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Human he was even in his more overpowering Sun King moments--the ebullient, secretive, visionary, cynical, vulgar, princely practitioner of Realpolitik who became our thirty-sixth president. But Jack Valenti, who's still living down a 1965 Gloria in Excelsis about sleeping a little better every night in the knowledge that ""Lyndon Johnson is my president"" (he claims to have been quoted out of context), produces just the sort of memoir that one ought to expect from a former appointments secretary. By the time he's through with Johnson it hardly seems possible that the man had a navel, much less a publicly aired cholecystectomy scar. All, uh, negative feedback is written off here with jocular hyperbole. Administrative issues, procedures, and personnel are blunted by diplomatic euphemism--unless there is some question of later ""disloyalty,"" synonymous in Valenti's mind with public criticism of LBJ by any former ""Johnson man."" The most vivid parts of the book (aside from a real bombshell about Nixon secretly wheeling and dealing with the South Vietnamese during the 1968 electoral campaign) are what appear to be verbatim transcripts of high-level staff deliberations on Vietnam. The choices, one sees with the useless clarity of hindsight, had less to do with the content of any proposed measure (""Clarifying objectives,"" Henry Cabot Lodge serenely declares, ""is good for the world public, but not necessary for governments"") than with the leverage it generates (Dean Rusk weighs the merits of a suggested bombing pause in terms of whether the Russians will have enough ""time to get something on with the Chinese""). Unfortunately Valenti's characteristic vein is a melange of florid ineptitudes and grandiose historical parallels that betrays a lingering fondness for the Sun King image. This ""massive man"" (Allard Lowenstein's phrase) deserves something better.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1975
Publisher: Norton