BEFORE THE FALL: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House by William Safire

BEFORE THE FALL: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House

Email this review


Safire, now a New York Times columnist, was a junior member of Nixon's White House staff -- not, he emphasizes, an ""intimate advisor,"" but a ""creative interpreter"" who wrote speech drafts ""when [Nixon] wanted the complicated made simple, or a line to be quoted."" This voluminous archive of the days before and during the Watergate exposes has a rather off-putting tone Of synthetic candor, contrived boyishness and wiggly principles, but either a reader looking for a ""balanced"" picture of Nixon's Administration or an unabashed political voyeur will find material to occupy him. Nixon, who often referred to himself as ""RN"" and sometimes as ""un homme serieux,"" advised Safire, ""Don't be cute or gimmicky,"" and a huge file of speech drafts and memos peppers the book, as ""Silent Majority,"" ""Cost of Living Council"" and other clinkers get coined. Satire was considered among the more liberal staffers (and got his phone tapped in 1969 for remaining friendly with the press, he says). What he most admired about Nixon was the President's insistence on going for ""the big play"" -- Cambodia, the China switch, the August 1971 New Economic Policy (he claims the latter had been cooked up by John Connally 60 days earlier). He also underlines Nixon's tact and consideration with his staff and, though almost smugly critical of the Watergate abuses, credits Nixon's secret taping system to his desire to have a record for posterity. George Schulz comes off best, Jeb Magruder worst. Satire is ambivalent, so to speak, about Kissinger, who once said to him, ""Not bad for a couple of Jewish boys, huh?"". Infinite gestalts can be culled from the book, which ends by praising Nixon's ""peace with honor""; but isn't this kind of calibrated shirt-cuff history rather cloying by this time, on this subject?

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1975
ISBN: 1412804663
Publisher: Doubleday