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King Richard, Coeur de Rat

Dramatis Personae

1. Richard M. Nixon — President of the United States of America

2. John Mitchell — Campaign Director, Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), former Attorney General

3. John Dean — White House counsel

4. H. R. (Bob) Haldeman — White House Chief of Staff

5. John Erlichman — Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs

6. Rosemary Woods — Secretary to the President

7. Alexander Haig — General, later White House Chief of Staff

8. Sammy Davis Jr. — entertainer, friend of the President

Scene I

(1972. The Oval Office, following the landslide win. Nixon, Dean, Mitchell, Haldeman, and Erlichman sit around the desk of the President.)

Nixon (spinning a globe):
Round about this world I go,
Breaking rice with men like Chou.
Round the globe with which I’ve toyed,
Downing shots with Leonid.
‘Tis fun to be far from home,
To be Caesar out of Rome!

All: Paid off, paid off, bribed and paid off;
Cash, bought; and favors paid off.

Mitchell: Set up riots to put down —
“Law and order” in each town.
Add a pinch of CIA
To get in the Bureau’s way.
Open mail and tap and spy,
All go in election pie.

All: Paid off, paid off, bribed and paid off;
Cash, bought: and favors paid off.

Dean: Have I our foes on a list!
Screw them, do you get my gist?
Bug the Demos, make a mess
Then turn loose the IRS.
There’s the license of a foe —
When up it comes, tell it “no.”
Set we up old George to lose,
Go to China to make news.
Henry’s helped to make our pow-wow —
Friends we are with Chairman Mao now.

All: Paid off, paid off, bribed and paid off;
Cash, bought; and favors paid off.

Nixon (to Mitchell): How did you ever raise all that money, John?

Mitchell: We were inspired when you said: “A dollar! A dollar! My kingdom for a dollar! Friends, fat cats and corporations, give me your bucks!”

Nixon: Very good. It’s as I’ve always maintained: there is more money in corporations, Mr. ex-Attorney General, than dreamt of in your philosophy of robbing banks for it.

Mitchell: Right you are, Mr. President. When conglomerates come, they come in battalions!

Nixon: ‘Tis true. Well, gentlemen, we’ve got four more years and the way I see it is this: All the world’s a chessboard and all the men and women merely pieces. (spinning globe faster) They have their quirks and hang-ups and one man, ME, in his time, gets to have them under his thumb. For I hold the world but as a world, friends, where every man must play ball or else. For the plan’s the thing!

Haldeman (to Erlichman): Some are born crooked, some achieve crookedness —

Erlichman (to Haldeman): and some have crookedness thrust upon them.

Haldeman and Erlichman (they always talk at the same time except to each other): Mr. President, we didn’t make full use of our resources in our first term…

Nixon: Don’t I know it! O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength and to use it like one. And the President can cite scripture for his purpose!

Haldeman and Erlichman: Right, but screw your enemies to the sticking place.

Dean: What’s gone and what’s past help, should be ready for revenge.

Nixon: We are such stuff as fortunes are made on and (a knock at the door) — come on in. (Rosemary Woods enters.
Nixon to Dean): There’s Rosemary, she’s for remembrance.

Woods: Here’s today’s newspaper… more fussing about that hotel. And there’s some Vietnam veterans protesting outside.

Nixon: I’ve had it with them! Listen — make it perfectly clear: the quality of mercy is drained. It is curseth him that giveth and blesseth him that taketh. (Looking at the newspaper headlines.) What the dickens! Is this a bumbling which I see before me? But soft, what light through yonder Watergate breaks?

Mitchell: Oh, it’s nothing, just our spies screwing up again.

Nixon: What will we tell John Q. Public?

Dean: Just what we always tell him, sir.

Nixon: Right, the miserable beggars have no other medicine but lies.

Mitchell: To be honest, as this world goes, is to be none pick’d out of six billion.

Nixon: Mendacity is the soul of wit.

Dean: Yeah, nothing’s good or bad, but the justice system makes it so.

Haldeman and Erlichman: Bugging and burgling go by destiny.

Dean: So do lying and covering up.

Nixon: True, after all is telling the truth a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous; and it pricks like a liberal. Therefore, issue a press release, a modified limited hangout. From now on, the past is inoperative. To wit: “Neither a hush-moneyer nor a slush-funder be. Furthermore, an ill-favored thing, sirs, but mine over-zealous aides own.”

Scene II

(1974. Haldeman and Erlichman walk down a hallway in the White House. Although they’ve already resigned, they’ve dropped by to see the President.)

Haldeman: Uneasy lies the head that keeps the tapes. But now the game is up. John, it wasn’t that I loved America less; but that I loved Dick more. He’s every inch a politician.

