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June 02, 2005

So Do I get Ben Stein's Money Now?

Via Sam Rosenfeld, Ben Stein's article arguing that Deep Throat somehow brought the Khmer Rouge to power and was thus responsible for a genocide is just about the craziest thing I've ever read. The first portion of the piece is hamfisted hagiography, like:

That is his legacy. He was a peacemaker. He was a lying, conniving, covering up peacemaker. He was not a lying, conniving drug addict like JFK, a lying, conniving war starter like LBJ, a lying, conniving seducer like Clinton -- a lying, conniving peacemaker. That is Nixon's kharma.

The problem with that formulation is you're taking one aspect of his presidency and blowing it into the guy's singular mission. By that standard, Kennedy was a lying, conniving economy-grower, Johnson was a lying, conniving enemy of poverty, and Clinton was a lying, conniving harbinger of the information age. It doesn't even make sense.

I, by the way, am pretty sympathetic to Nixon. His economic policies were stupidly formulated and a major cause of stagflation, and Nixon only let them through because he idolized his Treasury Secretary, John Connally, but other than that he wasn't a particularly bad president. His approach to foreign policy was quite sound and he wasn't so much a Republican as a Whig, he viewed the presidency as a quasi-spiritual institution that could be leveraged to make Americans better themselves morally. Indeed, Democrats would've been far better off if Watergate never happened. Jimmy Carter's ascendance was just about the worst thing that's happened to our party in the last 50 years, and in an alternate universe where it never occurred Democrats wouldn't be seen as nearly so weak, pessimistic, paralyzed in the face of danger, etc. If you want to know why we lose currently, it's because we're viewed as the party of Carter rather than Clinton.

Nevertheless, Ben Stein's argument is massively stupid. It was the American bombing of Cambodia, authorized by Nixon and aimed at helping Lon Nol's government squash the Khmer Rouge, that ultimately destroyed popular support for the American puppet and allowed Pol Pot and his forces to achieve power. Worse, the whole thing began when Sihanouk was deposed by Lon Nol, a move we supported. On a lighter note, if Stein thinks Nixon would have deployed troops to fight a popular movement that laid claim to most all of Cambodia's territory, than he's not a peacemaker, he'd have been embroiling us in another Vietnam. One can argue that it'd have been worth it, but no one knew that at the time.

Second, Ben Stein argues that Nixon's resignation somehow made the South Vietnamese government lose the war. This, of course, was a few paragraphs after he argued that Nixon ended the war in Vietnam. Can't have both, Ben. Either Nixon would have recommitted troops and tried to win the war or he would've let Vietnam fall to the Communists, but they're mutually exclusive propositions.

June 2, 2005 in History | Permalink

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As Ezra notes, it's close to impossible to read Ben Stein's assesment that Deep Throat's assistance in Nixon's departure from the White House led to the Khmer Rouge genocide and not conclude that Ben Stein is at the very least... [Read More]

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Comments

I, for one, think Ben Stein should get his ass kicked for misspelling "karma." Oh, and for the rest of that pathetic Nixon apologia as well.

Posted by: nolo | Jun 2, 2005 4:02:54 PM

Given Nixon's involvement in scuppering the 1968 talks for his own political gain, as documented by Hitchens and others, it's rather hard to label him a "peacemaker".

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Jun 2, 2005 4:27:16 PM

I'm convinced Mark Felt's leaking to Woodward caused Bill Buckner to miss that ground ball.

Oh, and let's not forget his role in the Dream Team's failure in Athens.

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Jun 2, 2005 4:48:23 PM

If you want to know why we lose currently, it's because we're viewed as the party of Carter rather than Clinton.

Hmmm, Carter was in favor of sound energy policy, sound fiscal policy, fiscal restraint in military budjets, and in foreign policy that was at least dictated by a moral compass.

Sure, the Iran hostage crisis was a debacle. I'm sure a "better president" could've gotten the hostages home sooner (just give the Iranians some weapons and stuff illegaly - no problem!). He tried a military solution, it fell apart. But at least an attempt was made.

This kind of centrist "blame Carter" crap is part of the problem with the mainstream Dem party.

