He had a light touch, a refreshing contrast to the Olympian and often ponderous perspective of James Reston and Tom Wicker. His stint in the Nixon White House, a career-ender if not indictable offense for most, was not a blot but a badge of honor that he wore with good humor. How else could one deal with such an item on one’s resume but to laugh, then move on?
Mr. Safire’s “On Language” column on the oddities of the English language was an especially enjoyable—and popular—diversion from politics. He would state a language principle that he purportedly took seriously, then poke fun at it. Again from the Times:
And there were Safire “rules for writers”: Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!At the beginning of each year he fearlessly made predictions in the form of a quiz, then graded himself a year later. An example from last December’s column:
3. Toughest foreign affairs challenge will come if:
(a) Afghanistan becomes “Obama’s War” or “Obama’s Retreat”
(b) Iraq backslides into chaos after too-early U.S. withdrawal
(c) Depressed Russia moves on Ukraine
(d) India-Pakistan fighting breaks out
Mr. Safire picked “A”. He won’t be here to do his self-assessment, but that’s the grade I would give him. R.I.P.