Ben Stein's Diary

A Day in the Life

By 3.1.09

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TUESDAY

Inauguration day. Big, big day. I awakened at about 8:45 to listen to Mr. Barack Obama's speech. My cable TV at my home here in Malibu has not worked for about five years. But I have my trusty radios so I made my breakfast and listened.

It was not the worst speech I have ever heard. But it was pretty poor. No eloquence. No specifics. Nothing to uplift. As far as I could tell from the radio, even his partisan fans at the Capitol did not applaud much. I am a former speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford. I am also a huge fan of the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. I am a Civil War buff, too. So I recognized where he lifted his lines from. Mostly, just straight stealing from John F. Kennedy, but also a lot from FDR and a fair amount from Lincoln and Dr. King.

My pal Phil DeMuth tells me that President Obama "sequestered himself" for two whole days to write that speech. It was not a great idea. He should have asked Dave Gergen to write it for him. Just a flat, nothing performance. I notice that the stock market, which seems to be in a free fall anyway, took a huge plunge as Mr. Obama spoke. That's just speculators torturing us. But if the trumpet had given a certain sound, the market would have risen.

After Mr. Obama finished speaking, I had a visit from an electrician and then one from a painter about doing some work on my home. It is amazing how much work homes need. "A house is a machine for living," said Le Corbusier, and it's a machine that breaks often. Neither of the workmen had watched or listened to the Obama speech. "There were great swells today," they said. "So we had to surf." Well, it's Malibu.

Then, I drove into town to do some commentary on Fox. As I did, I reflected with my pal Phil on the car phone about Mr. Obama. Basically, the voters just took him on faith. He had never done one single solitary thing to show he would be a great leader except run a great campaign. As we Nixon hands know well, you can run a great campaign and still run into a lot of problems. From Mr. Obama, alas, we have had nothing but smoke and mirrors, anti-life promises to people who do not respect life, and immense promises to unions. This is not going to cut it. We have real problems, not just campaign problems. Still, I wish him the best success.

He is an odd fellow to be the first "black" president, though. Only half black. And that half not American. Never suffered any discrimination at all. In fact, his whole life was privilege due to his being half black. Large, immense chunks of his life never revealed, such as his time at Columbia, where no one remembers his even being there. A wife much larger than he is. Mysterious. Still, he has an affable, cheery quality to him. "Likable" is putting it mildly. But still, I have these little nagging doubts....

By the way, I noticed several almost pathetically silly comments by Mr. Obama and his running dogs in the media. The "pundits" kept saying that Mr. Obama was facing unique problems that no president had ever faced before: two wars and a recession. I beg your pardon, gents, but didn't Mr. G. W. Bush until noon today face the exact same situation? And did you folks in the media cut him any slack at all for it? Of course not.

Then I noticed that Mr. Obama said he was going to forgo the politics of party and instead focus on unifying the nation in a bipartisan (sort of like "bicurious") way. The media could not stop crowing about this, as if it were divine revelation. Have they been in a cave all their lives? Didn't they notice that every single president always says the exact same thing as that? All presidents promise to be unifiers and always go on their partisan way. All. There's nothing wrong with that. It is just amazing that the pundits think there's something new about it.

Then I noticed that Mr. Obama said we were going to escape from the choice of fear as a national policy. What? Whose national policy was that? We have never had a president who openly espoused fear as a policy. Of course, any sane person fears terrorism and takes steps to avoid it. Is Mr. Obama going to stop protecting the nation? What is his plan? What did that crack about fear even mean?

Well, anyway, while I was being interviewed by my pal Neil Cavuto on Fox, he talked about how Sen. Ted Kennedy, a very bad man, and Sen. Robert Byrd, the former Klan leader from West Virginia, had suffered seizures and fainting at a luncheon of senators and representatives with Mr. Obama. Amazingly, possibly out of sympathy for the old killer and the old Klansman, I started feeling light-headed my own bad self. I finished my stint and rushed off to the doctor for an EKG. He said I was in fine shape but probably had a panic attack about Mr. Obama's inauguration. Maybe so.

I actually like Mr. Obama, though. He has some mysterious unconscious agenda that scares me, and it's manifested by his choice of wife. But on the surface, he's a likable, great guy. I hope he succeeds well and makes me into an even bigger fool than I am. But I do marvel that pundits (those damned pundits again!) keep saying that Mr. Obama has broken some kind of color or race "barrier" to being president. Nonsense. There was no such barrier. Jesse Jackson ran two decades ago and did extremely well. He was 10 times the speaker that Mr. Obama was and I think he could have won if he had a more organized campaign. There is and has been no "barrier" since the Civil Rights Acts were passed in the mid-1960s. Why is there this need to glorify Mr. Obama?

What is it about? I keep thinking that there is this psychological mechanism known as "reaction formation." In it, the mind wants to feel a certain way— such as "I loathe green people." But the superego says that such thoughts are verboten in current America and you have to mask them. So you say instead, "I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE green people." Does this explain some of the affection for Mr. Obama? Well, who knows?

I am deeply impressed with how confident Mr. Obama seems. I guess all new presidents feel confident. They generally leave beaten to a pulp, humiliated, shattered, defeated. However… Mr. Bush has a great attitude of dignity despite the insults and slights of the day. I think he has been an example of a truly dignified yet humble personality in the cauldron. Mr. Obama doesn't know it yet, but he could learn much from Mr. Bush.

I CAME HOME TO learn that someone very close to me was having terrible, terrible problems with doctor-prescribed psychoactive meds, especially benzodiazepines.

These are super-powerful meds that calm and soothe, but are ultra-addictive to many people and make them crazy if they try to stop taking the pills. The FDA originally banned them as too dangerous.

Interestingly, I knew the lawyer at Clark Clifford's firm who fought and fought and probably used LBJ's clout to get them on the market. Appropriately, he died young. Now, we have millions of addicts of benzos. If your doctor tries to give them to you, think carefully. In general, once you start and stay on them for a few months, you simply cannot ever stop. To be sure, they have their uses, but they are very dangerous.

Psychoactive drugs are super scary generally. Long ago, in 1966, when I was a first-year student at Yale Law School, I went to the student health service to see a shrink because I was so anxious about my classes. My doctor there, a total imbecile, put me on Mellaril and Trilafon, mighty strong anti-psychotics that twisted my mind, wrecked my relationships, and even caused partial paralysis. Ultimately I had to drop out of school because of them. In my whole life, almost every bad incident of my acting strangely has been based on some doctor-prescribed psychoactive med. These are really, really dangerous things. Beware. They are prescribed by doctors who mean well but have no idea of the damage they do. For decades now, I have been wary of them and have felt better without them than with them. Oh, well. Never mind. The world is about Obama now, not medicines. Mr. Obama, I know you will never read this, but proceed with extreme caution and humility. Your job is simply impossible. I wish you well, but you have no idea of what's in store for you. It is not a job. It is the impossible dream.

And get a lot of sleep. And stop smoking.

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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.