by Monica Crowley '90
On Sunday evening, April 17, 1994, several hours before a fatal stroke would silence him forever, former President Richard Nixon called me at home. He had received an invitation to speak at Yale University and was considering the request.
"As you know," he said to me, "I haven't spoken at a university in years. I did the Oxford Union in 1978, which was a good, tough session that many people called the first step of my comeback because it was the first public thing I had done since leaving office. But I was glad I did it. I haven't done another university since because I have generally found that my presence provokes a lot more uproar than it's worth. But I have this invitation from Yale, and I'm thinking about it. Maybe it's time to address a university again. But I'm not sure Yale should be the one."
He paused, "Maybe Colgate should be the one. I'd only do it because you went there and they obviously taught you well. If I'm reconsidering my ban on universities, Colgate might be the perfect place to do it. You agree?"
Of course I agreed. If Nixon were serious about addressing a university, I wanted to be responsible for persuading him to choose Colgate. It was, after all, my time at Colgate that put me on the path to working with one of the most enduring and controversial figures of the twentieth century.
I came to work with Nixon in an unexpected and extraordinary way. My political values were formed during the Reagan presidency and were based primarily upon Reagan's aggressive approach to the Soviet Union and his determination to restore the military, economic, social, and political forces that had contributed to America's unique power. Although my primary interest was foreign policy, I was fascinated by the political process and the leaders who had dominated American politics in the late twentieth century, particularly Ronald Reagan and the man who made Reagan possible, Richard Nixon.
When I was a junior and majoring in political science at Colgate, I was privileged to have Robert Kaufman as a professor of national security issues -- PoliSci 353. He cultivated my interest in foreign and national security affairs, and when I prepared to leave campus for the summer before my senior year, he lent several books to me, one of which was Nixon's 1999: Victory Without War. That book was the first I chose to read that summer. It had such a tremendous impact upon my thinking about so many crucial foreign policy issues that I wrote Nixon a letter dealing with those issues. It was a substantive letter in which I agreed with many of his positions, disagreed with others, expressed gratitude to him for writing a book that clarified my own thinking on the nation's foreign policy. I mailed it and did not expect a reply. Several weeks later, however, I received a handwritten note from the former president, inviting me to discuss American foreign policy with him at his office in New Jersey.
Nixon and I met for the first time on October 2, 1989 -- the beginning of my senior year at Colgate -- and he was exceedingly generous with the commodity that was most precious to him: his time. That initial meeting -- a two-hour conversation about the state of the world -- led to a permanent position as his foreign policy assistant.
© John J. Arnold
When I began working for him immediately after graduation in 1990, I did not
expect to have the access to him that I quickly gained. And surprisingly for a
man who had been so often damaged by those he trusted, Nixon trusted me
I became a member of his small circle of advisers.
I served as an editorial adviser and consultant on his last two books, Seize
the Moment (1992) and Beyond Peace (1994).
I prepared his briefing materials for his public and private appearances. I
traveled with him through Europe and Asia, sitting in on his conversations with
heads of state and other government leaders. I listened as he confided his
views on international affairs and world leaders, American politics and policy,
Watergate, his own political career, and human nature. It was an extraordinary
opportunity for me, particularly because it was my first job out of Colgate.|
From the beginning, Nixon was my mentor, employer, and guide to American political history. Granted a rare and highly personal view of the thoughts, actions, and persona of Richard Nixon, I kept a daily diary beginning in 1989, of which Nixon was unaware and in which I reconstructed our daily conversations. His professional and personal disclosures were made in confidence but with the implicit understanding that they would be eventually recounted. The result is my first book, Nixon Off the Record (Random House), a volume which details Nixon's thoughts and activities on the American political scene during the four years I worked for him. I am working on a second volume which will relate Nixon's thoughts on foreign policy during this time, his extensive views on scandal, and his own thoughts on his life and career.
Nixon often joked that the writing of his first book, Six Crises, was his "seventh crisis." I now know what he meant. Writing a book is a harrowing but deeply rewarding experience. It was my intent to let the rest of the world see the Nixon I knew -- the brilliant, generous, thoughtful, kind, and witty man haunted by a glorious and tragic history. I was privileged to have had the opportunity to have worked for him closely in the last years of his life, and I have been equally as privileged to have been able to contribute to a better understanding of who Nixon was and what he tried to do.
During my years working with Nixon, I walked down the quiet hallways of the White House, through the red-carpeted corridors of the Kremlin, and up the grand staircase of the Great Hall of the People. But there is something so reassuring in the knowledge that I first sat in the classrooms of Colgate.
Nixon often told me that I came out of Colgate with a great understanding of how "the real world worked." I, of course, credited my political science and other professors. Nixon replied that it gave him hope that younger generations were being taught well in the nation's universities. I regret that Nixon never had the chance to thank Colgate in person.
Monica Crowley, in addition to working on her second Nixon volume, writes a New York Post column and is a commentator for both National Public Radio's Morning Edition and Rupert Murdoch's new 24-hour cable news channel, Fox News.