Heck, if Clinton had at least a smidgen of Carters integrity, he might've had the sense NOT to fuck (literally) his presidency up, and we might have had a better chance at a president Gore in 2000.

Posted by: marceaumarceau | Jun 2, 2005 4:50:52 PM

I agree with you that on the whole Nixon wasn't a terrible president (Watergate aside)--certainly the best Republican since Eisenhower. But as I argue here (in, by the way, a discussion with someone who worked for CREEP), Nixon is ultimately responsible for some of the more malignant tendencies of modern conservatism: scapegoating the media; the Southern Strategy; and the culture of conservative victimization, with all it entails (Watergate is to conservatives as the Civil War is to white Southerners). That's the short version, anyway--happy to elaborate if anyone wants.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Jun 2, 2005 4:53:54 PM

Both Stein and the Nooner went down the "Deep Throat lost Vietnam" route today and both are imbeciles. Their lack of understanding of the Vietnam War is breathtaking.
As for Nixon, some of his policies may have been a step forward, but Watergate was not just about him lying. It was about a concerted effort by the President and his minions to subvert the electoral process and then use the Justice department, the IRS and the CIA to prevent an investigation. I still debate who was a worse president W or Nixon although these W seems like a shoo in.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Jun 2, 2005 5:26:15 PM

I heard Mark Felt was responsible for cancer.

Posted by: praktike | Jun 2, 2005 5:44:28 PM

Yes Marceau, and that's how he's remembered, too. Look, I like Carter, but the public perception of our party is the public perception of him and both are markedly undesirable.

Posted by: Ezra | Jun 2, 2005 5:48:01 PM

Nixon was pretty liberal as far as Republican presidents go. Much rather see a Nixon clone in the White House than the current occupant. Not excusing his overall creepiness, but I wonder how much Nixon's physical unattractiveness taints the historical view of him. Or at least exaggerates it.

Posted by: Horatio | Jun 2, 2005 5:54:13 PM

Stein should know alot about lying and conniving. I have actually seen the man speak. He spent much of his "discussion" blaming poor Americans for just about anything he could think of. He took no questions, but he did get paid for his performance.

Posted by: sprocket | Jun 2, 2005 5:56:10 PM

I have to disagree on this one. Nixon is the godfather of the modern Republican party and perhaps the most important American politican of the last half of the 20th century. And he was also a malevolent, dark force in American politics. He was as conservative as it was possible for a president with an entrenched Democratic congress could be in those troubled times. It's pretty clear now that he purposefully prolonged the VietNam war by several years in order to get elected. Going to China and detente were terrific and all, but they were only made possible by the fact that Richard Nixon didn't have Richard Nixon red baiting him every time he turned around.

And regardless of his policies, he was a corrupt and dangerous man, going all the way back to his central role in the McCarthy era. His fall was a measure of a vibrant anti-establishment press (the Pentagon Papers were the first real breakthrough there) and the last vestiges of a bi-partisan agreement that outright criminals couldn't be allowed to run the country. (Johnson had been run out of town on a rail too, but without the necessity of impeachment threats.) It's been downhill ever since.

I don't believe that Democrats would have been better off without Watergate. Certainly the country wouldn't have been. If Nixon had had a successful presidency there is every reason to believe that Ronald reagan would have won four years earlier, that's all. As it was, Carter barely won in 1976 against the charismatic figure of Gerry Ford, the man who pardoned Nixon. There were larger forces at work.

Nixon ran against acid, amnesty and abortion long before Jimmy Carter ever came on the scene. That stereotype came from the massive social changes that were happening and the Democrats' (rather brave) association with them. The Republicans laid the mantle of the "out of control society" on Carter but they would have laid it on any Democrat who ran. Just as they do today.

I too feel a little bit ambivalent in some ways about Nixon the man, because he did come up from nothing and really did suffer at the hands of certain establishment elites who looked down upon him. He was paranoid and I'm not all that sure it was completely irrational. But, it doesn't excuse his blatant and ongoing criminal abuse of power (which set the stage for both Iran-Contra and the ongoing criminal enterprise we see in this administration.)

