Ben Stein's Diary

Far From the Rotten Crowd

Celebrating the great Richard Nixon at the Mayflower.

By 1.10.13

Send to Kindle

Wednesday
Up in the morning here at the Watergate for a long e-mail exchange with my smart friend, Cathy Rasenberger, on the subject of Al Jazeera’s planned purchase of Al Gore’s “Current” unsuccessful cable system. Cathy, a friend for close to four decades, literally since she was a student at Madeira, is now an extremely able and accomplished guru in the world of TV, and cable in particular.

Without dwelling on Al Gore and his personality, we talked about the economics of the deal. She explained that the relevant number was not how many people were watching “Current” now but how many households could potentially watch it. By that measure, said Cathy, the price paid by Al Jazeera is not excessive. It would be difficult and extremely time consuming for Al Jazeera to build up to as many households as Current potentially reaches right now, she explained, and perhaps impossible.

By shelling out $500 mill right now, Al Jazeera gets those households in one fell swoop.

Plus, Cathy said, Al Jazeera was a far fairer and more balanced news entity than I gave it credit for.

As I said, I have known her for a long time, know her to be extremely fair minded and competent, so let us wait and watch about the subject for a time. I am happy to learn new facts, and I guess I have now.

Then, off to CNN to do a short interview. The highlight was running into Wolf Blitzer. He has a major, pivotal role in Skyfall and I told him I had seen it nine times and always got a thrill out of seeing him on the screen. He was obviously extremely happy to have been in the movie, as well he might have been.

He pointed out that his scene in the movie is key -- I won’t tell you how -- and was pleased to have been so helpful to James Bond.

Then, a lightning trip to the National Gallery of Art. Then, back home for a haircut. I have been going to the Watergate Barber Shop for about forty years now and I feel comfortable there. The barbers all cut my father’s hair before me, and they can recall exactly their conversations with him about the Redskins, the poor doomed Redskins.

Then a nap, and then Alex and I raced off to The Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue, NW, to attend the Centenary of Richard Nixon’s birth, a celebration of Nixon hands from long ago honoring the greatest peacemaker America has ever known.

I was exploding with emotion as Alex and I walked into the hallway of the Mayflower. I remembered walking in there with my Pop to see a Cadillac with gold trim from the movie, The Solid Gold Cadillac, and also seeing preparations being made for Ike’s inauguration in 1953. (My father held me on his shoulders to watch Ike go by in a Lincoln convertible, if I recall correctly.) Long time passing. How I wish my father were alive. I wish I wish I wish.

There were cocktails in a large reception room. I saw my mentor and kind guardian, former Commerce Secretary and kind heart, Fred Dent; old pal and war hero, and helper in life, Peter Flanigan and his lovely wife; my great friend Ken Khachigian and his Meredith and two lovely daughters; Aram Bakshian, world’s smartest human; and many others whom I remembered more or less well from Nixon White House days.

The men and women in the room were uniformly intelligent looking, alert, friendly, but much more than that -- they looked sane.

More and more I notice that at airports and shopping centers, the other people look insane and frantic. I guess I do, too. But these men and women looked relaxed, happy, content. Different by far from what I usually see in L.A., very different from what I see in Malibu, but oddly similar to what I see in Sandpoint, Idaho.

Off at the corner of my eye was Henry A. Kissinger, getting a lot of attention from the press and autograph seekers. He looked cheerful.

Then the lights flashed and some men rang a chime, and we all went across the hall to dinner. It was in a room where I have spoken in the past. We found our table, and then out of the blue appeared my dear pal, Phil DeMuth. Now, talk about an astoundingly great friend: Phil had a head cold, but even so, had flown all the way from LAX just for this event, arriving just in time to get to it before we even did, but out of sight at the cocktail hour. With him was his wonderful brother, Chris, and his charming sister in law, Susan. Chris was head of the AEI for dogs’ years and has been a fantastically good friend to the Steins. (He and AEI threw an 80th birthday party for my father that Pop called “the happiest day of his life.”) Also at our table were wonderful Wlady and his lovely wife, Joanna.

