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Nixon & Spiro Egnew made the same mistake.|
In his heyday, Mr. Agnew was bolstered by the confrontational writing skills of such White House speechwriters as Mr. Buchanan, who penned ''pusillanimous pussyfooters'' and ''vicars of vacillation,'' and by William Safire, now a columnist for The New York Times, who crafted ''nattering nabobs of negativism.'' But Mr. Agnew's zest in wielding these denunciations in the cut-and-thrust of politics was all his own, electrifying and polarizing the nation.
One speech in particular, an excoriation of the ''instant analysis'' of political speeches by television anchors, written by Mr. Buchanan, was delivered so effectively by Mr. Agnew that it set off deep debate about responsibility in the news industry.
''Ted got into politics through the P.T.A.,'' recalled his wife of 54 years, the former Elinor Isabel Judefind, known as Judy. ''He kind of spread out.''
Well tailored, friendly and attentive to detail, he rose in public service from three years as a party appointee on a local zoning board to four years as elected Baltimore County Executive, chief of the suburb that borders the city of Baltimore, and then the governorship.
He was born in Baltimore on Nov. 9, 1918, and reared in the inner city, but moved out to the suburbs in the post-immigrant wave of successful migration.
A public school graduate, Mr. Agnew entered Johns Hopkins University to major in chemistry but then moved on to night school at the University of Baltimore Law School while he worked as an insurance company clerk by day.
In 1942, Mr. Agnew began three years of Army service, graduating from Officer Training School and serving as a company commander with the 10th Armored Division. He saw action in four World War II campaigns and earned the Bronze Star. After the war, he completed his law degree and worked in a variety of jobs, finally moving to the suburbs and finding his way into and soon upward in Republican Party politics.
Out Front in Battle To Win Public Opinion
In office, Mr. Agnew quickly built upon his public persona, as the news media covered his controversy-etched speeches as closely as Mr. Nixon's. He derided war protesters as ''an effete corps of impudent snobs,'' and television commentators as ''a tiny fraternity of privileged men elected by no one and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by the government.''
His barbed criticism of news organizations put them on the defensive and in the awkward position of having to report news about themselves and, Mr. Agnew's partisans maintained, even helped prod such changes as wider-ranging editorial pages and columnists.
Vice President Agnew assailed The Washington Post and The New York Times, declaring, ''The American people should be made aware of the trend toward the monopolization of the great public information vehicles and the concentration of power over public opinion in fewer and fewer hands.''
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, president and publisher of The Times, responded that Mr. Agnew spoke in error ''when he implies that The New York Times ever sought or enjoyed immunity from comment or criticism.''
The Nixon Administration took comfort as Mr. Agnew scored with parts of the public and heightened his alliterative volleys to near-parody as he denounced ''hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.'' (Years after the Vice President was forced to leave the public stage, Mr. Safire mourned, ''And all alliteration ached.'')
Herbert Klein, the Nixon Administration's director of communications, defended Mr. Agnew's combativeness as a necessary mission ''to explain in a missionary way what Administration policies are and to seek support for them.'' The Vice President ''fills a basic need which the President can't do,'' Mr. Klein added.
With ''God Bless Spiro Agnew'' posters sprouting partisanly across the land, Mr. Agnew did heavy duty in the 1970 off-year elections, attacking Democrats as ''radic-libs'' and even ''ideological eunuchs'' for encouraging protest against the war. Commentators credited him with considerable success as such prominent Democrats as Senator Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee, father of the current Vice President, went down to defeat.
As controversy rose, so did Mr. Agnew's hopes to succeed President Nixon. But a month after taking the oath for a second term, Mr. Agnew was told that a grand jury in Baltimore was looking into charges about his public service there.
He clung to office for another eight months, delivering speeches on his innocence and his refusal to resign even as his lawyers began plea bargaining in the face of Mr. Agnew's possible imprisonment. With classic Nixonian wording, the White House issued a statement vouching for the President's confidence in Mr. Agnew ''during the period that he has served as Vice President.''
In one of his last speeches while in office, Mr. Agnew presented himself to a Los Angeles audience as outraged. He fairly bellowed: ''I will not resign if indicted! I will not resign if indicted!''
But his effort to limit his accountability to political peers in an impeachment proceeding in Congress failed. With his resignation considered a factor in his plea bargain arrangement, Mr. Agnew finally sent Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger a note of concession: ''I hereby resign
He surfaced from time to time in a new life of worldwide business travels and an apparently rich social life with Frank Sinatra and other influential figures in his new California circles.