The American Spectator has lost a great, longtime friend with the death of Aram Bakshian Jr.
Bakshian contributed to this publication for nearly 50 years. He started way back in the November 1973 issue (when this magazine was called The Alternative), with a very self-revealing piece titled, “What Went Wrong With American Education?” It was a review of Peter Witonski’s book on the subject. Bakshian introduced the review and himself to readers with this:
Ten years ago, on an uncommonly hot September afternoon, having spent thirty minutes perspiring in queue to register for an idiotic freshman geology course at George Washington University, I reached a decision. I concluded that while a few things in life are worth standing in line for, American higher education is not one of them. Although that hastily reached decision involved abandoning a generous scholarship, offending a number of well-intentioned educational bureaucrats, and inflicting a measure of short-term anguish on my immediate family, it turned out to be the right one. And, judging from my recent contacts with the academic world, and the devastating picture painted by Peter Witonski, what might have been a rather eccentric move on my part ten years ago would clearly be the rational thing to do today.
Bakshian certainly could say that. He had indeed done well, and he was just getting started.
At the time of that review, Bakshian was a 29-year-old speechwriter for the Nixon White House. He would also become a speechwriter for the Ford White House and the Reagan White House, rising to the level of director of the White House Office of Speechwriting from 1981–1983, a crucial period when President Ronald Reagan and top aides like then–National Security Adviser Bill Clark were laying the groundwork to take down the Evil Empire. Bakshian thus played a part in some of the Gipper’s most historic speeches, including the 1981 “zero option” speech.
And all along, whilst writing for presidents, Bakshian wrote for The American Spectator, including instant early classics like “Confessions of a Cigar Snob” in the January 1975 issue. That piece was an early contribution to Bakshian’s regular “Great American Saloon Series” feature for the magazine. He became this venerable publication’s esteemed “Chief Saloon Correspondent.”
Could there be a greater title? Surely that one exceeded that of White House speechwriter. Or at least it involved more enjoyable perks.
And though Bakshian dissed higher ed, the intellectualoids had an interest in him. After the Nixon–Ford years, Bakshian became a senior fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He survived that, too. No doubt, senior fellow for Harvard paled in comparison to saloon correspondent for The American Spectator.
In our December 1982 issue, Bakshian related how R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., brought him on board:
Fifteen years ago I was a promising 23-year-old critic and congressional aide, blissfully unaware of the existence of this august journal. Life was full of promise. Five years later, all that changed. Working in the Nixon White House as a speechwriter, I was approached by a rather rum character who introduced himself as R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., and invited me to become a contributor to what was then called The Alternative. I have been one ever since.
If you’re doing the math, that was literally 50 years ago. Bakshian and Tyrrell have been close ever since.
Bakshian’s writing for The American Spectator continued through the September 2015 print edition — a review of his old White House speechwriting colleague Pat Buchanan’s book on President Richard Nixon — and into the online edition as well. Befitting his duties as saloon correspondent, he penned a particularly amusing January 2017 piece, “The Benjamin Lobby Bar and Lounge at Washington’s Trump International Hotel.” This hotel and bar served The American Spectator generously over the last several years as the location for our annual gala, of which Bakshian was a fan.
And this magazine and its founder and editors were certainly big fans of Aram Bakshian. He was a valued friend and a wonderful gentleman. May he rest in peace.