Ben Stein's Diary

Two Days in Washington

Suddenly last winter -- from Ben's monthly Diary.

By From the March 2010 issue

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Wednesday
Here I am in my apartment at the Watergate. I flew in this evening after giving a speech this morning to an absolutely great, great group of real estate people from a company called Edina Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Really smart, alert, good-natured people. By total coincidence, it's a small part of my beloved Berkshire Hathaway.

I told them that there was no such thing as a real estate correction that never stopped. There was no such thing as a down part of the cycle without an up part of the cycle. Naturally, I told them I was their best friend because I love real estate so much, and that real estate was the most tax-favored investment there is, mostly because the imputed rent home-owners receive is tax free. That's not to mention the deduction for mortgage interest and great plays on capital gains on sale, which all go to make real estate a super buy over long periods.

I also let them know that if you find a great house you love and you can afford it, you should not try to wait until the very bottom of the market: you should just snap it up right away, because one rarely finds houses one falls in love with. In 20 years, as I told them, they won't even remember what they paid for the house, but they will have had 20 years of extremely great pleasure living in the home.

We had a fabulous time, and then I went back to my hotel to nurse my horrible toothache. This toothache came upon me quite suddenly two days ago just as I was about to leave town on a flying tour. The dentist looked at it and a periodontist looked at it and they said that someone had done something wrong with a root canal repair two years ago and I would need to have it extracted. I cannot do this for a few days and meanwhile the pain is hideous. Like no other pain I have ever felt. I have taken so much aspirin for it today I think I must have poisoned myself. I could take Percodan, and that would surely kill the pain dead. But I don't want to turn into a drug fiend. I guess no one wants to be a drug fiend.

So, I am suffering and I don't like it. I hate this. There is a reason it's called "pain." I cannot do a darned thing about it for a good five days and it is extremely upsetting.

Well, on the other hand, Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. And won big. Over that witch, Martha Coakley. That tormenting witch from outer space. Pour water on her and see if she melts.

I wonder if Mr. Obama gets what's going on here. To lose Massachusetts? To lose Ted Kennedy's seat? I wonder if he gets that voters don't really trust him or his grandiose schemes. I wonder if he thinks maybe he tried to do too much too fast. Or does he think it's all racism? It is astonishing how fast the rubber band snapped back on Mr. Obama. He is obviously a likeable guy. But he's starting to remind me of those Third World dictators who take office and try a million huge schemes at once and really what they're doing is enriching their friends. I guess I am thinking this because some kind soul sent me aerial photos of some of the housing in Illinois that Mr. Obama and his slumlord pals are involved in. It sure looks as if he was just getting public money for his unscrupulous pals and then getting some of it kicked back to him in campaign contributions.

This reminds me of just why we elected him in the first place...Well, I think I know but I won't say. You are not allowed to tell non-PC truths in this country nowadays.

Now that I think of it, is Barack Obama really that likeable? I mean, all politicians are pretty likeable. That's their job. And he is certainly a politician. But maybe he has made himself a little less likeable by appearing on TV so much.

Maybe there is such a thing as overexposure, even for Barack Obama. I keep remembering my beloved late aunt from a small town in Arkansas. She expired just as the election was raging and the last conversation we had was about Mr. Obama. "I don't like him," she said. "He's arrogant."

Possibly that's the way other people see him, too. Anyway, he should have taken it slow and easy for his first year and worked only on fighting the terrorists and the recession. I guess he should know that now but he doesn't, because he's already preparing a new assault on Wall Street. I agree Wall Street is highly blameworthy, but will attacking them right now end the recession?

THURSDAY
What a day. I spent the afternoon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I met a man who had been shot by a Taliban hidden in the Afghan Army. He had been shot while urinating at an outside latrine. The bullets had, among other things, killed his pancreas. By a medical miracle, doctors at WRAMC transplanted cells from his pancreas to his liver -- and now, in a true feat of genius and God's gifts, the soldier is doing well. Apparently this is a major medical first.

