William Safire Dies, “Freedom” A Favorite Book On My Special Shelf


There are two shelves I have at home where I place only special books.  One is in the headboard near the bed where I keep such books as those from Grandma , and the other is on a shelf  over my desk.  It is in that latter space that I have housed William Safire’s “Freedom” for as long as I can recall.  It is a most remarkable read, with the afterbook as essential as the rest.  Safire’s historical novel of the Civil War is breathtaking for its illuminating quality into the nuances and fabric of one our nation’s most contentious and bloody periods.  As I noted on this blog “the paperback version in my office shows years of use.”

Behind my desk on the shelves devoted to Richard Nixon is another amazing and insightful read penned by William Safire, “Before The Fall”.  In each case the books are packed with information in such a way that it makes one mindful of the style of writing as much as the content of the books.  Safire packed so many thoughts and nuggets into each paragraph that it seems at time the mind will be over-loaded.  But the topics he writes about are so grand that the reader plows onward with little notice of the number of pages that are turned.

Sadly today that writer and thinker has died.  William Safire passed away of cancer at the age of 79.

For me one of the pure pleasures was when William Safire would pen a column in The New York Times where he ‘talk’ with  the ghost of Richard Nixon.  He did this on a number of occasions, and there was no greater read of Safire’s than when we would ‘channel’ the former President.

I am going to close this post with one such read that made me smile at the time it was published, and again as I pulled it from the archives this afternoon.  There will be many fond words and memories about this man who witnessed so much history, and had a comment and opinion on all of it.  It is those minds that we miss so much when the final page is turned.

Q: Did it warm your heart out there in Purgatory, President Nixon, to see the friendly banter at the White House unveiling of the Clinton portraits?

RN: Same as at my funeral; everybody was forced to be gracious. Nobody would say what everybody thought: that Hillary’s portrait is fine but Bill’s is awful. Now ask me about Karzai.

Q: President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan spoke to a joint session of Congress yesterday—-

RN: It was a joint meeting, you know — joint sessions are only to hear the U.S. president. But wasn’t Karzai terrific? He was grateful for America’s liberation of his country, and you don’t hear a lot of that these days. He asked NATO to put its troops where its mouth is, which it won’t. That’s why we need a new Mansfield Amendment — to threaten the French and Germans with an American pullout from Europe.

Q: But hasn’t Bush begun to do that already?

RN: Not fast enough. You saw the results of the European Parliament elections? Schröder is finished. Chirac has had it. Next year they’ll be begging Bush for support. And that’s when we should crack ’em hard to bolster our friends in Afghanistan. This Karzai fellow should make a deal with his warlords to get some breathing room this fall for his election. Then he can attack his real problem, which is not so much the Taliban terrorists as it is the damned poppies. We have to help him eradicate the huge opium trade before that place becomes a criminal state. Only then can we have a Muslim model for democracy in Iraq.

Q: Do you think the handover of sovereignty in Baghdad this month will make a big difference?

RN: It’ll get the Iraqis into their own war, ready or not. If the Shiite majority has the guts to use our help in putting down Saddam’s killers, they deserve their freedom. But it’s time for them to stop whining about us and start fighting the bombers.

Q: But what of our prison abuse—-

RN: Look, when the Iraqis in the street get sore, not at us but at the bombers not only blowing up their oil wells but also killing their wives and children, any terrorist suspects the new government rounds up will wish the Americans were back in charge. That prison story and the C.I.A. recriminations will drag on and on in the media here because it helps the doves make a necessary war look bad.

Q: Now you’re into politics, how do you see the campaign dynamic?

RN: Let me say this about that: Bush went into a slump because of war casualties, and as we come out of the war, Bush comes out of his slump. Now he has to stop responding to Kerry’s demands — all that U.N. kissy-face — and start talking about exciting plans for the economic boom in his second term.

Q: And what should Kerry be doing as his Boston convention approaches?

RN: First, stop the daily grousing, which turns people off after a while. Stay the hell away from job creation, which has backfired on him. Claim credit for straightening Bush out on Iraq and move on to the great dream. Pick one powerful domestic issue — old folks’ health or college education, whatever — hit it hard and make it his own. Kerry’s been all over the lot so far.

Q: Where will the campaign be four months from now?

RN: That’s Oct. 16, with jobs and the market rising, casualties contained, at least one terrorist attack in the U.S. Debates are over, with Kerry winning on points and Bush on personality. First, half of the swing vote, larger than expected, moves toward the incumbent, which puts Bush a couple of points ahead. Q: That energizes the Democrats—-

RN: Not all of them. The prospect of a Bush win would help Democrats in Congressional races because people who prefer Bush may not trust him, and will split their tickets. And the Hillary crowd, having done their bit for Kerry, won’t cry at his potential defeat because it would open the way to the Clinton restoration in 2008.

Q: (Gasp!) That’s absolutely Machiavellian.

RN: Thank you. And with Coach Joe Gibbs back, keep your eye on those Redskins.

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