Erlichman: He was one that bugged not wisely but too well.

Haldeman: Yet I felt more bugged against, than bugging.

Erlichman: Bug all, trust a few. That was the unkindest bug of all.

Haldeman: Don’t despair; deception is the better part of valor. Besides, there is something that bloweth in the wind. I see it in my mind’s eye: a presidential pardon.

Erlichman: If we don’t get pardoned, thereby hangs our tail. As crooked lads and girls have learned, after jumping ship, bridges must burn. (They enter the Oval Office and greetings are exchanged.)

Nixon: Bob, John, why is everything falling apart?

Haldeman and Erlichman: It was a bad sign that Agnew got caught. There was a special providence in the fall of a Spiro.

Nixon: Alas, poor Spiro, I knew him — a nattering nabob of infinite jest.

Haldeman and Erlichman: But what really hurt was John Dean.

Nixon: God! I hate those words: John Dean! Frailty, thy name is John Dean! O, how sharper than a serpent’s tongue it is to have a thankless aide! The smallest aide will turn state’s evidence being trodden on! Where has all the loyalty gone, long time passing? Damned Dean once told me: Beware the tapes of March! Something about a Capricorn on the Presidency — I never could follow that. I never liked him. You, Bob, John, I’ve always said, let me have about me men that are fat like Erlichman and Mitchell; sleek-headed storm troopers like Haldeman and such as never sleep at night. Yond Dean has a lean and weasely look; he remembers too much. Such men are tattletales and should be deep-sixed — that’s what I’ve always said.

Haldeman and Erlichman: Thanks, sir. But what’s to be done?

Nixon: I don’t know. The fault, dear friends, is not in ourselves but in our tapes. O, that these too too solid tapes would erase. And once I thought how sweet the uses of electricity! The times they are a-changin’!

Haldeman and Erlichman: But what’s in a tape? That which we call tape hiss would sound as sweet.

Nixon: True, the silence often of pure erasure pervades when speaking fails.

Haldeman and Erlichman: Smooth runs the evidence where the tape is erased.

Nixon: I’ll have my pound of tapes! Lord, what fools these Americans be! Remember, John, Bob, this above all — to thine own self be false, and it must follow, as the night the day, that thou can always be false to any man.

Scene III

(Still later, 1974. Alexander Haig walks down the hallway to the Oval Office.)

Haig (to himself): There is a tide in the affairs of my life, which taken at the flood, leads to Commander of NATO forces; omitted, all the trip of my life is bound in the shallows of Washington cocktail parties: On such a full sea am I now afloat, and I must take the current when it serves, or go down drowning on the Bad Trip Nixon. (He enters the Oval Office.)

Nixon: There’s a prosecutor that shapes our ends —

Haig: Not mine!

Nixon: — stonewall him how we will. They’re all ganging up on me, Al! The Supreme Court — age cannot wither them nor custom stale their infinite doggedness. Everybody can master a Judiciary Committee, but he that has it! Some jest at impeachment that never felt a conviction! Humph! Subpoenaed me out of house and home!

Haig: It’s disgraceful that conservatives have joined the liberals on this.

Nixon: One touch of impeachment makes the whole Congress kin. Impeachment acquaints men with strange bedfellows. Transcripts and hearings are as tedious as a twice-told tale, vexing the dull ear of tipsy president. There was never yet a President that could endure an impeachment patiently. If the White House transcripts could trammel up the consequence and catch with their surcease, success; that but this awful palace and shoal of time… we’d jump the ship to San Clemente. To all my enemies, fair is foul and foul is fair! Presidents have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not from resignation. For what is resignation forced but a Hell? If it were done at all, then ‘twere well it were dragged out. For God sakes, Al, let us sit upon the West Wing and tell sad stories of the death of presidents. How some have been disposed; some slain by cirrhosis; some haunted by money they’ve missed out on in the private sector; some hounded by girlfriends; some with their heads blown off by the CIA — but, damn, Al, none have ever resigned! I don’t think I can do that! (pauses) You know what?

Haig: What?

Nixon: I’ve just realized that Republicans up for re-election die many times before their deaths; luckily, the president never tastes of death but once. Let this be my epitaph: “This was the noblest American of all; he only in a foreseeing thought and common good to himself only, made scapegoats of them; his life was gentle; and the elements in him that he might stand up and say to all the world, This was the President!”

Haig (under his breath): His mind is out of joint. So, let him pass for a loon. (to Nixon) But perhaps resignation wouldn’t be so bad. First President to go to China, first President to resign — you’ll go down in history! No one will forget you. I think you can get in the spirit of this — come on Dick, come on Gerald, save the country! Now! Whaddya think?

Nixon: Et tu, Al?