I met another man who had been shot in his bunk by a careless, stupid fellow soldier who was cleaning his machine gun. The man was playing with the charging lever and did not notice that there were three rounds somehow left in his M-249, all of which hit this poor brave soldier I met today. He will likely always walk with a severe limp at the very least. How could anyone be that idiotic?

The amazing thing is that the man who did this is not even in prison. He is still serving in the field. He may be prosecuted later, but the story gets worse. The Army mistakenly told the victim's family that he was dead of self-inflicted wounds and this part is inexcusable.

Someone should be held accountable for this tragedy and for terrifying the family.

I met a brave, badly wounded soldier from Fresno who was only the third or fourth Jewish patient I have seen at WRAMC. I hate that he was wounded, but I love his being in the Army. In a great touch, he told me he wants to be a dentist when he gets out of the hospital. When I looked at him quizzically, he said, "Well, I'm Jewish. I want to be a dentist." Good line.

I left the hospital incredibly ashamed of my whining and bitching and moaning about my tooth, so I hereby apologize for that.

Home to my little apartment only to discover that I have lost my watch. It is a GREAT watch, an imitation of a Cartier, only from Seiko. It kept perfect time and only cost about 100 bucks. I think it slipped off my arm somewhere. Makes me sad, whine, whine, whine.

Then, off to CNN to be on Wolf Blitzer, one of nature's noblemen, a genuinely super smart and nice guy, with my former boss, David R. Gergen, and a smart, pretty, good-natured young woman named Gloria Borger. She, Dave, and I composed today's Best Political Team in America.

It was really wonderful to see Dave Gergen. He was by far the best boss I ever had, although Jim Meagher at Barron's and Jim Bellows at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Al Burton at Tandem/TAT (TV production) were also fine bosses.

Dave was uplifting, funny, understanding, and respectful. I will always love him.

We talked about the dire condition of the Obama regime now. Probably health care will not pass the Congress in anything like the shape Mr. Obama wanted or promised, and now he's wasted a whole year on that folly, while the recession drags on. He really now has no way out of the economic morass, and his foreign policy initiatives have been embarrassing at best, humiliating at worst and probably truest.

The issue on the show was whether Mr. Obama was now "tacking" toward populism by attacking
the big banks and trying to ban risky trades by commercial banks. For my own little part, I said that it would be a good idea to bring back the separation between commercial banks and investment banks/bookie joints/hedge funds. In other words, bring back Glass-Steagall. (As a younger man, I testified against dismantling it back in the 1990s before at least two congressional committees.) However, I added, while Mr. Obama might "tack" against the big banks, in fact, as I put it, "Mr. Obama is the puppet of Wall Street."

Dave Gergen denied that in an urgent whisper. Dave is a thoughtful, truthful man, but look at it this way: the massive fraud and sinister trading against the public interest caused the financial panic that caused the depression/recession that has cost millions their jobs and their homes. The fraud was absolutely clear cut, at least as I see it.

How many Wall Streeters have been indicted? None. Well, you will say, what about the psycho Madoff? True, he's a criminal. But he had nothing to do with the housing collapse. Compared with Goldman Sachs, he was a pickpocket. And Goldman Sachs is basically running the whole world. Is Obama doing anything about them besides empty words? No.

When I think of how those brave men at Walter Reed lose limbs and lives fighting for this country while the traders at Goldman Sachs are robbing us blind (or should I say "traitors" as in "financial terrorists"?), I really get sick.

Well, anyway, I want to tell you readers something. This little column you are reading is edited by Wlady Pleszczynski and his boss is Bob Tyrrell. I have been writing for them for 37 years. In all of that time, they have never done anything mean-spirited or petty or cheap to me. Not once. This is a world record for kindness. When you read this magazine, you may agree or disagree with what we write here and you should. That's what we're here for. But you should know it is edited by men of superhuman goodwill.

