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Nixon and Philip Roth

November 6, 2013

Here’s a remarkable exchange I came across this morning while reading Claudia Roth Pierpont’s new book on Philip Roth, Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books. Richard Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman discuss Our Gang–Roth’s Vietnam-inspired turn to political satire–shortly after it was published. Dwight Macdonald thought the book a masterpiece. Nixon’s attention was elsewhere:

NIXON: What if anything do you know about the Roth book…

HALDEMAN: Oh, a fair amount.

NIXON: Who is responsible? The Roth thing I notice it’s reviewed in Newsweek, which might indicate that they might be very much behind that.

HALDEMAN: Yeah, because they gave it a review way out of proportion to the book. We got advances of it and our people were very disturbed about it. It’s a judgment call. I read it, or skimmed through it. It’s a ridiculous book. And it’s sickening, and it’s–

NIXON:What’s it about?

HALDEMAN: It’s about the president of the United States.

NIXON: I know that! What’s the theme?

HALDEMAN: Trick E. Dixon. And the theme is that, uh, he’s tied to the abortion thing…It’s sick, you know, perverted kind of thing…It ends up with you being assassinated–or with Trick E. Dixon being assassinated, and then he goes to hell and in hell he starts politically organizing down there.

NIXON: Did the New York Times review it favorably, too?

HALDEMAN: I didn’t see the Times review, so I don’t know that.

NIXON: How big is circulation?

HALDEMAN: The book? It isn’t showing up on the sales lists yet. There’s no indication of it. But Philip Roth is a very big author, so he’s got–

NIXON: What is he? What is he?

NIXON: Roth is of course a Jew.

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-Semite thing can be , I hate to say it, but it can be very helpful to us. I mean you hear a singer even as brilliant as Richard Tucker and he’s a Jew.

HALDEMAN: Is he?

NIXON: …He’s pushy…

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.

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