Books: A Shifty Defense

BEFORE THE FALL by WILLIAM SAFIRE 704 pages. Doubleday. $12.50.

Nixon: You think of Truman—a fighter. Eisenhower—a good man. Kennedy—charisma. Johnson—work. Me —what?

Safire: Competence. Sorry about that.

This exchange between President Nixon and William Safire, one of his top three speechwriters, late in 1970 reveals much about both men. Nixon, self-consciously complaining that his personal strengths were not being sold to the public by his staff, had his image problem confirmed by the unawed Safire, whose humor often took the edge off his frequently rejected advice to the President. As related in...

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