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The Critical Distinction

ON BALANCE

By Robert Decherd

VICTOR GOLD, Vice President Agnew's former press secretary, wrote a fascinating piece on the Watergate debacle for Sunday's New York Times.

Gold pointed out that even if Watergate is regarded merely as a "stupid and unnecessary" criminal act, "President Nixon is responsible for not sufficiently impressing his subordinates with an iron resolve that he would not suffer stupid, unnecessary criminal activities permitted in the name of his re-election campaign."

"Was it that the President's subordinates were given the word but were themselves too stupid to comprehend his meaning?" Gold asks rhetorically. Here is a rhetorical answer of sorts:

Enter H.R. (Bob) Haldeman. "Good morning, Mr. President. How was Easter at the Florida White House?

"Just peachy without you, H.R.; the Easter Bunny sends his regards. Uh, close the gate behind you, will you.

"You mean door, don't you Mr. President?

"Of course I do, dumbbell. Now listen, H.R., let's get down to nuts and bugs.

"That's very humorous, Mr. President. Mixed metaphors are but one part of your dry but lively humor.

"This is no time for the usual flattery, H.R. Let's talk chicken.

"Which one would you like to begin with, Mr. President?

"How about Dean. I'm taking this investigation into my own hands. Scapegoat my foot... get him in here. I'm going to get some honorable answers and put an end to these 'unavailable for comments.'

"Good morning, Mr. President.

"Sit down, scapegoat, uh, John.

"And what wise counsel can I provide the White House this bright April morning, sir?

"Don't get sassy-assed with me, Dean. We're here to talk chicken.

"Oh, I see. Is that some kind of mixed metaphor, sir?

"Cool off, Dean. Now, that New York Times fellow, R.W Appleseed, asked Ziegler some pointed questions last week. According to my news digest, Appleseed quoted Ziegler as saying you were in your office Friday, and further, 'I don't know what he's doing. Attending to business, I assume'--uh, here Ron chuckled, it says--'business of some sort.' Just what the hell were you doing in your office Friday?

"Well, Mr. President, I was cleaning up some details of our, rather, the aborted ITT coup in Chile and disbursing $100 bills to the Watergate defendants. Their lawyers have been getting itchy for their legal fees, you know.

"Oh, so that's what you were doing. Ziegler's chuckle made it sound like you were up to something illegal. Back to your desk. Okay, H.R., get John Mitchell in here."

Enter J.N. Mitchell. "Good morning, Dickie, rather Mr. President. Pardon me.

"Pardon you for what? You aren't in jail yet.

"I keep forgetting, sir. Living with Martha is tough.

"I'm glad you mentioned her. Why didn't you tell me you were giving her injections? What's the grand jury to think when FBI agents get caught drugging the wife of my former Attorney General and campaign manager to keep her quiet?

"Mr. President, I just thought... well, you'd been dispensing injections for so many years...

"But I never got caught, John. That's the Critical Distinction. Now look here, I hear persistent rumors that you've been up to some no-no's that I wasn't aware of. True or false?

"I suppose that depends on which way you look at it, Mr. President. If you recall, when we bugged Eugene McCarthy's headquarters and then Bobby Kennedy's in 1968, you said, 'John, this is one of the finest transcripts I've ever seen in all my days in political espionage. If we can just keep this up, we'll never lose another election.' Then you went into your You-won't-have-me-to-kick-around-anymore routine. But I interpreted your remarks as tacit approval of future inquiries.

"It all comes down to the Critical Distinction, John. Why didn't you just tell me when you did the Waterdoor job? I could have covered up without sicking Spiro on The Washington Post.

"I couldn't get past Haldeman to tell you sir. H.R. (Bob) didn't think it was worth your time. He said you're a very busy man.

"Alright, that's all. I'll get you a parole--maybe use an executive pardon. Go raise some money for the National Committee.

"Who's next, H.R.?

"How about Ron Ziegler, Mr. President, or rather his counsel.

"His what?

"Well, everyone on the staff has a lawyer now, sir, and Ron's attorney refuses to let him speak for himself.

"Hmmm, sounds like something I would do. Forget Ziegler, get Jeb Magruderbugger in here.

"Don't you think that's a little risky, sir. We'd have to call him off his job at the Airline Pilots Association Building, and that might give him away.

"Give him away? What the hell are you talking about, H.R.... and what's the Stewardesses Building?

"No, Mr. President, it's the Airline Pilots Association Building on Massachusetts Avenue. I thought you knew, sir -- Jeb's over there installing appliances at the new Democratic National Headquarters.

"Appliances! That did it -- get him over here. I don't care who sees who doing what anymore! And what's this 'I thought you knew, sir' business? You never tell me anything, H.R."

Enter Jeb Magruder. "Good morning, Mr. President. What a great honor to be called here to the Oval Office -- why, it's almost unbuggable!

"Look, Magruderbugger, I thought I instructed everyone in this Administration to talk Fully and Freely about Watergate just before I went off to see the Easter Bunny with Pat. What's this about you meeting a reporter on the street, mumbling 'no comment' and then racing off with a trembling lip? Between your lip and Dean's secretary's voice, there's a little too much trembling going on around here.

"True, Mr. President. But if you will recall, you purged me from the Administration for not comprehending something you called the Critical Distinction. Besides, I can't help it if my lip was trembling--I had a bad toothache and was on my way to the dentist.

"Come on, Magruderbugger! No honorable, self-respecting American is going to believe that.

"Alright, sir, I was bugging a phone booth on Massachusetts Avenue and R.W. Appleseed caught me off guard. I had to swallow the bug.

"Swallow the bug! That's it, Magruderbugger, now you've become a material witness. Have Dean give you a voucher and get over to Walter Reed post haste. That bug is coming out.

"Yes sir. Good morning, Mr. President."

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