29 NOVEMBER 1968, Page 6

The waiting room


New York—We see almost nothing of the President-elect, and that little is rather attrac- tively self-effacing. Someone said the other day that the issue was no longer whether there is a New Nixon or still the Old one, but whether there is any Mr Nixon whatsoever.

He is, of course, occupying himself with the formation of his cabinet, a subject of the busy speculation, almost always wildly wrong, of all journalists trailing after any President-elect. Gossip before the cabinet is selected generally centres upon notables, but the men finally selected have a way of turning out to be sur- prisingly obscure; President Kennedy's cabinet, now thought of as the epitome of dash and glamour, contained no one so well-known as his brother Robert. Most Presidents are wary of subordinates who have a radiance of their own; and Mr Nixon, more than most politicians, likes men about him he knows -he can trust, having, more than most, reason to remember with pain experiences with men of the other sort.

There was early talk of a Grand Coalition cabinet, drawing upon such Republican security risks as Governors Rockefeller and Romney, along with Democratic liberals like Mr Whitney Young, a Negro, or Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Harvard urban scholar. Those visions of sugar-plums have faded now, and one doubts whether Mr Nixon's head ever had much time for them. It is his nature to feel more secure with those persons who appreciated him when too few others did.

Here in the waiting room, all that is visible of Mr Nixon's shadow is Ronald Ziegler, his travelling press secretary, who briefs the journalists twice every day. What charms the new administration has are, I am afraid, those of solid worth one's daughter failed properly to appreciate. Ziegler is twenty-eight and re- markably pleasant to his elders, quick to smile at the levity of others and without the slightest impulse to levity himself. All our new Youth Corps still wears those Nixon-Agnew pins which suggest at a distance that the bearer holds noth- ing less than the Silver Star and will salute before speaking. Ziegler is a former public re- lations man for Disneyland; in America young men grow quickly solemn in the management of amusement parks. He seldom has anything substantial to report, and he reports it in the tone proper to the language of the spokesman /or an employer who has always, in his circum- stances, needed to elevate trivial doings to mat- ters of the gravest import. The staff, for example, did not 'move' from 450 Park Avenue to the Hotel Pierre; 'it is finalising its departure'; it did not 'move' into the Hotel Pierre, but 'is in the process of estab- lishing itself there.' Questions as to when the next briefing will be are described as 'inquiries regarding press operations.' The languid daily inquiries about when Mr Nixon might announce appointments of substance are answered by the promise that 'as we move fnto firming' there will be 'total information on manpower recruitment.'

In the interim, the less total the information the smaller the boredom all around. Mr Nixon always. gets up at an early hour and meets with 'key' staff aides. There are the same four names : one is identified as a specialist on state bond issues for Mr Nixon's law firm; another was in charge of scheduling for his campaign itinerary. So Mr Nixon seems still to be linger- ing with the grey lowlanders with whom he is comfortable, before striding up and claiming the summit.