• WHFs Gather for Regional Conference at Nixon Presidential Library

    We held the second in our ongoing series of conferences at the presidential libraries in Yorba Linda, California on April 6-7, 2017 at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. In all, 81 people – including 53 White House Fellows, 18 Spouses, and 10 friends or family members – attended.

    The Nixon Library recently completed a $15 million renovation of its permanent exhibits, which help tell the story of our thirty-seventh president and the unique times in which he lived. The exhibits detail the story of Nixon’s spectacular successes and infamous failures, from his election as a congressman from rural Whittier in 1946 to becoming Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president in 1952 (while narrowly avoiding being tossed off the ticket with his dramatic “Checkers” speech), to then losing an exceptionally close election to Jack Kennedy in 1960, to his surprising comeback to win the presidency in 1968, to his controversial ending of the Vietnam War in 1972, to his sweeping re-election victory in 1972 (carrying every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia), to his historic resignation over the Watergate scandal in 1974, to his quiet acceptance as an elder statesman over the final twenty years of his life.

    Our conference agenda included four panel discussions, mainly featuring White House Fellows from the Nixon administration, as well as two outside speakers. The panels focused on:

    • The First White House Fellows Program Transition, when the continuation of our program hung by a thread
    • Nixon’s Foreign Policy Initiatives, including his Opening to China, Soviet Détente and the SALT negotiations, Vietnam and the Paris Peace Accords, and Geopolitics of the Middle East
    • Nixon’s Domestic Policy Initiatives, which were surprisingly pragmatic
    • A Retrospective on Watergate, which included recent revelations from documents maintained by the National Archives

    The outside speakers we heard from included: actor/author Ben Stein, who was one of Nixon’s speechwriters, and prominent pollster and focus-group host Frank Luntz. Ben Stein spoke of the divisive times occasioned by opposition to the Vietnam War and how had Nixon responded. Frank Luntz focused on today’s divisions and the resistance to acceptance of the 2016 election’s outcome. Luntz also brought along a surprise guest: actor Richard Dreyfuss, who’s founded the Dreyfuss Civics Initiative to encourage the teaching of civics in our nation’s schools. Luntz and Dreyfuss did sort of a duet, discussing America’s important documents and institutions – and the role they play in today’s culture.

    One of the happy by-products of the conference was the opportunity for Fellows from different administrations to socialize and share stories of their own. All in all, the conference proved a resounding success, as evidenced in the words of the attendees themselves, including the following:

    • John Saxon (’78-’79): “The entire day was terrific (sorry my flight delay precluded me from hearing Ben Stein Thursday night)
    • Landis Jones (’69-’70): “Thank you for a well-organized introduction to the Nixon museum. I believe that it was useful as a new perspective for the post-Nixon Fellows and a good reminder to those who served during his administration.
    • Ron Baukol (’70-’71): “Thanks for spearheading the event. Great to hear all of the fine history from the horses’ mouths. Enjoyed being with you all.
    • Bud McFarlane (’71-’72): “Jonny and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire event. Mike Ellzey and Bill Baribault [respective heads of the Nixon Library and Nixon Foundation] were also very impressive.
    • Doris Meissner (’73-’74): “Thanks to you for organizing such a productive visit. It was a pleasure to participate.
    • Bill Barry (’73-’74): “To get an A+ from this group of seasoned meeting goers in itself would be over the top — but the absolutely unanimous confirmation that you had hit out of the park, was spectacular.
    • John Borling (’74-’75): “How very splendid it all was. Thanks so much for making it that way. Pleased to be part and looking forward to next year at the Ford library.
    posted: April 23, 2017
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