Why Nixon, Why Now?

My name is Paul Carter. And I am the premier expert on Richard Nixon’s life in Southern California. Bold words. Let me back them up. 

I have been researching and writing about Richard Nixon since 2009. I am an attorney by training, not a professional writer. Well, that is not entirely true, since I am under contract with Potomac Books to publish Richard Nixon: California’s Native Son, I am a professional writer now. But growing up in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, admittedly in a Republican household, I never envisioned writing a biography on Richard Nixon. Truth be told, I never envisioned writing a biography of anyone.

But you never really know how different events in your life will come back and affect your life years later. 

My earliest memory of Nixon was when I was nine years old and my father came home one August evening while I was playing out front and told me to come inside and watch the president resign. I did not really understand what was happening. 

I am a product of public education, and in the years that followed, my teachers painted an unflattering portrait of Richard Nixon. I really had no reason to believe otherwise. 

After high school, I joined the Navy to see the world and was stationed in Long Beach, California, about 15 minutes from home. 

During my Navy service I met Stephan Shatynski, a fine Officer and graduate of the Naval Academy. Although I was an enlisted man, Stephan and I developed a cordial friendship while serving on board the USS Mobile under the command of Captain Rodney Allen Knutson, one of the longest held and most extensively tortured P.O.W.’s from the Vietnam War. 

Following my service, I ended up at Cal State Fullerton where I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. One day, my mother recommended that I volunteer at the recently opened Richard Nixon Presidential Library. My mom always advocated volunteerism and she was always giving her time to one organization or another. I took her advice and became a docent at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. I immediately lowered the median docent age by 30 years. At the time, it never occurred to me that I would meet Richard Nixon. But I did. 

My understanding of Richard Nixon at that time was no different than the public perception: He grew up poor, was insecure, and had a chip on his shoulder. The truth is I believed he was probably very similar to my grandfather, obviously a man who loved his family but also probably an ornery man who might even be somewhat of an asshole. The evening I met Richard Nixon he brought along Hollywood royalty, including Bob Hope and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Richard Nixon could not have been nicer. He was friendly, engaging, and had a sense of humor, all while being incredibly modest. I was struck by the dichotomy between the public perception of the man and what the man was actually like in person. I was fortunate to meet with Richard Nixon on a few other occasions during my time as a docent at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. 

Then I graduated from Cal State Fullerton, and was off to Drake Law School in the Midwest, then returned home to practice law in California. In the years that followed I married; and my then wife and I began adopting children. Fast forward to 2009. 

As a Navy man, I wanted to instill a sense of Navy tradition in my oldest daughter Bailey. The United States Navy was commissioning the USS Green Bay in Long Beach and so I brought my daughter to the ceremony. I was dumbfounded when it was announced that Admiral Shatynski would oversee the event. Afterwards, I approached the Admiral, thinking it was Stephan Shatynski with whom I served in the 1980’s. As luck would have it, it was Admiral Michael Shatynski (Stephan’s older brother) and he gladly put me in touch with Stephan, and we rekindled our friendship. 

Stephan and Mike then arranged for me to fly out to the guided missile cruiser USS Princeton to spend the day as the guest of the Commanding Officer. The Mayor of Whittier happened to be along, and since I knew Nixon grew up in Whittier, when we were making small talk, I asked him if they had all the areas of Whittier designated where Nixon lived.

I was shocked when the mayor told me “We sort of lost track of all those places.” 

I was disappointed; Richard Nixon was president of the United States. And he was the only native Californian to reach our country’s highest office. 

So I literally decided on the spot to make a map of Nixon’s life in Southern California.

I honestly figured it would take no more than 6 months and that it would be an easy undertaking. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

Keep in mind that at this point I still believed the basic narrative that all biographers have written about Nixon: that he grew up poor, was insecure, maybe even a little paranoid, with a chip on his shoulder. The only difference was that since meeting him, I knew him to be friendly and engaging and not mean. I was still fascinated by the dichotomy between his public image (which was negative) and what he was really like in person (which was positive). 

As a California boy, having graduated from law school in the Midwest, some of my classmates would naturally come and visit. When Chris Duesing and Richard Schirmer visited, we brought a map of Hollywood stars’ homes and had a great time tracking down the various celebrity homes. This is basically what I envisioned for the Nixon Map. 

A map is dependent on locations. Although I knew Nixon was born in Yorba Linda and raised in Whittier, the reality is I knew little else about his life in Southern California. So I began to develop a list of addresses of places where Nixon lived. But when I initially went to Whittier to see the actual locations, I discovered that in the 1960’s Whittier renumbered all of its streets, changing the street numbers from three digits to five digits with no correlation between the former and new street numbers, so nothing matched up. 

I understand that the researchers, historians, civil engineers, city planners, librarians and nearly everyone else would naturally assume there must be a conversion chart, but that was not the route I chose. Instead, I knew that Cal State Fullerton had 200 oral histories from Nixon’s friends, family and associates that were recorded in the early 1970’s. Some of the interviewees still lived in the homes of their youth and their histories referenced their original addresses and also the renumbered addresses, making it easy to locate their homes. I also wanted to use the histories to learn the places Nixon and his friends lived their lives, and what they did for fun, as I needed more than just the addresses of Nixon’s homes and the schools he attended.

I then discovered that there were also 400 oral histories at Whittier College. The histories at Whittier College were actually considered part of the Nixon White House documents seized by Congress after Nixon’s resignation and were not available for research until about the time I began my research. 

So I began to review all these oral histories to decipher where Nixon lived and enjoyed life in Whittier.

