Richard Nixon on Philip Roth

Philip Roth in 1973

Ah, the Nixon tapes! The gift that keeps on giving. In November 1971, Nixon was concerned with Philip Roth’s new book, Our Gang, which satirised Nixon and his administration. And true to form, his discussions about it were taped. It crops up in two conversations, one with Special Counsel, Charles Coulson and another with Chief of Staff HR Haldeman.

To Nixon, Roth is a “a horrible moral leper.” The pot calls the kettle black. In this extract, for instance, Nixon is sickeningly cynical:

HALDEMAN: Oh yes … He’s brilliant in a sick way.

NIXON: Oh, I know —

HALDEMAN: Everything he’s written has been sick …

NIXON: A lot of this can be turned to our advantage … I think the anti-Semitic thing can be, I hate to say it, but it can be very helpful to us.

HALDEMAN: There are a lot more anti-Semites than there are Jews, and the anti-Semites are with us generally and the Jews sure aren’t.

From this I can’t even say Nixon was anti-Semitic (I have no idea if he was), but that he sees it as an opportunity for furthering himself is nauseating.

And, of course, Nixon assumes the lowest, most base motives on Roth’s part:

NIXON: I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the Kennedy bunch. They’re the kind that’s capable of it.

COLSON: Oh, very much sir. I should say they are. [But] Roth though wouldn’t take any finances. I imagine.

NIXON: Oh, he’s a very successful author.

COLSON: He’s written bestsellers. He wouldn’t do it.

All this makes me want to go read Our Gang which I’d avoided because it seemed like an occasional piece, rather than one for all time. Read more about Nixon on Roth here.


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About Richard

I am a writer who travels endlessly. Fascinated by how our lives are propelled forward by what's left behind, I thirst to know everything. I read, collect, gather, organise, list. Here are some of the things I read, see and experience. Please make yourself at home: drinks and pretzels will be served shortly. If you'd like to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you!

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