Back home after CNN for a rest and then back to CNN for Larry King. I was on a panel with a Democratic pollster named Mark Penn, nice guy; Stephanie Miller, a very pretty, but angry radio talk show hostess; and someone hilarious named S. E. Cupp. A really, really funny young woman from New York. Just a scream.

We talked about John Edwards. I said, yes, indeed, he has sinned and The Law requires that he be stoned. Now, "let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone." This seemed to fit the situation well. I also mentioned Dr. Dre, a rapper who famously said, "Lord, since you made him, you shouldn't have blamed him." Edwards is a rat, but so are we all.

We humans are pretty pitiful. But then there are the heroes at Walter Reed and then there are Wlady and Bob.

Someday soon I will visit WRAMC at midnight and talk to the men who cannot sleep. God bless their souls. They are already immortal.

FRIDAY
Jacksonville, Florida. wow. This town has a nice airport. Just a long curving building, not at all crowded, sunny, polite people. A perfect airport. I met my driver and headed over to Walmart to get some Selsun Blue Moisturizing Shampoo. I really cannot live without that shampoo, but I cannot bring it on the plane. That means I am endlessly buying big bottles of it, using them once, then leaving them behind.

But the prices at Walmart are so great that it hardly matters. The Super Center near the airport was brand-new and sparkling. I love being in the Walmart. I feel as if I am in heaven. An abundance of material things is said to be wearying, but I love seeing the vast array of shampoos, fiber tablets, and razor blades at Walmart. The fellow shoppers are always friendly and so is the checkout. Actually, this time I used the self-checkout. It was amazingly easy and I had a nice time checking out all by myself. Made me feel very space age.

Then, off to my hotel, the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. It was a lovely place, but I had a room filled with loud partiers right above me. It took many, many calls to the front desk to get them cleared out. This, by the way, is my fate. I almost always get stuck next to really loud people in hotels. They always quiet down one way or another, though. I fell asleep listening to Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey. "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." One of my favorites. From way before my time but very civilized and I love it.

SATURDAY
Up bright and early to speak to a group of honchos in the super-successful Allianz insurance business. They were extremely polite and charming. I stayed afterward for lots of pictures and autographs, then had lunch with a major from the Army just back from Iraq and his charming neurologist wife.

There are many people crisscrossing the country speaking, but there are none who like it as much as I do. I have never had a bad group and some have been spectacular, especially ones I did recently in Dallas and Houston, two of my favorite cities. Big corporate powers and super smart and well dressed. The groups were from Spencer Stuart, a powerful executive search firm. They were really, really sharp cookies. Made my head spin.

Then back to the fabulous airport, and off to Dallas. I sat next to a simply beautiful 60-year-old housewife from Aberdeen, Mississippi. Her husband and his mother were seated in the row ahead of me. The flight was almost empty. The woman told me how great life was in Aberdeen in the 1950s and 1960s, especially as a baton twirler at her high school. Wow, she was 60 and she was BEAUTIFUL.

I have a great fondness for women from Mississippi because my wife's family is from the Magnolia State, although they then emigrated to Arkansas.

Then to the Admirals' Club and a long session on the computer. Then onto a flight to LAX. I sat next to a young man who had just filmed something about BMW cars on the coast of Portugal. "I don't know why we went to Portugal," he said. "It looks just like Malibu." We had a pretty good breaded chicken dinner. For airline food, darned good. Served by an extremely pleasant flight attendant.

Then home to my poor ill wife, suffering from a flu. I went out to Porto Via, a fine restaurant here in Beverly Hills, and got her a steak. She didn't eat it. Instead, she shredded it and gave it to her Maltese psycho dog Mopsy. Luckily, I got a large bite first.

Then to bed holding my beautiful Brigid. Tomorrow morning I will rise and swim.

Thank you, God, for the great life I get to live. I am on my knees with gratitude night and day.

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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.