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BOOKS AND THE CULTURE Dirty Politics Should Be More Fun By Geoffrey Rips DIRTY POLITICS IS FUN H. B. Fox Seattle: Madrona Publishers 187 pp., $7.95. BUT THE THRILL is gone. Blame it on Tricky Dick. He had too much personality, sweaty lip and all. He was too much a quivering mass of psychoses, neuroses, and dirty jokes. He offered too much to kick around. Ask Dick Tuck. Tricking Dick was something worth devoting two decades to: robbing the master thief blind, baiting the Redbaiter, dogging his paranoid steps with insinuation and innuendo. It was a blow against the empire and a personal catharsis all in one. And Nixon would always come back for more -a prideful man who knew no shame. Someone who would snivel on national television, if that’s what it took, who would expose his wife, children and dog in order to show that only the dog had a fur coat that could not be given back. A man known to talk to portraits of former presidents and to cry into their lapels. A man who could embarrass godless Henry Kissinger into falling to his knees in prayer. Nixon’s failing was all too human. Aristotle could have predicted his end way back in the Helen Gahagan Douglas days, all that hubris and hanzartia oozing from every gland. If he’d died of thrombosis while in San Clemente exile, the heirs of Shakespeare would have claimed the copyright, and Jerry Ford would have sung like Leporello. . But we never got that final catharsis. The great offender was able to eke out a pardon and continue living in the sleazy world of Rebozos and Chinese corporate diplomacy. The lesser villains, who had surrounded him, wrote books, grew beards, found God and mammon, and showed contrition in inverse proportion to their former rank. But as a country we were traumatized. The cult of personality from FDR through JFK and LBJ had finally peaked in Nixon and nearly did us in. We recoiled and turned to middle-management types, to two presidents as bland as Mr. Rogers. And then we went one step further to a president created by Hollywood set design: a rugged Western front, but when you walk through the swinging doors, . . . . You don’t miss your megalomaniac ’til the well runs dry. Dirty politics could be fun if the targets were still human. But on the national level things have become too serious, and corporate government has no pride. Back here at home, though, there is still some room for levity. There are still enough characters around rife with human frailty to fill scores of legislatures and hundreds of city councils. That’s the field in which H. B. Fox does his sowing. Fox gives us a small town newspaper editor, Harold Smith, who has no more than his share of personal integrity. He admits, early on, to having made his paper, the Oat Hill Gazette, solvent by fostering false needs in this case mouthwash in order to increase advertising revenue. Smith seems to evince much the same skepticism and distrust of big government as do his fellow citizens of Oat Hill. Concerning Nixon and Watergate, he says: ” . . but the men at the domino table here in Oat Hill figured it out a week after the break-in. `He’s got a telephone, hasn’t he?’ they said. ‘He knew what was going on.’ ” As newspaper editor, however, he is more knowledgeable about the workings of our peculiar brand of democracy, and, by virtue of this knowledge, he seems to be more cynical than his cronies. This is particularly true in regard to lobbies: “Before getting to Washington, Roger represented us part-time for six years in the Texas Senate. The rest of the time he represented the insurance companies, loan companies, oil and gas people, highway contractors and other power brokers. He has never wavered in his opposition to race-horse betting and the drug traffic.” Nevertheless, Editor Smith is drawn into active political participation when, on a tip, he runs a story about a Congressman Plunkett from his district, whose entire family is on the federal payroll. This leads to Plunkett’s ouster with the election of Rob Suter, who, during his second term, is convicted and jailed for taking a bribe. The town fathers talk Smith into running when it is discovered that Sarter’s successor, Roger Wright, is accepting gifts from South Korea. Smith decides to run, he tells his readers, in order to report what goes on in Washington from the inside. In order to reach this end, Smith indulges in the dirty tricks of politics. Using his newspaper, he pens letters from bogus subscribers urging him to run \(just as Rupert Murdoch launched Ed Koch’s unsuccessful campaign for New York governor in the pages of the New York Post, claiming it was the will of his didacy, Smith asks his future opponent to pose with his South Korean honorary doctorate, on the pretense that the photo will be used in general coverage by his paper. Smith holds private consultations with the movers and shakers of his district in order to make each think he is responsible for Smith’s later candidacy. “We practitioners of democracy have never overcome the fascination of being kingmakers,” Smith observes. After the announcement, Smith prints 25 private copies of his paper, substituting for the editorial of the day a special editorial attacking the opponents of big business, utilities, deregulation, etc. He mails these to 25 powerful lobbies that respond with approximately $1,000 each in campaign funds. Through the district’s newspapers, he challenges Wright to respond to Smith’s proposal for a Constitutional amendment limiting congressmen to two terms. When no response is forthcoming, Smith offers a reward to anyone who can get Wright’s signature on a form indicating his position. Kids eager for the reward hound Wright at every campaign stop. Throughout the campaign, Smith revels in his own skullduggery. He hires 18 JANUARY 28, 1983