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Book chronicles Nixon’s `winter’ days

SHARE Book chronicles Nixon’s `winter’ days

Richard Nixon was much smarter than most political scholars ever dreamed. He made a dramatic comeback after losing the presidency in 1960 and the California governorship in 1962, and was elected president twice - in 1968 and 1972.

After engineering the worst political scandal in American presidential history - Watergate - which forced him to resign rather than face certain impeachment, he wrote several books and traveled the world as an elder statesman.But the greatest comeback is now in process - the historical re-evaluation of the Nixon presidency by a younger generation of scholars who didn't live through Watergate.

Nixon had the foresight to realize that if he surrounded himself with young scholars who were eager to know him up close, he could help to rewrite his own history.

And it would all happen after he was dead.

Monica Crowley was one of his selected scholars. Back in 1989, she was a senior at Colgate University who became Nixon's research assistant.

From 1990 to 1994, she became his foreign policy assistant and research consultant for his last two books. He talked to her regularly and even took her with him to Russia and China and introduced her to world leaders.

Who wouldn't be impressed? She continually encouraged him to write his books about international issues "because the country and the world needed to hear from him."

He made a conscious effort to impress her by allowing her to catch him reading in such classical works as Plato, Aristotle and Kant.

He convinced her that he was a virtuous man, badly misunderstood by the world, the press and political historians. Now that she is a Ph.D. candidate in international relations at Columbia University, she has a rich portfolio of Nixon's wisdom.

Some may wonder whether she was being fair to Nixon's confidences because she admits she never told him she was planning on writing a book about him, even though she took copious notes whenever they talked.

Undoubtedly, Nixon knew exactly what she was doing and how highly she regarded him. He comes off regally in "Nixon in Winter." The publisher bills it as "an unprecedented firsthand portrait, private, provocative and candid."

He could have added "self-serving."

Nixon lectured Crowley about his world view - China, the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, etc., -as well as his comparisons of his own Watergate problems with those of Kennedy and Clinton. Whitewater is worse than Watergate, said Nixon, in a snide reference to Vince Foster's untimely suicide because "we didn't have a body."

The Kennedys, he said, were all cheaters on their wives, and they were proud of it. "They had to prove that they were men."

In Nixon's view of history, politicians have been selectively prosecuted - Nixon for Watergate in 1974 but not Reagan for Iran-contra in 1987; Gary Hart for sexual misbehavior in 1988 but not Clinton in 1992; Clarence Thomas for alleged sexual harassment in 1991 but not Clinton in 1994.

The reasons, he said, had more to do with "political ideology than personal improprieties."

He continued to dismiss Watergate as "a third-rate burglary" that "started out as a minor crime, which blew up into a major one . . . when the press and the rest of them got a hold of it."

Even as he took his last breath, Nixon was denying the importance and substance of Watergate. Yet, this book is interesting if only to see what he was thinking about any number of issues during his final days.

One thing we can be grateful for - Nixon was mortified that Pat Nixon had to find out how much he swore through the publication of the Watergate tapes.

It bothered her, he said, "because I don't use that kind of language with her . . . even though all presidents swear and everyone acted like I was the first one."