Tricia Nixon began the evening with a superb short speech about her father and mother. Then there was fine appearance by Rev. Franklin Graham, and then dinner. Then we all sang “Happy Birthday” to RN as a kinescope of him playing “Happy Birthday” on the piano ran on screens for accompaniment.

After the meal, Fred Malek gave an upbeat, irreverent fund-raising appeal. Then Pat Buchanan made a spectacularly good speech, one of the best speeches I have ever heard. It recited accomplishments and anecdotes about RN, some extremely funny about RN’s witty wish to not be burdened by excess paperwork. It ended with what Pat wished he could say right now to Mr. Nixon about the “jackal pack” that brought him down. Quoting from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s immortal comments about the inherited rich who clung to Gatsby then dumped him abruptly, a line addressed to Jay Gatsby, Pat said he would tell RN, “They’re a rotten bunch. You’re better than the whole lot of them put together.”

This got a huge cheer and made me very happy because I had actually said that to Mr. Nixon in San Clemente after he resigned. It is one of my favorite analogies to RN in literature. Of course Fitzgerald had no idea of Nixon or his enemies when he wrote the book, but he knew types.

(I should add for completeness that before Fred Malek spoke, I gave the briefest speech imaginable about how I would never turn my back on Richard Nixon, the peacemaker.)

Pat’s speech was just terrific but I suspect that Aram, smartest of the smart, could have done even better.

Then Dr. Kissinger spoke. In a thick accent, he talked about the state of the world when RN took office. No major Arab state had full diplomatic relations with the U.S., China was our bitter enemy, the Soviet Union was implacably hostile, and we were bogged down in a quagmire in Vietnam where we had 500,000 troops and many thousands getting killed every year.

With a Democrat Congress, by the time he was forced from office, all had changed. The war in Vietnam was over and we had gotten back our POWs. We had opened relations with China. We had a major arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union. We had full diplomatic relations with every major Arab state and Soviet influence in the Mideast was nil.

Dr. Kissinger spoke with magnificent generosity, never mentioning his immense part in these astounding coups. It was a breathtakingly powerful litany about what a powerful, thoughtfully and resolutely led America can do. (President Obama, kindly take notes. Firmness plus strength and you win nothing by weakness.) I am not sure I have ever heard a better speech than Dr. Kissinger’s tonight.

Then, the piece de resistance: a very short speech by Julie about how grateful her father and mother would have been and what wonderful parents they had been.

“He was the best father in the world,” she said simply and there was not a dry eye in the house. I am bound to say that Tricia’s speech at the beginning was also magnificent. She said we were all part of her family and that moved me very much.

Then, the event was over. I kissed Julie goodbye and talked briefly to David Eisenhower. Then I looked for Peter Flanigan but he was gone. I wonder if I will ever see these people again. I will never work with such kind people as Fred Dent, who grasped my shoulder and reassured me that things would be all right as I was sobbing the day RN resigned. We all tried so hard to keep the peacemaker in office and the Pharisees laid him low. But what times we had.… We were so young and so full of idealism. (Hey, now I remember I had Cathy Rasenberger over to lunch at the White House.) We are old now but still believe in America, the state founded on idealism about human worth. That’s something. And how fortunate to have worked with such sane people.

And Nixon’s bad days lasted only for a time. We still live in the world Richard Nixon built and every day we are at peace, we have him to thank -- along with our hero fighting men and women and their families -- for it.

What splendid men and women I got to work with. I am reminded of a line from The Last Picture Show or a paraphrase, “If it hadn’t of been for him, I wouldn’t have known what it was all about, whatever it is” (again, a paraphrase). And, of course, it was my Pop and my Mom who put me where it all could happen. I have been blessed so far beyond what I deserve it is incalculable.

Now, to sleep. Thank you, Ron Walker and Sandy Quinn and everyone else from the RN Foundation who made such a great evening of it. Thank you.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.