I finished Monica Crowley’s Nixon Off the Record, which is about Monica’s time working for former President Richard Nixon in the 1990’s.
A lot of the book was Nixon lecturing to Monica about policy and politics, but there were a few light-hearted moments. There was Nixon getting a phone call and it being the wrong number. I mean, how could one call a former President by mistake? It apparently happens, though! There was Nixon saying that he looked too old in his eyeglasses, then Monica put on her glasses and asked if she looked too old. And then there was an odd moment: a bird hit the window and flew away. Monica speculates that Nixon may have seen this as a sign. That wouldn’t surprise me, since I blogged about one time that Nixon did look for signs in nature.
The sharpness of Richard Nixon’s mind, even in his old age, made his stroke and his death quite tragic, in my opinion. Nixon in old age had a plethora of insights about politics and policy, which he loved to express, orally and in writing. It must have been terrible for him to have a stroke that took away his ability to speak. And, after he had invested so much time in influencing the policies and political decisions of prominent political figures, it was sad that he did not get to see how things turned out for them. Nixon had opinions about the Clinton Administration, and President Bill Clinton turned to Nixon for advice, far more than Ronald Reagan and George Bush did. And Nixon also advised Robert Dole on how to run effectively against Bill Clinton in 1996. But Nixon passed on before 1996 came.
Incidentally, Monica’s book is copyrighted to 1996, and it was apparently written before the 1996 election had been decided. On pages 221-222, Monica says the following:
“The art of politics is seldom the art of leadership. Clinton is an elitist cloaked in populist garb, but Dole is a true and quiet populist cloaked not in illusive image-making but in the certainty that comes from experience. The contrast between Clinton and Dole cannot be more stark. Unlike 1992, the 1996 election is to be a contest not about just the next four years but about the next century, when leadership of the kind Nixon spoke of will be required to make it the second American century. Nixon saw clearly from Clinton’s first year that Clinton is not the one to lead America into the new millennium. Dole, however, is the one, and if he succeeds, Nixon’s lessons about leadership will not only endure but live.”
It’s a profound passage, but I’m not entirely sure what to say about it. Was it a mistake that Clinton was the one who led America into the twenty-first century? Nixon passed on (as far as I can see) before the economic boom under Bill Clinton. He passed on before Clinton and the Republicans passed welfare reform and balanced the budget. Would Nixon have been proud of Clinton’s accomplishments? Well, I can envision him being happy about the balanced budget. Maybe he would have been pleased with welfare reform—-I’m not sure, for, while Nixon was a strong proponent of welfare reform, he criticized Reagan’s domestic policies for not being compassionate enough. On the economic boom, I have doubts that Nixon would have given Clinton credit for that: I can picture him being like a lot of Republicans, who said that Bill Gates and Al Greenspan deserved more credit for the economic upswing than Bill Clinton and Al Gore. And yet, Monica notes that Nixon was a supporter of NAFTA, so Nixon probably liked Clinton’s trade policies.
What would Nixon have thought about Clinton’s foreign policy? That’s a good question. Nixon didn’t seem to care for Clinton’s intervention in Haiti. I’m doubtful that he would have supported Clinton’s intervention in Somalia—-though, at the same time, I can also picture Nixon adhering to the right-wing notion that Clinton’s pulling out our forces from Somalia conveyed weakness and emboldened Al Qaeda; Nixon would probably say that Clinton shouldn’t have committed forces to Somalia without seeing the mission through. On Bosnia and Serbia, I don’t know if Nixon would have seen that conflict as meriting U.S. intervention or not. I can picture him thinking that it would, since the conflict could conceivably impact the rest of of Europe. Would Nixon support nation-building, or Clinton’s strategy of prosecuting the war? I have my doubts, but I can also envision Nixon supporting elements of Clinton’s strategy (i.e., using American air-power). These are just guesses of mine, and there is still much for me to learn about Nixon’s foreign policy views.
I’m sure Nixon would have had an opinion about Monica Lewinsky-gate—-an opinion ranging from pleasure that a Democratic President was finally being punished for a scandal (since Nixon thought that Democrats got away with stuff that Republicans never got away with), to beliefs about how Clinton was handling the scandal. I doubt that the scandal would have surprised Nixon, for Nixon thought that Bill and Hillary did not particularly like each other, and Nixon had opinions about the 1992 Gennifer Flowers scandal.
Was it a bad thing that Clinton led us into the twenty-first century? I suppose it depends on whom you ask. If you think that Clinton dropped the ball on Osama Bin-Laden, then your answer would be yes. If you believe that he was more on-the-ball about Bin-Laden than Bush later was, then your answer would be no.
In any case, this is a good book. I’ll probably wait a while to read the sequel, Nixon in Winter. Nixon in Winter looks like a heavier read, and it has lots of words on each page. Right now, I’m too busy to read books about Nixon that are too heavy.