NIXON is back! As a subject of American fascination, that is.
The 20th anniversary of his resignation on Aug. 8 and the reexaminations of Watergate in print and on television have combined to reawaken interest among those who had almost forgotten and stir interest among those too young to have known.
The end is not in sight for research into the first-ever president to be driven from office. The basic story of President Nixon's plunge to destruction is known - the man so angry at his opponents, so fearful of his ``enemies'' that he was propelled into extra-legal response (wiretaps, surveillance, break-ins) and then into a criminal obstruction of justice to hide what he had done.
But there are still caves to explore for new Dead Sea scrolls in the 42 million pages of documents and the 4,000 hours of Nixon tape in the hands of the National Archives. (All the tapes released in the investigation of Watergate amount to only 60 hours.) Nixon lawyers are still resisting the release of the remaining tapes, a source of great frustration to the archivists who have spent years preparing them for release.
This material won't lead to any earthshaking revelations, but it will give a deeper understanding of the Nixon phenomenon. One early tape shows Nixon's tendency to invent a persona for himself, even with his closest advisers. Meeting alone with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, the president asks whether the Soviet government can intercede with North Vietnam to come to the peace table. Later Nixon reports on the conversation to H. R. Haldeman, representing himself as having been much sterner with Mr. Dobrynin than he actually was. Shortly thereafter, he briefs national security adviser Henry Kissinger, making himself appear to have been quite tough with the ambassador. He quotes himself as saying, ``See here, Anatoli!'' - words he never spoke to Dobrynin or to anybody on the 950 reels of tape.
It is interesting also to compare the diary that Nixon kept on dictabelt, apart from his tapes, with the diary of Mr. Haldeman. On August 3, 1972 - six weeks after the Watergate break-in - Nixon's diary entry has him, in conversation with Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, saying that he has been ``above reproach'' in not using the power of government to go after his enemies. Haldeman's version of the same conversation has Nixon talking about the need to ``get some action'' from the IRS and the Justice Department against ``people supporting the opposition.''
I can vouch for the accuracy of Haldeman's version, having been the subject of an FBI investigation and an IRS audit ordered by Nixon. ``Abuse of power,'' the use of government to harass his ``enemies,'' became Article 2 of the three articles of impeachment voted by the House Judiciary Committee in the summer of 1974.
S recent disclosures - especially the Haldeman diaries - bring us closer to the inner Nixon, he gets worse and worse. He discussed with Dr. Kissinger the need to keep the Vietnam War going and achieve a settlement timed to precede the 1972 election. He was against racial integration and did not like blacks. He wanted to replace black waiters in the White House. He identified Jews with the lobby for legalizing marijuana and talked of Jewish ``domination'' of the arts and the media. He hated the press and the intellectual ``elite,'' denigrating the value of a college education. He disliked the civil service.
Yet somehow he managed to keep that seething volcano of hatreds and fears under enough control to win two elections - the second with an unprecedented majority. One searches still for understanding of the Nixon who could lead Americans while harboring hatred against so many of them. Nixonology becomes an exercise as much in pathology as in political science.
That is why the campaign will continue to be waged for the disclosure of the unreleased papers and tapes. And that is why, after 20 years, it looks as though we will have Nixon to kick around for many years to come. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.