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The Nixon Wit

The Wit and Humor of Richard Nixon, by Bill Adler Popular Library, 60 cents

By Frank Rich

IN CASE you haven't figured it out by now, President Nixon is about as much fun as diarrhea.

And should you need any proof of this man's cosmic dullness, just browse through The Wit and Humor of Richard Nixon, a serious attempt by Bill Adler to reveal "the Nixon noboby knows. . . a humorist in the genuine American grain (who) has displayed a delightful sense of humor, a sharp wit, and a unique ability to bring laughter." For all is good intentions, this book reveals the man in the White House to be just what we knew he was all long--the worst item to hit the American cultural scene since plastic.

Not that Adler hasn't tried to correct this impression. He actually read through all the speeches and writings of Nixon's career to put together this incredible collection of boring anecdotes, ho-hum gags, and two-bits philosophy (typical piece of Nixon wisdom: "A man must be judged by the decisions he made or didn't make, not by how he dots an 'i' or crosses a 't'."

And oh, those gags! The political jokes ("I greatly appreciate music. You know that's one place I'm like Harry Truman--I used to play the Piano myself.") the bilingual wisecracks ("We have to quit thinking of Latin America in terms of siestas, manana, Rumba, Samba, and Cha-Cha-Cha." Cha-Cha-Cha!), the self-deprecating quips ("I'm a dropout from the Electrol College. I flunked debating.").

Of course, there might have been some sick humor in this book, if Adler had not scrupulously avoided all of Nixon's Red-baiting witticisms from Joe McCarthy days, or his pre-assassination remarks on he Kennedys (Jack and Bobby). On the other hand, Alder evidently decided that Adlai Stevenson (who died of natural causes) was acceptable comic terrain for the book, so among Nixon's Wit and Humor is the gem, "Stevenson is a pathetic Hamlet strolling across the political stage. To be or not to be--that is the question of him. And I assure you he is not going to be President of the United States."

But no matter how hard you look, it seems that the Nixon "nobody knows" is the same as the Nixon everybody knows: a man to laugh at, not to laugh with. LBJ, at least, could be pictured as a foul-mouthed reckless driver who in all probability pinched his secretaries' behinds. We must ask if out new Chief Executive--a man so intensely serious, so devoid of anything one associates with human warmth--can survive the pressures of the Presidency. Can we be led by a man who smiles like a zombie and whose idea of beauty is a replica of the Presidential Seal embroidered by his daughter? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, we must hope for something wonderful to happen. After all, wouldn't it be nice if just once we could see our absurdly serious President slip on a banana peel and land flat on his ass?

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