PUNCH proudly presents an exclusive extract from the novel currently being written in great secrecy by Richard Nixon. The spelling has been cleaned up by MILES KINGTON.
It was a very wonderful morning. The dawn had come up over the rooftops of Washington like a stirring version of Home on the Range played on the piano. First, a few gleams of gold had appeared, like security officers checking that there were no undesirable elements in the sky. Several clouds had passed slowly as if to test precautions. Finally, when everything was clear, the sun had entered, smiling. Higher and higher it rose, a symbol of American unity and all that was best in, uh, democracy.
The President of the United States opened a window and looked out of the White House. He breathed in the fresh air. He breathed it out again. It tasted good. He felt good breathing in the fresh air. At the same time, he remembered that any American citizen could breathe in the same air as the President. That made him feel good, too.
When he had finished breathing in the air, he turned and came in. (I don’t mean that he then stopped breathing. He went on breathing during everything that happened after that. It’s just that I don’t mention he’s breathing all the time. There are some things that have to be taken for granted about an American President, because if everything had to be explained and justified the whole time, the system would come to a halt. Believe me.)
Not having yet described the President, we shall now proceed to do so. He was tall, handsome, kind, yet strong, also friendly, with a strong growth of hair on his chin which betokens the firm yet compassionate man. His friends sometimes said that he was like a cross between Henry Fonda and Paul Newman, and though he accepted this compliment gracefully, he did not fully believe it. For one thing, it ignored his strong resemblance to George C. Scott playing the part of Patton, though he bore no resemblance to the same actor playing the disgraceful caricature in Dr Strangelove. For another thing, he had learnt from experience that people like Henry Fonda and Paul Newman sometimes said tactless things in public, which was something a President could never do. Also, he was breathing all this time, which I won’t mention again.
The door of his room opened and in came his wife, whom we shall now proceed to describe. She was the ideal President’s wife. She had stuck by him through thick and thin, through all the irresponsible slander and politicking which had made his career so difficult and which we shall describe in detail in chapter three. Suffice it to say now that there had been no truth in any of these rumours. Anyway, a President is above rumours. There is no real need for chapter three. I may not even deliver it to the printers. Or at least, only selected portions of it. The printers do not have the power to force me to deliver chapter three, which in any case has been accidentally lost.
Meanwhile, the President’s wife was coming in through the door of his room. She opened her mouth to speak. The President switched on his bedside tape recorder.
‘Testing, one, two, three, four…’ she said. He nodded. The level was good. ‘How are you this morning?’ she asked.
‘I am fine,’ he said gravely. ‘It is a very wonderful morning. Hold on a moment.’
He turned the knobs and switched a switch.
‘How are you this morning?’ asked the tape recorder.
‘It is working well,’ said the President. ‘Was there something you wished to talk to me about? As you know, the President of the United States should be accessible at all times, even to his wife.’
They both laughed at this joke which had gone down so well in his campaigns of 1959, 1963, 1968, and 1976 but not 1975, which was the one they did not talk about. This will be explained in chapter five, but I can reveal now that in that year the President had been exposed to a press campaign of such venom and turpitude that the American public had been temporarily blinded to his statesmanlike qualities.
‘There is one thing that puzzles me,’ said his wife. ‘On the hall table this morning I found a ten dollar bill. Where did it come from?’
‘As you know,’ said the President to the tape recorder but smiling at his wife to show she was included, ‘the occupant of the White House is the recipient of many well-intentioned gifts, which is our custom to return with thanks. This particular gift of money came anonymously. The FBI are working to find out its source; meanwhile I left it lying around to show that I am not interested in money.’
‘And yet,’ said his wife, ‘we are not rich. Why even now in my purse I have a bill for nine dollars fifty from the laundry which I am at my wit’s end to pay. It would be so tempting to use that bank-note to settle the bill.’
‘But it is out of the question,’ laughed the President morally.