Haig: Thanks, sir, but I had lunch already. (Haig takes his leave.)

Nixon: There may be a method in his madness. Yet ‘tis mad idolatry to make the resignation greater than the presidency.

Scene IV

(Sammy Davis Jr. visits the president and tries to cheer him up. They sit down on the piano bench together.)

Sammy: Shalom, my brother! I’m so sorry to see the break up of the real Rat Pack — you, Haldeman, Erlichman, Dean, Mitchell.

Nixon: Thanks, Sammy. I never thought it would come to this. We were on top of the world. But people just don’t like me. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t stop bombing Vietnamese children. I can’t even get away with this chicken-stealing Watergate thing! And when “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” well, they don’t like that either. Marilyn Monroe never sang to me! I’d trade one of my eye balls for your savoir faire any day. You could get away with bombing Cambodia! But not me, oh no… I get caught at every little thing. I am a President. Hath not a President executive privilege? Hath not a President power, authority, revenge, overkill, paranoia, secrets? Fed with the same ambition, hurt by the same legal fees, subject to the same indictments, healed by the same pardons, warmed by the same campaign contributions, as other politicians? If you prick us, do we not have the CIA bug you? If you tickle us, do we not retaliate? And if you wrong us (and even if you don’t), shall we not sic the IRS on you? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Sammy: ‘Twas it ever thus, Mr. President. But look on the bright side: Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow tap dances in this crazy race from day to day to the last shaboom of recorded tapes; all our yesterdays have lit jive turkeys the way to dusty death. Get down, get down, Mr. Pres, do the funky chicken, but let others twist slowly in the wind; life is but a walking shadow, a tuneless hack that struts and boogies his hour on the stage and then drops from the charts; a song sung by a fool, full of sound and stylin’, signifying nothing.

Nixon: Not exactly the “Candy Man,” Sammy. I was thinking more along these lines: To quit or not to quit; that is the question. Whether ‘tis financially feasible in the wallet to suffer the subpoenas and indictments of outrageous prosecution or to take pen in hand against a sea of squawking congressmen, and by appeasing them end me? To quit; to resign; all gone; and by a resignation to say we end the indigestion, and the various national problems that the Presidency is heir to, ‘tis a thing devoutly to be wished. To resign; to quit; to stop; perchance to brood; aye, there’s the rub; for in that resignation of rest what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off those presidential responsibilities, must give us pause; there’s the groveling that makes calamity of so long life; for who would stomach the libel and slander of the press, the oppressed’s wrong, the bought man’s blackmail, the pangs of a despised aide, the law’s rush, the isolation of office, never being sung to by Marilyn Monroe, and the spurns that patient merit of the worthy takes, when he himself might his quietus make with a timely resignation? Who would farts bear, to grunt and sweat under a wealthy life, but that the dread of something after quitting, the undiscovered country from whose bourne no President returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear the hassles we have than jet to others we know not of? Thus greed and fear doth make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is snickered o’er and enterprises of great worth and amount with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action instead of President. (Rosemary Woods enters.) Soft you now! The fair Rosemary! Nympho in thy orgasms, be all our sins remembered! What is it?

Woods: The Supreme Court just ruled that you have to cough up the tapes. If you don’t, it looks like conviction in the Senate.

Nixon: Aw, the hell with it! Get thee to a nunnery! I quit!

Woods: Goodnight sweet Pres!

(Nixon and Sammy perform a duet of “San Clemente,” sung to the tune of “San Francisco.”)

(Sammy, alone):
I never will forget Richard M. Nixon
Just to think of him gives my heart a pang
I never will forget how that brave Tricky Dick
Just stood there in the ruins and sang — and sang:

(Sammy and Nixon):
San Clemente, open your barbed wire gates
You’ll make the press wait outside your door
San Clemente, here is your quitting one
Who won’t be kicked around no more

Prison cells only make me love you best
Tell me you’re the only one in all this hellish mess
San Clemente, I’m crawlin’ home again
Never to run or roam again

San Clemente, like when I arrive
I really run and hide
Though many would like to see me
Vertically hangin’ from the nearest tree

San Clemente, let me scuff my feet
Up and down Pardon Street
Gonna leave behind the Times and the Post
The plumbers, the leaks, the Deep Throats

There’s Key Biscayne, Camp David
And the mighty White House USA
But the only house that’s a real safe house
Is the house by the nuclear-powered boobs of San Onofre

San Clemente, I’m crawlin’ home again
No smoking guns, no campaigns to fund
San Clemente, no more Presidente
San Clemente, here I come!

THE END

More articles by:

Randy Shields can be reached at music2hi4thehumanear@gmail.com. His writings and art are collected at RandyShields.com.

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