Richard Nixon Unbound

Article excerpt

"Sing me sweet songs of love," wrote the poet. And, perhaps because he got few such songs during his presidency, Richard Nixon was more eager for them than most men. Although the word "love" doesn't seem quite right. After leaving office under such memorable circumstances some two decades ago, what Mr. Nixon craved was respect. "Sing me sweet songs of respect."

The odd part is that a man whose respect Mr. Nixon craved in his last years was someone with whom one might not have thought he had much in common, Bill Clinton. At least this is the version being peddled by Monica Crowley, who when a junior at Colgate, entered into correspondence with the ex-president and upon graduation was offered a very junior job on his staff.

Miss Crowley claims she was his "foreign-policy assistant," although senior Nixon associates say this is preposterous self-inflation. She was constantly in Mr. Nixon's company, she claims, took notes, kept a diary and would daily "reconstruct" his conversation, mood and personal reflections. She is now to publish with Random House these "reconstructions," which those who were close to Mr. Nixon say are highly imaginative. But Miss Crowley is convinced that when he spoke to her Mr. Nixon knew he was speaking "to history." Excerpts from the book have also now appeared in the New Yorker.

Mr. Nixon's initial impressions of Mr. Clinton, through the Gennifer Flowers and draft-dodging episodes, were entirely negative, and he had a "visceral contempt" for him, writes Miss Crowley. "I cannot believe that this guy is a serious contender of the Presidency," he said, his face "flushed with anger." "He is a coward and a fraud. . . . If he is elected President, I will know that this country has finally gone to hell."

But Mr. Nixon relished the idea that Mr. Clinton might defer to him on international affairs, and grant more weight to his advice than had either Ronald Reagan or George Bush. If only Mr. Clinton would call. Planning a trip to Russia, Mr. Nixon paced about his office. "It's in their interest to let me go," he explained. "After all, they don't know s - - from Shinola on foreign policy." But the call didn't come. On returning from Russia, he learned that Mr. Clinton was soon to meet Boris Yeltsin, Russia's president. "He'd be wise to talk to me before that," said Mr. Nixon anxiously.

And, at last, the call came on March 2, 1993, and, writes Miss Crowley, "their unexpectedly close relationship was born." The next morning, Mr. Nixon was sporting a wry grin. "He confided in me," Mr. Nixon exulted. "He said things that he absolutely would not want made public. I wonder if his wiretaps are working," Mr. Nixon chuckled. "He was very respectful, but with no sickening bulls - -." Mr. Nixon recounted much of the conversation they'd had about Russia, and Mr. Yeltsin, then added, "He said that Yeltsin told him to see me." Mr. Nixon raised an eyebrow. "That was something!"

"It was the best conversation with a President I've had since I was President," Mr. …