Saturday, December 10th, 2016

William Safire, RIP

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William Safire, Nixon speechwriter and New York Times columnist, passed away Sunday. He was 79.

Safire had a wonderful way of turning a phrase, aided by his incredible vocabulary and his sense of humor. It was Safire who created the phrase for Vice President Spiro Agnew, “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Clinton fans probably never forgave him for the column where he labeled Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar.”

His memoir of the Nixon years is an invaluable historical work for really understanding how the Nixon White House operated. One of my favorite stories about Safire was about how they worked hard to come up with a great name for Nixon’s re-election campaign. They played with many names, checking each of them to see if some nasty acronym could be created. Finally, they settled on the Committee to Re-elect the President, figuring CRP was pretty hard to twist around. Safire comes out of the meeting to approve the name and bumps into Senator Bob Dole who asks Safire if they are really going to call the committee, “CREEP”?

Safire wrote on almost any topic, from language and vocabulary, to the relative effectiveness of different intelligence agencies. If I have one book that I’m sorry I ever lent out, it was Safire’s “The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics.” Somewhere out there is a copy of the book well thumbed with plenty of notes in the margins, most of them questions.

As Safire noted in his memoir of the Nixon Administration, even Nixon recognized that Safire was a writer first, and one for politicians to be wary of.  May he rest in peace.

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