I Think I Don’t Remember

Art Buchwald’s latest book can be read on two levels. On the one hand, humor is naturally the order of the day, and the many readers who are enamored of the author’s distinctive brand of wit will find much to their liking. Buchwald possesses a remarkable gift for looking at events from an unusual angle. In his column on Colonel Oliver North’s testimony in the Iran-Contra affair, for example, he inquires, “Who ever heard of a hero named Ollie?” In another column, he combines the rumored memory lapses of President Ronald Reagan with a story that welfare recipients have been housed in plush hotels to produce an imaginary dialogue in which the president, seeking the luxury hotel in question, cannot recall it.

Buchwald’s humor depends for its effect on exaggeration. Unlike the biting wit of such predecessors as Westbrook Pegler, his work does not aim to wound. It is difficult to imagine even the bitterest partisan on the Middle East controversies being anything but amused by Buchwald’s portrayal of an Arab prince reduced to becoming a New York City street vendor because of the fall of the price of oil to a mere “seventeen dollars a barrel crude.”

Nevertheless, Buchwald’s book can be read in an entirely different way. Besides being a comic of great talent, the author holds strong political opinions that find ready expression in his writing. One need not penetrate far beneath the surface to discover, in Buchwald’s column on the Kurt Waldheim case, the author’s personal convictions. Nor is this an isolated instance: The entire book manifests Buchwald’s negative view of the present administration. To put forward controversial views in a fashion that causes little or no offense to those with opinions very different from the author’s is a task requiring literary artistry of a high order. Buchwald disarms the pens of the bitterest critics on the Washington scene.