Ben Stein's Diary

A Nice Day Ruined

Friday at the Nixon Library was wonderful -- but that was before the President appeared on C-Span from Chicago.

By 3.19.12

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Friday
Up very early, before dawn, to prepare for the trip from Beverly Hills to Yorba Linda for the Pat Nixon Centenary celebration at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.

It was a dreary, overcast morning. My wife looked great, though, and that lifted my mood. We had our usual great driver and I slept almost the entire way. You cannot imagine how well I sleep in a moving car. It is my favorite place to sleep.

At the Library, there was a big crowd of wholesome men and women waiting for a serenade by a group of little girl singers from the Patricia Nixon Elementary School in Cerritos, which is what Mrs. Nixon's home town, Artesia, has become. (Renamed for some reason I don't know.) The little girls sang "My Wild Irish Rose" and sang it very well indeed.

Then another group of cute little Girl Scouts cut a ribbon and the exhibit was opened. There were many photos of Pat Ryan as a beautiful young girl, doing hard work as an X-Ray technician, a retail clerk at Bullocks-Wilshire (one of the great buildings in Los Angeles, now Southwestern Law School), driving a car. Then lots of love letters from Mr. Nixon to Pat Ryan. They were touchingly imploring and vulnerable.

He was madly in love with her. When they married, they had no wedding photographer because they were so poor.

My wife and I were startled to see that the engagement ring and wedding ring were in a little ring box from the late great Julius Garfinckel, the premier department store in the Washington, D.C. area (where I spent a lot of my youth reading books, waiting for my mother to shop). But it turned out that Mrs. Nixon had kept the rings in that box but they had been bought at Bullocks-Wilshire.

At the lunch, my wife and I mostly talked to David Eisenhower. He was full of stories about World War II. We talked especially about The World at War, which has become my obsessions. David said it was the standard in war documentaries and altered the way historians thought about war. That's because the documentary talked so much about how the war affected civilians and how important politicians were in war decisions.

David talked about a day in early 1945 when his grandfather was extremely unhappy because American forces had been making slow progress against greatly outnumbered German forces. He was also disgusted by American desertions and self-inflicted wounds and compared them adversely with the Germans' fanatical determination to fight. Also that day, "Ike" had signed the death warrant for Private Slovik, the only American executed for desertion in World War II (or maybe in Europe). Ike was downcast.

A British general literally grabbed Eisenhower by his lapel and said something like, "Look, General, the Germans are fighting on their home territory. The Americans are four thousand miles from home and half of them have no idea why we're in the war at all. Considering that, they're doing miracles."

David said that Ike perked up and felt much better after that. Private Slovik, not so much.…

The lunch was surprisingly good. Fresh salmon. We were served by a breathtakingly beautiful young woman named Ivonna from the former Yugoslavia. Wow. She was a knockout.

But still David was a brimming pot of stories of World War II (not surprising when you think that his father fought in World War II and his grandfather was Supreme Allied Commander). The bombing of St. Lo, the desertions of Americans in Paris. I feel happy just to know someone who knows as much as David. He gets very animated when he talks about it, too.

David spoke to the luncheon very briefly. Julie spoke briefly. Then I spoke the speech that's already been published here. Hint to whoever the GOP candidate might be: I got wild applause when I talked about people who worked for a living rather than organized their communities to get more from the taxpayers. That business about working really resonates with middle-class working people for some reason. Also, lots of applause for talking about spending billions on solar power projects that go nowhere.

Tricia Nixon was there, too, and was very cordial. For some reason, she had to go back to New York before the lunch but still she was very pleasant.

Marge Acker was there, who had worked with Rose Woods. So was Dwight Chapin, who had a limp from tripping over his dog. So was Jon Hoornstra, who helped get out the stupendous daily news summaries we all marveled at day after day back in White House days. How they did that is still a mystery. A miracle wrapped in a mystery.

Then, after the lunch, I posed for a lot of pictures and signed a lot of autographs and then prepared to leave.

I really was deeply moved to be at that luncheon. So many friendly people. I don't see anyone friendly here in Beverly Hills. Why is that?

