Of all the presidents who followed him, it was only Bill Clinton who gratified Richard Nixon's yearning to be back, however privately, in the arena of shaping American foreign policy.
This I learned from a second amazing book, "Nixon in Winter," by Monica Crowley, Nixon's collaborator and confidante in his last years. There is little doubt that this is Nixon unedited. Take, for example, a remark like, "I don't go for this exporting democracy crap. Democracy doesn't belong everywhere." Nixon was disappointed with his inability to get through to Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush. He found Bush particularly "ineffective," at one point even "insulting." So then came Clinton - from another party, from another generation - and Nixon undertook systematically to court him. First, with a congratulatory message after his election in 1992.
And then, prompted by Sen. Bob Dole, who had in turn been prompted by Nixon, a telephone call came from the new president opening what Nixon called "a surprisingly constructive relationship." There followed another phone conversation, mainly about Russia, Nixon lobbying for aid to President Yeltsin. "The best conversation with a president I've had since I was president," Nixon told Ms. Crowley, adding, "It was never dialogue with Reagan and Bush. This guy does a lot of thinking." And then, as described in the book, Nixon put his glasses on the end table, folded his hands, and said, "He invited me to the White House." This would be Nixon's first scheduled visit to the White House - with photograph and all - since he left in disgrace.
"I think that Clinton showed real guts by having me there," said Nixon. "And I think we could work together on the Russia thing and on whatever he wants." There were more phone conversations, talking about air strikes in Bosnia, about Haiti, and about Somalia. "At least he's standing up on that," Nixon told his protge.
But cooperation started at the water's edge. When it came to domestic scandal, the old Nixon was still there. He denounced the Clintons for "hypocrisy." Whitewater, he said, is worse than Watergate - "We didn't have profiteering and we didn't have a body."
That conversation with Monica Crowley was on April 8, 1994, nine days before Nixon died. Clinton presumably knew only of their friendly conversations when he gave a glowing eulogy at Nixon's funeral. All those 20 years Nixon had been straining to be a proxy foreign policy president, finally finding a measure of fulfillment in his courtship of Bill Clinton.
* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.