Nixon's Legacy Ignites More Controversy
In life, Richard Nixon was a stormy, controversial figure. After his death three years ago this month, his friends and supporters joined to establish a memorial that would bespeak peace and harmony.
In Yorba Linda, Calif., a dignified structure was erected, called "The Nixon Library and Birthplace," and in Washington a prestigious Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom was established - both under the aegis of the Nixon Foundation.
But as conflict developed so often during Nixon's life, so now conflict has developed in the institutions fostering his memory. Years-long negotiations appear to be nearing a climax between the Nixon estate and the National Archives to settle the disposition of the vast collection of presidential papers and records seized in 1974 on President Ford's order when Nixon, having resigned, tried to make off with them.
Reportedly involved is payment of something more than $26 million to the Nixon estate, for which the Archives would control, with some restrictions, a Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda. About $8 million would be reserved to build a new structure for the library.
Informed sources say that a dispute has arisen between some members of the Nixon Foundation board and its co-chairs: Nixon's daughters, Julie Eisenhower and Tricia Cox. Nixon, in his will, made better provision for institutions that would bear his name than individual family members. Some Nixon supporters now see the daughters as facing difficulty if they represent both the estate and the Nixon Foundation in the allocation of the proceeds of the settlement.
A tangential conflict has developed over a grant from the widow of a long-time friend of Nixon. Elmer Bobst, a pharmaceuticals tycoon, died in 1978. In 1995, his widow, the Lebanese-born Mamdouha Bobst, offered a reported $6 million to establish a Bobst World Institute as part of the Nixon complex in Yorba Linda. But, about that time, there came to light in the National Archives some virulently anti-Semitic letters that Bobst had written to Nixon.
One, dated May 9, 1972 (a month before the Watergate break-in), attributed the country's gravest problems to the Jewish-run news media, saying, "The Jews have troubled the world from the very beginning." Another "Dear Dick" letter, dated Nov. 28, 1973, said, "You are well aware of the fact that Jews in our country are tolerated but, as a whole, are not liked by other American nationalities." In a telephone call to Nixon on Feb. 22, 1973, Bobst described the Israelis as "a nasty, lousy group ... acting like uncivilized people."
Nixon is on record as having made some anti-Semitic remarks of his own, but there is no record of any replies to these communications. Since they surfaced, a battle has raged among Nixon Foundation supporters as to whether the Bobst grant should be accepted.
Julie Eisenhower and Tricia Cox, whose lawyer husband, Edward Cox, has handled some of the legal work, urged accepting the Bobst Institute. Some board members reportedly objected. One was quoted as saying, "There is a cancer growing on the Nixon Foundation."
Resistance to being associated with the Bobst Institute in the Nixon complex has been mounted by the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom in Washington, founded by Nixon himself and headed by Dimitri Simes, who was a foreign policy adviser to the ex-president. The center's executive committee, which includes former cabinet secretaries Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger, recently voted to take steps to maintain "programmatic independence." The full board was to meet on Thursday to consider further steps to dissociate itself from the Nixon Library and the Bobst Institute.
The name of Nixon was always associated with conflict, and that does not appear to have changed.
* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.