Golis: Reagan, Nixon and me

  • Guest begin to arrive for the dedication ceremonies of the retired Air Force One Boeing 707 aircraft at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Friday, Oct. 21, 2005.In attendance were President Bush first lady Laura Bush and former first lady Nancy Reagan.(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

SIMI VALLEY — The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is worth seeing just for its spectacular hilltop setting and the glossy production. Where else can you walk through the president's Air Force One, parked in a shiny, glass-walled pavilion big enough to house a Boeing 707?

If you're looking for a nuanced history of Reagan's presidency, however, you might want to buy a book.

Too often, this is the Hollywood version of the Reagan presidency, heavy on the sentimentality, glamour and melodrama. You know how the story goes: In a world of good and evil, strong and weak — music rising — one man rides out of the West to save us.

In the video introduction, the narrator describes the America of 1980: "America faced economic ruin ... evil forces threatened the world ... (and) one man had the courage to fight back."

Only one? Yes, the Reagan administration did play a key role in ending the Cold War and bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union, and, yes, Reagan did change the direction of the public dialogue in this country.

But the Reagan library is the Saturday matinee, red-white-and-blue retelling of that story. It's an entertainment perfect for the most ardent Reagan loyalists.

Iran-Contra? It's here, but blink and you could miss it.

Presidential museums are what they are. Each begins with a bankroll provided by that president's wealthiest admirers. They want to glorify their guy — and go light on the bad news.

And these admirers aren't shy about their role in financing the museum. Many displays comes with plaques identifying generous benefactors. ("Replica of the White House South Lawn — Special Thanks to Merv Griffin.")

If the Reagan library is celebratory, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, 83 miles to the south in Yorba Linda, is something different — something more interesting.

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