Alex and I said good-bye to Julie and David. They must have some magic in their lives because they don't look a day older than when I met them in 1973. How can that be? Julie is a saint. Just a saint. The torment she lived with during Watergate and afterwards -- it's just too much to imagine.

I slept the entire way back. Then when I got back home I slept some more. This has been an emotional day. How could this nation have thrown out The Peacemaker? How could the media have ousted the man who gave us two generations of peace? There are some people who have knives and forks and they don't have anything on their plates. They have to cut something, so they cut The Peacemaker. And his family.

For some reason, I awoke about 10 and turned on C-Span. There was President Obama giving a fund-raising speech in Chicago. He has something strange going on.

First, he looks exhausted. I don't blame him. He keeps an incredibly busy schedule. Then, he has accentuated this habit of cockily throwing his head back in a way that accentuates his unfortunate look of arrogance. I don't think he is an arrogant person, but he has that look.

He also has some new thing going on where he pushes his tongue around inside his mouth to express disgust with Republicans. It is a sort of Eastern European mouth gesture that I rarely see among Gentiles, and I would even say I rarely see it among men. But it's there.

His tone was flat but he was able to unload some major whoppers.

My favorite was when he started talking about how important education was and just made up out of thin air the "statistic" that students who have a good teacher make $250,000 more over their lives than students who don't.

What does that even mean? How do they define a good teacher? How do they keep track of the students who, for example, had a good teacher in second grade and then never did again? How do they control for other variables such as race and parents' connections and choice of occupations?

That was just a total whopper that came out of nowhere. It scares me that the President can just make up such immense lies. And what nerve for Mr. Obama to talk about education at all. He's the one who cruelly dealt a death blow to the voucher system in D.C., that held out promise of a future for poor black children. He's the one who's the teachers' union's poodle, and when was the last time they were for accountability? He's not for education. He's for the teachers' unions. Don't get me wrong. I love unions and belong to several, but let's call a spade a spade. There is a big difference between what's good for the teachers' unions and what's good for the students.

He also told a good one about how General Motors had just had its most profitable year ever. Well, duhhh. They just wiped out a large part of their indebtedness and other obligations by going bankrupt. Small wonder so much revenue went to the bottom line. Let's ask the people whose bond holdings and pension obligations were chopped to pieces by the bankruptcy and the bailout how they feel about the immense phony profits GM has racked up.

But the best part was when he kept talking about how "we" are going to create a million or two million of maybe it's a billion new jobs with new energy technologies like solar and wind. Wait a minute. "What you mean, 'we,' kimo sabe?" I think you mean the upper income taxpayers who pay for the government and whom you keep knocking. It's not going to be all of us. It's just going to be some of us who are forced at gunpoint to throw money into these solar trapdoors that don't quite work out. Does Mr. Obama seriously still believe in this nonsense? We've tried it, Mr. President. It doesn't work. Mr. President, has anyone bothered to tell you about Solyndra?

But there's even more that's disturbing in Mr. Obama's speech. He is going to take us in this direction and that direction. He's going to rebuild manufacturing in America -- and I hope that happens. He's going to remake us morally so we are not so selfish. We are all going to work together and put aside our petty ambitions for ourselves.

I don't like the sound of that. This is supposed to be a nation of individuals, not of regiments. I don't like this at all. I don't think Mr. Obama has ever really gotten past his basic school boy socialism. But, maybe I am wrong and he's right. I wonder how much longer I'll be allowed to criticize him.

Sunday
An astonishing lunch with my old pal A. He has just been through a painful divorce and a bitter child custody battle. The legal fees alone were over half a million. He has to pay for his legal fees and his ex-wife's. Now, he has 50 percent custody of the child, but the public schools in his neighborhood have pretty much stopped operating. The closest one to his home only operates from 8.30 to 11.30 each day. If the parent wants the kid to go to school longer for better classes, it's greatly added fees for Mom and/or Pop. How did that happen? Where did that come from? Is this all because of failing revenue in California? Then how do police sergeants retire on $300,000 a year? How does that work out?

It made me exhausted just thinking about it. What happened to America as we knew it?

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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.