As I reviewed all these oral histories, I was struck by the image of Nixon that emerged, which directly contradicted the accepted history of Ricard Nixon. The oral histories revealed the fallacy of the proposition that Nixon grew up poor, was insecure, and had a chip on his shoulder. This dichotomy between the public perception and private reality was exposed as a purely manufactured image the foundation of which was built by those with an interest in denigrating Nixon. Historians are really no different than lawyers; whereas lawyers use case precedent, historians use other historians to build on their own theories.  

Just as attorneys take a previously decided case and use it as the rule of law in their subsequent cases, historians build upon the writings of other historians without really challenging their findings. In other words, no one really performs their own original research in an area considered settled history. This is what I found happened with Nixon. 

After Nixon resigned, the biographies written on him were extremely negative and generally found Nixon to be a dark, flawed man. Half the biographers of Nixon sought to psycho analyze him and explain “his dark side”  as though the existence of such a “dark side”  was a matter of fact. 

Fawn Brodie is a classic example. She admittedly despised Nixon and wrote in Richard Nixon: The Shaping of his Character about Nixon being poor, insecure, unpopular, and vindictive, among other negative character traits. Brodie purported to have conducted extensive research on Nixon’s life growing up, and even asserted that Nixon likely was responsible for his brother’s death. Although subsequent writers rejected Brodie’s claims of fratricide, they embraced the remainder of her claims as to Nixon’s negative character traits. Thus, the foundation was laid for historians and subsequent writers to build on the premise that Nixon was flawed and insecure, with a chip on his shoulder. 

Brodie and others assert that they have thoroughly reviewed the Cal State Fullerton oral histories in crafting these biographies. But they couldn’t have. If they did, they would have found there was no support for their basic prepositions. Quite the opposite is true.

The Whittier College oral histories further demonstrate the All American nature of Richard Nixon’s youth.

The Cal State Fullerton oral histories are 4,052 pages long, and the Whittier College oral histories comprise 6,241 pages. I have studied all of them.  

In doing so, I realized there was much more to Nixon’s life. And that he had a fascinating life indeed – so I was off and running on my chase down the rabbit hole!

I also consumed the oral histories of Nixon intimates in the UC Berkeley Richard Nixon in the Warren Era collection at the Bancroft Library, the Paul Bullock Papers at the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library and the Bela Kornitzer Papers at Drew University.

Then I turned my attention to the National Archives at the Richard Nixon Library and the Nixon Foundation where I spent weeks devouring the various collections. I also reviewed the collections at the Whittier Public Library, Whittier Historical Society, Whittier College, Fullerton Public Library, University of Southern California, Yorba Linda Public Library, and Orange County Archives. 

In researching Richard Nixon’s Southern California life, I have studied well over 100,000 pages of documents, tens of thousands of photographs, and conducted more than fifty personal interviews of Nixon intimates. 

What really struck me was that the bulk of the original research I conducted has never been performed although the information has been readily available. More often than not, documents at the National Archives had to be turned in to the archivists to remove staples and paperclips that had rusted through the pages before I could separate them and handle them. The documents had not been touched since the day they were stapled, clipped, or bound together with rubber bands, and stored from the various periods of Nixon’s life. 

I have always been struck by President Bill Clinton’s words at Nixon’s funeral: “may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close.” The only way to resolve the dichotomy between the public image and private man is to take Bill Clinton’s words to heart and explore Nixon’s entire life – especially his early life in California. 

I am not aware of anyone who has more extensively researched the Nixon family in Whittier. Authors writing on the Nixon’s consult with me. I have been acknowledged in books such as Will Swift’s Pat & Dick (2014) and John David Briley’s Nixon Rebuilds (2021). I have delivered talks on Nixon’s Southern California life to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, the Whittier Public Library, and organizations such as Republican Women Federated and civic groups such as Kiwanis and Rotary.

When the City of Whittier was considering whether to save Nixon’s home at 15844 Whittier Boulevard, Whittier, California, I provided the testimony that convinced the City Council to preserve the home.

In addition to the Native Son: Richard Nixon’s Southern California, which is the map, Richard Nixon: California’s Native Son will soon be published by Potomac Books, and I have developed a narrated tour of Nixon’s hometown – From Whittier to the White House.  

In this blog and on the related social media, I will review various aspects of Richard Nixon’s life, so we can all more fully understand America’s most significant politician in the last 75 years. I hope you comment, share and enjoy. 

So here are some quick facts – 

Elected to US House in 1946

Re-elected 1948 in primary – won both Republican & Democrat primaries

Elected US Senate 1950

Elected Vice President 1952

Re-elected Vice President 1956

He had an incredible rise in politics – within 10 years he was in the House of Representatives, Senate and twice elected Vice President.

Although he lost the presidential election in 1960 and the California governor’s race in 1962, Nixon persevered and won the White House in 1968. He was re-elected in 1972 in one of the largest landslides in presidential history.

Richard Nixon is California’s Native Son. He is the only person born and raised in Southern California to grow up and become President of the United States.  

No other native Southern Californian has accomplished this feat.  

Nixon’s name appeared on five National Election ballots, an accomplishment attained only by President Franklin Roosevelt. 

He won four of those national elections. Having received over 180 million votes, more people have voted for Richard Nixon than any other US politician. 

And he carried California in every national election.

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1 Comment

  1. Donna McCrary McCusker on September 1, 2022 at 5:27 pm

    Love what you have done. Have your map. Saw V P Nixon in motorcade as they drove from EWFriends church down Santa Gertrude’s, can’t Remember but think it was his moms funeral. East whittier friends has great scrap books of him and family at family church. Glad you helped save the house. I’ve been to grocery store as a preteen with my mom. Thanks again, Paul, Donna McCrary McCusker