I BEGIN THIS LITTLE ESSAY on Richard Nixon and his nvitation to the White House with the story of Monroe X. Monroe, a lawyer with whom I dealt back in the days when, for little money and zip glory, I plied the insurance trade. Monroe X. Monroe had a name that just rolled around in your mouth, a name you could taste and savor and so I said it over and over again for days, trying to get him on the phone, repeating the name, finally reaching him, hearing the receptionist say the name and then his secretary and then (gasp!) the man himself who did not, you could just bet, answer the phone with a simple hello. He said his name and then I repeated his name and then instead of my name said, "Monroe X. Monroe, this is Monroe X. Monroe." I hung up horrified. This is what happened to me with the White House.
I called over there about this Nixon thing I called a person I know, a person in the know, but I called knowing I would not get through if I told the secretary what I was really calling about, so I was going to say I was calling about the visit of Vice Premier Teng to the United States. I had the whole thing written out -- Teng's full name and a little reminder that his name is pronounced Dung -- but I had Nixon on my mind. When the secretary asked me that Washington question -- What is this in reference to? -- I blurted out, "The visit of Richard Nixon to the United States." They never called me back.
I think they knew they were dealing with a crazy man. This Nixon invitation has been getting to me. I wake up in the morning not believing Nixon is coming to the White House and when I go out I invariably bring up the matter. All of this has nothing to do with believing that Nixon is going to make a political comeback or that once in the White House he will run to the Lincoln bedroom, yell "sanctuary" and refuse to leave -- nothing like that. It has to do, instead, with Richard Nixon, with how he didn't acdept that pardon just because he signs for everything delivered to the door, and with the nature of the White House itself. In a sense, I consider it mine, or at least ours, and not Jimmy Carter's to use in a way he considers politically expedient.
Sooner or later all presidents begin to see as theirs things that are not. It was Lyndon Johnson who looked at a field of helicopters and reminded an Air Force officer that his was not just the one bearing the presidential seal. "They're all mine, son," Johnson told him. Nixon later fell into the same kind of thinking, totally unable to distinguish between his welfare and that of the country's. If it was good for Richard Nixon it was good for America. To him, it excused everyting.
Up to now there has been little of this in the Carter Administration. During the furor over the Bella Abzug firing, however, an anonymous highranking aide referred to charges that Abzug's committee had issued press releases critical of Carter and said, "Hell, she works for us. We're paying her..." Leaving aside the fact that she was not paid, what you wabted to reply was, "Like hell you are. You are not paying her. We are paying her and don't you forget it."
Later, the same sort of thinking surfaced when it was revealed that the White House was looking to replace Jay Solomon at the General Services Administration because he had either had them on the phone too much or was hogging the credit for the investigation into corruption at GSA -- something substantive like that. Again a highlevel anonymous aide said a mouthful. Referring to the investigation, he said, "We're going to make it Jimmy Carter's issue and not Jay Solomon's
You can carry something like this too far. Up to now, Carter has shown little of the possessiveness of either Johnson or Nixon, but he has shown little grasp of moral issuse. He was one of the last, for instance, to grasp the moral implications of the Vietnam War and he managed to defend J. Edgar Hoover, one of the great blackmailers and smut peddlers of our age. He was tardy, to say the least, in reaching the conclusion that Nixon knew at least as much about Watergate as the aides who did his bidding and he recently characterized as "ridiculous" the pro forma attempt to deport the Vietnamese general who ahot a bound man in the head. That there was a moral issue here did not seem to occur to him at all.
The same is true with the Nixon invitation. Morality -- right and wrong -- does not seem to matter at the White House. What is being said, instead, is that the Chinese wanted to visit with Nixon and the meeting was either going to take place at the White House, where events could becontrolled, or San Clemente where Nixon could possibly upstage Carter. The Carter administration opted for the White House, the reason being wholly political -- important, but political nonetheless.
No one is saying that the Chinese should not be permitted to meet with Nixon. He is, as they put it, their friend and his accomplishments regarding China are not to be denied. But whatever he is to the Chinese, he is something else to the American people. To us, he is the president who lied, who twisted the Bill of Rights into a pretzel, who sacrificed his closest aides to buy himself some more time and who nevertheless had to leave the White House in disgrace. Now he is coming back, coming back for dinner, coming back to what you could call the national living room being treated as a guest, being in effect pardoned by hospitality just as surely as he was pardoned once before in a more official way. He could have met with the Chinese in San Clemente or some restaurant in Seattle for the matter. Anywhere but the White House. It's not Jimmy Carter's home, it's ours and we care about who comes to dinner.