Now More Than Ever

ISHED control. In the White House and in exile, he would spend hours stewing over yellow legal pads, war-gaming geostrategy, memorizing his dinner guests' alma maters -and forever plotting the next campaign. None of his many comebacks was more successful than his last, in the 1980s and early '90s, from disgrace to resurrection as a presidential elder. He wanted it all to look effortless, as though Nixon in winter-hosting neighborhood Halloween parties in his New Jersey suburb, taking in the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, writing foreign-policy tomes had finally reached what his Quaker grandmother called "peace at the center."

But with Nixon, nothing was ever simple--or settled. There is fresh evidence of this in Monica Crowley's Nixon Off the Record (231 pages. Random House. $23), a collection of the former president's ruminations from 1990 until his death in 1994. Crowley, a young Colgate graduate who worked on Nixon's tiny retirement staff, kept a diary of his discursive remarks. A Nixon fan, Crowley fills the book with encomiums to his greatness. She does not seem to grasp, however, that her account reveals that the man who wanted the world to believe he was thinking Big Thoughts was also nursing old grudges-- "I can't believe Carter didn't show up at our library opening" is just one example--and forming new resentments, particularly toward the Clintons. Watching the '92 campaign, Nixon was down on the young governor ("He is a coward and a fraud," Nixon said of Clinton's failure to serve in Vietnam) and grumbled angrily about Mrs. Clinton ("She was on the goddamned committee to impeach me. She's a radical. If she gets in, whoa!"). But when Clinton was elected, Crowley makes clear, Nixon ached for an attentive nod from the White House. When Clinton did telephone, the former president comes off as pathetically grateful. "He confided in me," Nixon excitedly reported. "It was the best conversation I've had with a president since I was president." Savoring the moment, Nixon grandly asserted that, on foreign policy, "as long as [Clinton] is talking to me, he'll be OK." More calls and a White House meeting followed, but the relationship soured in June 1993, when Pat Nixon died and neither the president nor the First Lady attended the funeral.

Though Crowley insists this isn't a kiss-and-tell memoir, the late president's children, Julie Eisenhower and Tricia Cox, think the young staffer is out of bounds. "The daughters feel the writing of the book is a betrayal of personal confidences," a Nixon family friend told NEWSWEEK. And while old Nixon hands agree the quotations basically ring true, many doubt that the Old Man, a prude in the company of women, would have used some of the profanities Crowley attributes to him. But everything else-the intemperate remarks and the self-serving revisions of history-reminds us that Nixon, for all his rehabilitations, never really changed.