice president and president. Nixon died in 1994 and is buried alongside his wife, Pat, at the library.
The latest controversy has held up the construction of the Bobst Institute on the library’s grounds. The family of Nixon friend Elmer H. Bobst donated $6 million last year for the institute, which would be the new home for the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, a Washington-based think tank.
In recent months, scholars poring over the Nixon papers and tapes discovered that letters Bobst wrote to Nixon revealed a fierce anti-Jewish streak.
“‘If this beloved country of ours ever falls apart, the blame rightly should be attributed to the malicious action of Jews in complete control of our communications,” Bobst wrote to Nixon in 1972.
On April 10, the think tank’s board of directors declined to be housed in the building bearing Bobst’s name.
“I don’t want it to taint the center,” center president Dimitri Simes said.
Simes said he feared the Bobst Institute would renew talk of Nixon’s own anti-Semitic rantings on recently released tapes.
“Why create a monument on his library … which would endlessly remind people not of what Nixon did for the nation and the world, but that unfortunate side of his biography reflected in several out-of-character statements?” Simes said. “There was no anti-Semitic bone in his body.”
Foundation officials do not believe the letters were representative of Bobst’s views but have placed the project on hold pending a Nixon Foundation decision in early May about whether to go ahead.
Several foundation directors and officials would not comment about the project’s future.