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Published: Sunday, 8/19/2001

Saxbe autobiography tops list of summer reading

With the Labor Day holiday comes one last opportunity to dig into some interesting summer reading before our lives ratchet up for another election season. Three books have caught my eye.

One is an autobiography by former U.S. Attorney General William B. Saxbe, who began his career in southwest Ohio and has now returned to live there with his wife, Dolly.

The book, I've Seen The Elephant, Kent State University Press, is a quick and pleasant story of his life made more interesting because of its link to Ohio and because of the heights Mr. Saxbe attained in his service as President Ford's first attorney general and President's Nixon's last. He was thrown into the cauldron of a White House in political turmoil over the Watergate scandal, and managed his office smoothly in Mr. Nixon's last days.

There are numerous references in the book to the Toledo area because Dolly grew up in Maumee, and the two were married there. Intending to spend their honeymoon at the Dearborn Inn outside Detroit, they found themselves so tired after the reception that they overnighted instead at the Commodore Perry Hotel.

He writes in simple narrative form about his career in the Ohio General Assembly and the executive branch of state government (he also served as state attorney general) before moving on to Congress and the Department of Justice. The tales are so personal they read with the same familiarity as a chat over the backyard fence. And they offer a fascinating insight into Mr. Nixon's downfall.

Perhaps the most amusing chapter of Mr. Saxbe's book describes his tenure as U.S. ambassador to India, a post to which he was appointed by President Ford. In the straightforward, take-no-prisoners style that became a trademark of Mr. Saxbe, he describes his immersion into a new and frantic culture and the difficulty of organizing the embassy's finances and staff left in disarray by the previous ambassador - Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York.

Mr. Moynihan, of course, went on to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, serving several terms before eventually handing it over to Hillary Clinton earlier this year.

THE NEWEST copy of The Almanac of American Politics, published by the National Journal, is just out, and, for political junkies, is just in time.

The book, compiled by Michael Barone and Richard Cohen, is the most detailed accounting of U.S. politics.

For every congressional district in the country, the book includes a synopsis of the people, industry, and politics. For every state, it offers a lengthy description of the political landscape. There are plenty of statistics, elective and otherwise, for every congressional district.

In Ohio's 9th district, held since 1983 by Democrat Marcy Kaptur, the almanac is right on the money. In it she is credited with securing a new Maumee River crossing, “billed as the largest bridge project in Ohio history.” Her sharp criticism of President Clinton in September, 1998 - in which she expressed “sadness, anger, and disgust” at his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky - is included, as is a note about her possible 2004 presidential bid.

This is one of those thick reference books that can be digested in small chunks. As one who came to Ohio as an adult, I have found it to be a valuable asset in understanding the political history of the state.

FROM “abolitionist” to “zoo plane,” Safire's New Political Dictionary, by political reporting legend William Safire and published by Random House, continues to be a source of amusement and information, though it is not new to bookshelves.

“The new, old, and constantly changing language of politics is a lexicon of conflict and drama, of ridicule and reproach, of pleading and persuasion. Color and bite permeate a language designed to rally many men and women, to destroy some, and to change the minds of others,” writes Mr. Safire in his introduction.

If ever you wondered about the origin or meaning of such phrases as:

  • The vision thing: Attributed to President George H.W. Bush, while GOP contemporary Bob Dole called it “the V-word.”

  • The skunk at the garden party: A hyper-ethical stiff who gets in the way of practical solutions.

  • Logorrhea: An affliction that causes one to speak on past the point of no interest. Mr. Safire writes that politicians often “apologize in advance for a long speech and, to avoid the appearance of verbal diarrhea, often use the self-deprecating line: `This reminds me of the little girl who claimed she knew how to spell `banana' but she didn't know when to stop.'”

    With local campaigns ready to ratchet into high gear, prepare for multiple reports of new cases.

    Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Email him at fritz@theblade.com.

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