Thursday, November 11, 1971 - 6:11pm - 6:16pm
Richard Nixon, William L. Safire
White House Telephone

President Nixon: Hello?

William L. Safire: Hello, sir. [White House Speechwriter] Bill Safire.

President Nixon: Yeah, Bill.

Safire: About the briefing book.1

President Nixon: Yeah.

Safire: I just sent in my update for today.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah, I got it. I got it. Already read it.

Safire: And this is the first time I've done it. I just want to know if there's anything else you need.

President Nixon: No, it's just fine. Only one--oh, one other thing which I asked [White House Special Counsel Charles W. "Chuck"] Colson to get some raw material to you on: some of the positive figures on the, you know, the retail sales and all that crap, you know, which I've . . .

Safire: To knock that uncertainty thing in the head.

President Nixon: Well, it isn't that. I mean, actually, well, it isn't the uncertainty--I mean, I just, I think some of the positive things about the economy, you know, which we--there are a number of things, but I just said to get five or six of them over to you, and then we could have them. Because, you see, we'll have the uncertainty thing to the extent that it can be knocked onto the head this week as a result of the Pay Board and the Price Board.

Safire: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: But in a free economy there's always uncertainty, and these people are just, you know, the business people are just talking about something else. Then next week it'll be, "What about the international situation?" Well, we'll have that handled within a week, a month or so, and then it'll be something else. But that'll all change. This is a temporary deal that the market's going through and the rest. It'll turn around.

Safire: [unclear]

President Nixon: But I think if I get a chance, I will put in a little positive stuff, like if I get a good solid question about, "Well, look here, let's look and see what's doing. Retail sales are up blank and housing is de-de-de and, you know, another million month in automobile is predicted, and consumer sentiment, and according to [pollster Albert E.] Sindlinger's [survey] de-de, you know what I mean.

Safire: OK, I'll work it out with Chuck tonight and get that first thing.

President Nixon: Yeah, you may have some stuff yourself, but I know that he's been developing these figures for other people, and it may be--I think he's sending some over to [Secretary of the Treasury John B.] Connally for his speech when he returns, and you may get . . . but the book is fine shape. It's done in a very, very effective way. And--

Safire: Well, I--

President Nixon: It'll be . . . as you have pointed out, it's an enormous amount of work. But it's helpful to do it this way.

Safire: I've learned more than I want to know about the government. [chuckles]

President Nixon: It's an amazing--you sort of wonder, don't you, that--you can now see why even a mini-press conference, which I, you know what I mean, normally just go in and--well, where you're not on television--well, of course, it'd be on the same on television. I have the same thing. It's practically the same. But you can see why it takes so much work for the staff and so much work for me to put it all together.

Safire: Right. You've just got to be ready for anything.

President Nixon: You've got to be ready for everything. But also, you got to be ready not for just, you know, too many people, Bill, in the government--I mean our own people--they go on programs and all the rest, and they wing too much stuff. They really aren't prepared. Don't you agree?

Safire: Absolutely.

President Nixon: They really aren't prepared. They just don't sit down and do the work. They say they go on and they gas around but--and they do well enough. Most people don't notice it. But I can't wing anything. I've got to be prepared on every damn question, because people expect me to be. So that's why we work on that.

Safire: I really think that tomorrow after the follow-up on the troop stuff, [CBS News White House Correspondent] Dan Rather and a few others are going to really try to get you on politics, based on the political dinner.2

President Nixon: [scoffing] Oh, hell, that's so easy. I . . . just like falling off a log for me.

Safire: But that's what they're, you know, always hungry for.

President Nixon: Yeah, they want me to comment on politics so that I get in the ring with the others.

Safire: Right.

President Nixon: So I'm just going to say, "No, I don't have any comment on that." Don't worry.

Safire: Right. There'll be a lot of fallen faces.

President Nixon: On what reasons--for what reasons should I?

Safire: Absolutely.

President Nixon: Except to give them a story. No, I just have nothing to comment on it. Too busy with other things right now. That's the way I'm going to handle that.

Safire: OK.

President Nixon: Don't you agree?

Safire: Absolutely. Because once you start that it's a floodgate.

President Nixon: Yeah, oh, I know. Oh hell, you can't open anything. You can't say a word about anybody, and I'm not going to comment on what [Sen. Edward M.] Teddy [Kennedy, D-MA] said about Ireland or what [Sen. Edmund S.] Muskie [D-Maine] said about the black vice president. I've covered all these things. No comment, you know. Just no comment about anything. OK.

Safire: Right, sir. If there's anything else that comes up in the morning I'll give you a--

President Nixon: Yeah. Don't send it over unless you think it's pretty hot, because I think it's . . . I think that generally speaking it's--they'll zero in pretty much on the announcement and probably a little on the economics. I mean, the--but the political thing, believe me, Bill, I know that [White House Speechwriter Patrick J.] Buchanan when he prepares this he usually prepares about a third of the book on political thing[s] and what the Ripon Society said and this, that, and the other thing. They never--that sort of stuff is the easiest of all. That's the only stuff I don't need any preparation on. I really don't.

Safire: Right.

President Nixon: I mean, I need nothing on it, because it's--I just know what they're going to ask. And they're not going to get any damn answers. And it's best not to answer them, not to give them a thing.

Safire: Right.

President Nixon: Because they just hate the idea--you know, they hated the idea on this--[White House Press Secretary Ron] Ziegler was, he said, well, he said they couldn't say it but they were so goddamn mad they all went on this trip and I didn't say anything, you know, on politics, you know, on this trip to Chicago, and I didn't use the word "Republican" in either speech. Not once.

Safire: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's kind of zig when they were expecting you to zag. Yeah.

President Nixon: Yeah . . . no. They weren't expecting it. They wanted me to, you see what I mean? So that they could then have a great business about--

Safire: "The political season is here."

President Nixon: "The political season is here." Then they could say "Using the Presidency for this or that." You know, they'll crack you either way. So they're just not going to get at it. OK.

Safire: Right, sir.

President Nixon: It's a fine job, and I appreciate it.

Safire: Oh, thank you very much.

President Nixon: [unclear] Bye.

  • 1. The President used a briefing book of prepared answers for anticipated questions to get ready for press conferences, such as the one he had scheduled for the following day.
  • 2. President Nixon had given two speeches on 9 November 1971 in New York and Chicago that were carried on closed-circuit television to Republican fundraising events in other cities. New York Times, 10 November 1971, "Nixon Dinner Menu Includes Chuckles."

Original tape courtesy of the Nixon Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.