When Satire moved from his job as Nixon speechwriter to the New York Times Op-Ed page, right in the middle of Watergate, it looked as if the White House was getting an apologist smack in the center of the opposition. Satire likes to comment that some disbelievers expected him to sell out to the ""establishment"" instead--which is his way of trying to show that he was under surveillance from all sides. Well, he didn't keep 'em guessing: in the April 19, 1973 column which leads off this collection of his pieces, Safire is out to show Nixon an innocent man under attack from a self-important opportunist press. He admits he was wrong now, but what he's really done is shift tactics. Scattered throughout these pages are columns on how the Democrats used tape-recorders and the FBI before his boss, and others on the ""Bert Lance cover-up""--though not his most recent tack, ""Billygate."" The problem with Sa fire is that he has no sense of proportion, so he never sees that Watergate was in a different league from the usual Washington dirt. Indeed, proportion, one characteristic of a good essay, is notably lacking throughout, whether the target is Joan Kennedy or marijuana, topless bathing on the Riviera or ""straights' rights."" The overriding impression here is of a mind in cement glibly passing judgment on all manner of things. Some style, then, and some amusing gambits, but not much nourishment.