Setting aside the courtesy of awaiting the end of the 30 days of official mourning at the death of the former president on 22 April Putnam's is publishing this week the 700-page diaries of H R 'Bob' Haldeman, Nixon's White House Chief of Staff from 1969 until he was forced to resign on 30 April 1973 in a desperate and unsuccessful gambit to contain the Watergate scandal.
That episode alone provides a glimpse of the maudlin, calculating side of the endlessly intriguing Nixon character. Mr Haldeman and the domestic affairs adviser, John Erlichman, had been summoned to Camp David to hear the bad news. 'P went through his whole pitch about how he's the guilty one,' Mr Haldeman wrote angrily that 29 April. 'He said he's thought it all through and that he was the one that started (Presidential assistant Charles) Colson, he was the one who told (White House counsel John) Dean to cover up.'
In fact the diaries, whose entries were mostly either written or tape- recorded on the same day, are kind to Nixon on the narrow issue of Watergate. The meetings producing the fatal 'smoking gun' tapes are barely alluded to. On 18 June, a day after the break-in at Democratic headquarters, Mr Haldeman notes that 'so far the P is not aware of all this', adding to evidence that the president had no advance knowledge of the burglary.
Mostly though, the Nixon of infamous legend emerges. He denounces the Jews and 'the Jewish domination of the media'. Once in a fit of rage he ordered Mr Haldeman 'not to let any Jew see him about the Middle East'. That remark, Mr Haldeman noted, was delivered in the presence of Henry Kissinger, a Jew.
As for blacks, Mr Haldeman quotes him as saying in April 1969, 'you have to face the fact that the whole problem is the blacks'. Nixon then 'went on to point out there has never in history been an adequate black nation . . . says Africa is hopeless, the worst there is Liberia, which we built.'
The 37th President could be spiteful and petty, once deciding to tear up a White House tennis court that Cabinet members used because they failed to back his policy on Cambodia. Another time, he barred a social reporter from the White House after she reported an opera star had broken a bra strap.
Lyndon Johnson was a rare figure who played even harder ball than Nixon. Mr Haldeman records how in January 1973 Nixon considered trying to persuade his predecessor to help call off the Watergate hounds, threatening to reveal how the Democrats had bugged his own campaign plane in 1968. But Johnson countered by threatening to release material against Nixon. Exactly what is not clear. 'Deleted - national security' the diary tantalisingly notes.
Mr Kennedy, whom Nixon considered a likely opponent in 1972, was a constant obsession. Mr Colson was instructed to have a detective follow Mr Kennedy when he was in Paris for the funeral of Charles De Gaulle in November 1970. Pictures then leaked to the press showed Mr Kennedy in the company of various women.Reuse content