Editor’s Note: Ben Stein is an economist, author, movie and TV personality and speaker. He is he winner of the 2009 Malcolm Forbes Award for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Stein was also a speechwriter for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the author. “The Seventies” airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Thursdays on CNN.
The Richard Nixon whom Ben Stein knew wasn't anything like the way media portrayed him
Stein: Nixon was under constant media assault, never had control of both houses of Congress
Stein: He ended Vietnam War, brought home POWs, saved Israel and made peace
Stein: In key event to ending Cold War, Nixon opened ties with China, subduing Russia
The Richard Nixon I knew had almost nothing to do with the Richard Nixon as portrayed in most media. The Richard Nixon I knew was a man who had served his country honorably as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president at the height of the Cold War, when Eisenhower kept us at peace for eight years – with Nixon’s help – only to have the 1960 election stolen away from him by handsome, rich John F. Kennedy’s fraud at the polls in Chicago.
Nixon had endured eight years of seeing the country disintegrate into chaos in the streets and an endless, hopeless war in Vietnam under a genuinely great but very misled president, Lyndon Johnson.
When Nixon won in 1968, he embarked on a presidency in which he never once had control of both houses of Congress. He faced an endless bitter assault from the media and from the so-called intellectuals – the “pointy-headed” intellectuals, as George Wallace aptly called them
Nevertheless, he ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POWs and calmed the wild streets. More than that, he saved Israel when it was threatened with annihilation by its neighbors, sending a massive airlift of arms to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Nixon gave unequivocal support to Israel: Johnson could not have cared less about its fate.
Nixon opened relations with Red China that greatly sobered up Russia and allowed the U.S. to become the world’s dominant power and peacekeeper for a generation.
This was the key event in ending the Cold War.
By “encircling” the USSR and signaling that if Leonid Brezhnev began a war against either the United States or China, he would face a dreaded two-front war, he showed Russia that its hopes of global domination were not going to work. To soothe matters with the still extremely dangerous Russian bear, he even signed a strategic arms limitation treaty with the Soviets.
His goal, as he often explained to me and others on his staff, was to create “a generation of peace.” He did it. He gave us the longest sustained period of peace since World War II.
When the Russians were kicked out of Afghanistan – just as we are about to be – the encircled Russian domination machine simply ran out of gas. Will it revive? No. But it is a menace anyway.
Nixon was tortured, abused, beat up by the Beautiful People, but through it all, above all, he was a peacemaker, a trait he inherited from his Quaker mother. If we no longer have to fear Russian ICBMs screaming out of hell to start nuclear war, we can thank the shade of Richard Nixon.
He was startlingly progressive in domestic affairs as well. He created the Environmental Protection Agency. He sent up to Congress the first proposal for universal health care. I know. I wrote the message sending it to Congress – where Teddy Kennedy promptly killed it. He proposed a national energy policy far greener than anyone had ever imagined a conservative would go. Again, Congress killed it.
In his personal relations with me and with my father, who was his chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and with my mother, his most devout fan and a friend and admirer of Pat Ryan Nixon as well, he was the soul of kindness, concern and politesse. He brought up two of the most wonderful women on the planet, Julie and Tricia. He was a wit and a trustworthy confidant.
Why did the media hate him so much? I have always thought it was because he was vulnerable and showed it when attacked. He did not have the tough hide of a Reagan or an Obama. Like the schoolyard bullies they are, the media went after him for his vulnerability.
But let’s look at him with fresh eyes. Unlike LBJ, he did not get us into a large, unnecessary war on false pretenses. Unlike JFK, he did not bring call girls and courtesans into the White House or try to kill foreign leaders. Unlike FDR, he did not lead us into a war for which we were unprepared.
He helped with a coverup of a mysterious burglary that no one understands to this day. That was his grievous sin, and grievously did he answer for it. But to me, Richard Nixon will always be visionary, friend and peacemaker.
And I will never turn my back on a peacemaker.
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