Fifteen years after moving on to his great reward, Americans still have Richard M. Nixon to kick around. This week, the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., and the National Archives of College Park, Md., released new recordings, notes and papers from one of the darkest periods of the 37th president's turbulent history.
Among the 150 hours of recordings released online, Mr. Nixon can be heard telling a White House aide that he wants South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu to make a deal, even a flawed one, with the North.
Mr. Nixon was desperate to cut the nation's wartime losses in Southeast Asia, so he was willing to gamble that a peace deal between the South and the Viet Cong would provide a face-saving exit for the United States. Such a move would also quiet American anti-war protests -- a greater good to Mr. Nixon than saving South Vietnam from a communist takeover.
Once again, Americans are getting to know the old Richard Nixon by his own words. Holding forth on issues from his dislike of his own vice president, Jews and the Kennedys to his strange ambivalence about abortion and his obsession with getting rid of Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, Mr. Nixon is once again revealed as one of the most cynical and calculating presidents of the 20th century.
When the Supreme Court legalized abortion with its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Mr. Nixon told White House capo Charles Colson that the expanded right of privacy would undermine the family unit, but then he offered an odd twist. "I admit, there are times when abortions are necessary, I know that," he said, adding: "When you have a black and a white [interracial pregnancy]. Or a rape."
Even when Mr. Nixon was sounding relatively liberal, it was all for political advantage. Expressing his support for more female candidates in the GOP, he suggested that the prettier they are, the better. "And understand, I don't do it because I'm for women," he said. "But I'm doing it because [a] woman might win some place where a man might not."
Between 1971 and 1973, President Nixon secretly recorded 3,700 hours of phone conversations and private meetings with his closest aides, advisers and rivals. So far, more than 2,200 hours have been released to the public, along with an estimated 30,000 pages of documents. Many more hours of recordings and thousands of pages are expected in the coming years.
There is little chance that public opinion of President Nixon is going to change for the better once we've heard and read everything.