Ben Stein's Diary

Nixon and the Pharisees

Forty years after Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein issue new indictments against the Peacemaker.

By 6.11.12

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Sunday
Ugh. Awake this morning to a blizzard of radio news reports about the 40th anniversary of Watergate. Predictably, my old pal and next door neighbor, Carl Bernstein, and his partner, Bob Woodward, are talking about "new discoveries" about Nixon. These, says Carl and Bob, show that the Nixon White House was "basically a criminal enterprise" or some similar nonsense.

Of course, this all comes under the heading of what I would call "journalistic realism." Poaching on the genius idea of "legal realism" -- created at my alma mater, Yale Law School -- journalistic realism says that journalists will write, report, analyze in whatever way suits their political tastes and likes and dislikes.

Carl, a great guy and an extremely talented musician, had good reason to hate Nixon. He got to act on it, and that action made him well heeled and famous. Now, forty years have passed and in the spirit of what Irving Kristol (I think) called "intellectual entrepreneurship," Carl has to polish up his résumé by making Watergate even more dramatic than it was. I don't blame Carl at all. We all have bills to pay.

What I really do love is that at the same time that Carl and Bob are attacking Nixon, the peacemaker, they are "warning" journalists and legislators not to jump all over Mr. Obama and Mr. Eric Holder for their leaks about national security matters, orchestrated to make Obama look tough on defense matters.

Obviously, these leaks are illegal. They are breaches of not one but many laws against releasing classified information. Will anyone go after the Obama White House for it? Will anyone outside the Tea Party dare to suggest that the Obama White House is a criminal enterprise for this? Of course not. The media is so in Mr. Obama's pocket that it might as well be lint.

Meanwhile, as I lay in bed listening to Mozart this morning and looking at the ocean, I got a text from a friend asking what Watergate was all about.

It would take forever to unravel it, but in a nutshell, it was about a group of super powerful media and legislative potentates crucifying Nixon, the Peacemaker, for his role in opening relations with China, thereby encircling the Soviets and making sure that they lost the Cold War (which Ronald Reagan finished up brilliantly). Pharisees always like to crucify peacemakers, and Nixon was the ultimate peacemaker.

It is interesting. There are Carl and Bob railing against RN and calling him a criminal. Yet we never went to war with the Communists after RN. There was never another Israeli/Arab War after RN. China is a competitor but a colleague as well. And the Soviet Union is no more. And we have an Environmental Protection Agency. All thanks to the world Richard Nixon made.

Can you even imagine what Richard Nixon, the Peacemaker, could have done if he had been able to serve out his full second term?

Well. As I say, peacemakers get crucified.

When I think of Watergate, I always immediately go to the night in June when the local CBS News in D.C. reported a break in at the Democratic National Committee office. I was living in what was then called "The New Southwest" in a tiny apartment. I was being visited by my dear friend, the beautiful and loyal Pat K. I remember thinking, "I don't like the looks of this at all."

In a way, Watergate was a life saver for me. If not for all of the trouble RN was in, I would probably never have been hired to work at the White House. I would not have gotten to work two floors away from my father, close to Peter M. Flanigan, world's most elegant human, and a war hero, too, and never have met Julie and David Eisenhower, never have gotten to be close friends with them and with John R. Coyne, Jr., and Aram Bakshian and Dave Gergen. John and Aram remain close to me. Both men are so smart it is terrifying. Just electrifyingly smart. I would never have gotten to work with Pat K, who worked with my father at the Council of Economic Advisers. She would come to my office and sit on my couch and make fun of the people she worked with. Those were sad but also great days. I don't know what would have happened to me without Watergate, but I do know that Bob Tyrrell was already my pal and so was Bob Bartley. He is missed beyond words. He offered me a job at The Wall Street Journal edit page just as Ray Price offered me a job at the White House.

Well, autres temps, autres moeurs. And I do want to say that Carl Bernstein interviewed me at length for his book, The Final Days, and as far as I can recall, reported what I told him scrupulously honestly.

However, the Watergate break in was 40 years ago. Time has passed. Here wifey and I are in Malibu. Not so bad. It is very overcast. Very cool. Really, really cool.

So cool that last night, while wifey and I watched Starz and saw the Director's Final Cut of Blade Runner twice, I made an immense fire and we sat comfortably in front of it. My wife was watching it under our Malibu High School comforter and I was paying bills.

What a fabulous super movie that is. And yet it is was better in the original cut. The new version has lost some vital lines about Harrison Ford's ex-wife calling him "…sushi…cold fish…" plus a currently non PC but very apt racist reference to the Replicants. That was cut, too. A policeman tells Harrison Ford to find and kill some errant "skin jobs" and Harrison Ford says that was a slang term for Replicants (human looking and acting robots) and was like calling black people a certain racial epithet. Politically incorrect but makes an excellent point.

Still, what a movie. They really don't make them like that anymore. No modern movie has so much intelligence about the human condition along with so much action.

My wife went to sleep in front of the fire and I watched other made-for-cable movies on TV. It is almost unbelievable how much violence is on TV now. Just truly incredible how many people are killed each night on TV. Small wonder that young Americans are inured to killing. Small, small wonder. There is just too much violence on TV -- and too much smoking.

The only show that gets it all right is Magic City. It has just enough killing… but too much smoking. I have gotten to totally love the character of Ben "The Butcher" Diamond. He is so amazingly good it scares me. This man is destined for very big things.

This morning I have to pay more bills. I really have too many bills. No sane human being should have as many bills as I have. I guess that tells me something.

I often think that I started to go insane about money when my father died and I no longer had anyone restraining me about money. Well, "....if a thing cannot go on forever, it will stop," as my father said.

And as he also said, "If we only do what we can do forever, we won't do very much."

I think I am heading for a much more modest life as some shred of common sense sinks in.

I got up and made a lavish brunch for my wife and me. Then we lay out on the chaises on our deck and let the ocean breeze blow over us. The air smelled of pine as it had at Santa Cruz when I taught there forty years ago (was it really 40 years? Are those beautiful 21-year-old co-eds now 61? Can that be?). The smells of pine and of night blooming jasmine such as we had all around College V… those are my favorite smells. Except maybe for the smell of German short-haired Pointer fur… or maybe the smell of boxwood at colonial era houses in Annapolis and Middleburg.

Can it be that today I awakened feeling so sick about Watergate and now I am lying in the sun, dozing, opening my eyes to see a hawk above me on the thermals?

This is a better world than the world of resentment.

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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.