In August, 1974, I left for Aspen, Colo., on vacation, having just seen Richard Nixon deliver his last words as president. Now, as chance would have it, I leave for Aspen, having just read his last words as ex-president.
They were spoken during his last four-and-a-half years in candid comments to his research assistant, Monica Crowley. Convinced that he meant his words for history, she has now set down the conversations in a book, "Nixon Off the Record."
There is much of the old Nixon there - his scorn for other politicians that led him to call George Bush "a good man, but not strong;" Bill Clinton "pretty boy ... a waffler and opportunist;" and Hillary Rodham Clinton "a radical ... icy cold." But, when Mr. Clinton finally called Nixon for advice, he was pathetically pleased. Nixon described it as "the best conversation with a president I have had since I was president."
Nixon never lost his political acumen. He seemed eager to advise all recent presidents, as though desperately needing to have influence. But much of his thinking was conditioned by his own experience. The suicide of Clinton deputy counsel Vincent Foster brought back the pressures he endured during Watergate. His hatred of Mrs. Clinton stemmed from her having served on the impeachment investigation. Like the Bourbon kings, Nixon never learned and never forgot.
Here is how he summarized Watergate to Ms. Crowley 20 years later: "We had a week before the news of the cover-up business came to me, and then the Watergate B.S. came along. Imagine - that silliness! Well, there was the cover up, but we were protecting our people, which everybody does."
On April 13, 1994, four days before he died, he expressed the hope that the Republicans would go all out against the Clintons: "Our people must not be afraid to grab this thing and shake all the evidence loose. Watergate was wrong; Whitewater is wrong. I paid the price. Clinton should pay the price."
Clinton might have been less effusive at Nixon's funeral had he been aware of that quote.
*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.