‘Completely,’ echoed his wife, an ethical smile playing across her features.
I wish to state that that asterix does not represent missing material. No portion of this novel has been suppressed or withheld. It is merely a device to denote the passing of time. It has been the privilege of novelists from time immemorial to denote the passing of time. I now call upon that privilege.
After breakfast, the President (a tall, handsome man with a brilliant sense of humour, an ability to see to the heart of problems and an unusually fine touch on the piano) liked to sit for ten minutes reading the newspaper. He did not learn anything from them. It was simply that he found the scurrilous and vicious attacks on his character made him a better and more humble man. Why the newspapers attacked him he had never learnt, but he forgave them. He was big enough to forgive them though he moved with surprising grace as well.
Then it was time to meet his personal advisers. Many people imagine that the American President is cut off from reality by his aides, but I can tell you, my fellow Americans, or rather, gentle readers, that this is not so. Anyone who has ever been the American President will tell you the same. As there are no ex-Presidents alive at this moment in time, the reader will have to take the writer’s word for it.
This morning there was a crisis in the Middle East. War had broken out, oil supplies were in danger and Russia was causing trouble. Patiently, the President explained to his aides what had caused the crisis and they agreed with his diagnosis.
‘What course of action do you recommend, Mister President?’ asked one.
‘I am in favour of sending the Secretary of State, Harley Kellinger,’ said the President. ‘I feel sure he can successfully negotiate peace and prosperity.’
‘ Do you not think,’ said another aide, ‘that Kellinger is in danger of becoming too powerful and self-important? The media love him already.’
The President smiled a wise and sad smile.
‘My friends,’ he said. ‘There is no room in my heart for envy. He is a good man. He is working for America. We are all working for America. I wish him well. I am only sorry that because he was born in Latvia he is not eligible to be President. I think that takes care of that one. Now, is there anything else I should deal with?’
‘Would you like to say anything about Congress’s move to have you impeached, exiled and stripped of all your belongings?’
‘My friends,’ said the President. ‘My job is to govern the country. What Congress does is their own affair. I have more important things to do. I must leave you now, for instance, to telephone Zinky Cohn.’
‘Who is Zinky Chon?’ asked the aides, seemingly unaware that Mr Cohn had that day broken the all-American record for holes in one during major golf tournaments, an achievement which made the President proud to be a fellow American, as he said some ten minutes later on the phone to Mr Cohn who had been waiting for the call since breakfast. The President wiped away a tear of emotion several times for the photographers and went into the morning press conference.
It was a wonderful afternoon. The sun was high in the sky like an American space craft. The President was on the golf course, playing with his close friend Billy Berozo. Now, there are some people who say that the President is wrong to have close friends who may influence him, but believe me, what they talked about on the golf course was golf. There are other people who say that he is wrong to have very rich, close friends. Have they ever thought that it would look wrong for the President to have poor friends? It would look as if they wanted something from him. Rich friends have all they need and do not ask for favours. They haven’t thought of that, have they? They would do well to think of that before they shoot their mouth off.
On the fifteenth tee, a Presidential aide spoke urgently into his ear.
‘Sir, there is a revolution in Latin America. You must deal with it.’
That’s another thing people don’t think about. How would they like their leisure spoilt by crises? Do the critics of the President have to break off lunch to counter a Soviet threat in Asia? No, they don’t. Not that the President bore them any malice. He just wanted to point it out, that was all.
Having dealt with the crisis, they walked on to the sixteenth tee.
That night, as they brushed their teeth, said their prayers and did their exercises, the President’s wife asked her husband what sort of day he had had.
He smiled ‘It has been a full but satisfying day. I have done my duty honestly and energetically as the President of the United States. No man can do more.’
She smiled and kissed him lightly.
‘One day you must put all this in a book,’ she said.
‘It might not be very exciting,’ he smiled.
‘No,’ she said, ‘but it would set the record straight.’
PUNCH April 24 1974