The Washington Post incorrectly reported Sunday that Charles W. Colson made an appearance at the National Press Club last week. It was the Washington Press Club.
CHARLES W. ("I-would-walk-over-my-grandmother") Colson made a timely appearance at the National Press Club last week. The man who provided the scary comic relief at the Nixon White House was telling us that the best is yet to be in the way of White House tapes.
Nobody doubted him for a moment. Just recently, The New York Times published a transcript of a tape from the Archives' vast treasure which had our former president talking eagerly about hiring thugs to bash the noses of antiwar demonstrators.
Since Nixon had just concluded negotiations with Duke University to house his papers, the gem had particular radiance. There was something about placing the Nixon library on a campus where the younger brothers and sisters of those who would have had their noses bashed are now studying the history of the Republic.
Tapes run through Washington conversation these days as Rock Creek runs through the city. Washington is in high gear, voting on AWACS for Saudi Arabia, sending them to Egypt, receiving royalty and an expresident, planning military maneuvers in the desert and working up a lather over the villainy of Qaddafi. But when school's out, they fall to buzzing over what was said on tapes they know exist and on others whose existence is furiously denied.
Reference to some tapes causes deep blushes, others cause threats of law suits.
Even the king and queen of Spain, that charming and graceful couple who moved around town in stately fashion, somehow bumped against the subject. That's because Jimmy Carter, who also turned up this week on the White House steps, is threatening to sue The Washington Post for having printed an "Ear" item that suggested Blair House had been bugged in Carter's time -- that a Carterite had learned from the "fruits" of the bugging that Mrs. Ronald Reagan was tapping her foot with impatience for the Carters to leave the White House so she could start redecorating.
A tape that was implanted with full knowledge of all participants has also surfaced to the embarrassment of all hands. It's a typical Washington story. Some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party establishment were dining at the home of their patroness, Mrs. Averell Harriman, who was unavoidably detained at the hospital because of a rib broken during a riding accident. To cheer up the absent Pamela, they had their ruminations about the future of their party electronically recorded.
The thought that comes out of the transcript, which, to their sorrow, fell into the hands of The Wall Street Journal, is that the guests, described fatuously at one point by the Carter campaign chairman, Robert Strauss, as "people who really have a good deal to do with making opinions in this company town" -- may have more money than ideas.
Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) is recorded as saying that there isn't much the Democrats can do but wait for the economy to collapse sometime within the next year and a half.
Clark Clifford, the ultimate Washington lawyer and confidante of presidents, was heard to predict that the country will soon catch on to the fact that President Reagan is "an amiable dunce."
The transcript has caused much chortling among the uninvited, and though it may do nothing to hearten Democrats about the future of their party, it has a redeeming social value. People who never make it to the A-dinners could possibly be reconciled to being spared the windy thoughts that circulate around the port, and the pitch for money by Bob Strauss with which it was concluded.
As for its central message -- that the Democrats haven't a clue about what to do -- it has already been heard, live, in lesser living rooms.
Richard Nixon is living proof, of course, that a man can survive his own tape recordings. Washington has been watching him every night on the home screen as he imparts his healing touch to troubled leaders in the Middle East.
Many people who are in principle opposed to tape-recording equipment and are appalled by electronic eavesdropping are glad that Richard Nixon was so addicted to it. They know they shouldn't, but they wish that the cabin of Air Force One had been bugged for the flight of the three ex-presidents to Cairo for the funeral of Sadat. Somehow all three, although turned out of office -- one by circumstance, the other two by the voters -- have acquired Mount Rushmore status as a result of substituting for George Bush. Supposedly they talked of lofty things, like China. But as the night wore on, did Nixon, at length, confess that he had never forgiven himself for not having burned the tapes? And did Gerald Ford wistfully note that he had pardoned Nixon?
We will never know. And it's really none of our business. But if people are going to record themselves, and let us get hold of the transcripts, we'll devour them. We may hate ourselves for it. But then Washington is a wicked city, and we might as well enjoy what it offers.