The problem isn't that he had bad policies (although in some cases he certainly did) but that he was willing to use any and all means at his disposal against American citizens who disagreed with him. As the true measure of his presidency, this trumps everything else he did. No matter how competent a leader, if you don't hold the line against that shit we're on the way to a very ugly outcome. Indeed, it may just be here. The direct heir to Nixon's legacy of secrecy, lies and abuse of power is in the White House today and it's no surprise that guys like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld were close observers of the first go around. They waited more than 30 years to get back what they lost.

Posted by: digby | Jun 2, 2005 5:56:15 PM

Why does Ben Stein have a TV show? How do marginally talented actors and comedians get coverage? I have endured his show once after hearing the guy from Ferris Bulliers (spelling?) Day Off had a TV show. I was unsurprised with my reaction: "Oh. Another fellow jew producing minute sums of money in reward for knowledge of trivia. I love Hollywood." The pinko-commie intellectual jew of the 19th and early 20th century was so much more exciting. Maybe Liberman will hit his head, read some Trotsky, and move to Paris. Au revoir.

Posted by: Michael Schreiber | Jun 2, 2005 6:11:16 PM

Heck, if Clinton had at least a smidgen of Carters integrity, he might've had the sense NOT to fuck (literally) his presidency up, and we might have had a better chance at a president Gore in 2000.

This is the first time I have heard anyone put the blame for the loss in 2000 squarely where it belongs. The race was as close as a gnat's ass (which is very, very close) and there is no doubt that if Clinton had not lied about his affairs to the public, the courts and anyone else with ears, Gore would have won handily.

Clinton fucked you. Clinton fucked everybody.

Posted by: Robert Zimmerman | Jun 2, 2005 6:23:25 PM

Mr. Zimmerman,
Why on earth should the election been at all close? Had Gore run a better campaign, and the media not started out hating him, the whole 2000 election would have been very different...

I’ll go one step further-- had Gore been a better candidate, the voters would have seen that he was part of everything we liked about the Clinton administration (economy!) and no part of what we didn’t (Clinton getting more/better sex than us!). The blame rests squarely on Gore and the Voters...

Posted by: Andrew Cory | Jun 2, 2005 8:10:44 PM

I also have to disagree with Ezra on two counts. First, having lived through the Iranian hostage "crisis", I remember that Carter did everything he could to get the hostages back. The military screwed up badly. We could have invaded Iran but the American public would have tired of that conflict quickly. It was a no-win situation except for a sleaze like Reagan. The so-called "liberal media" did not like Carter, and neither did Washington insiders. All his mistakes were publicized and amplified. Gore made his own mistakes but the Clinton scandals (Monica , Lincoln bedroom) did harm him. Secondly, I agree with digby that Nixon and his followers had a great deal to do with the degradation of our political institutions. His presidency was described at the time with words like "regal" or "imperial". He was also a big supporter of Lee Atwater and the politics of personal destruction.

Posted by: marvin Toler | Jun 2, 2005 8:14:18 PM

Oy. I can't believe anyone that just went throught the Swift Boat elections supporting Kerry could ever be so far off the mark. Nixon was so crooked he had to be screwed into the ground when they buried his rotten carcass.

"His approach to foreign policy was quite sound"

Honestly, I'm just aghast at this statement. Nixon ran on ending the war in Vietnam twice, and the shit was still going on when they herded his frightening visage onto that damned helicopter. The rotten fruit from that squalid tree is now producing stinking fruit of it's own now, and is still trying to blame you and your kind for all the things that they did wrong in the '60's and '70's. They will blame you for what is happening in Iraq, and they learned that at Nixon's hind teat.

Nixon tried to avoid prosecution by firing the special prosecutors! Honestly, reread All The President's Men. You're being much to kind to that crooked scumbag.

Posted by: David Glynn | Jun 2, 2005 8:19:11 PM

i agree. saying 'nixon wasn't that bad' is just contrarian thinking with no grounding in what nixon actually did.

Posted by: Sandals | Jun 2, 2005 9:34:17 PM

Getting Watergate right, and not giving in to the right-wing revisionists, is important, and here's why. The kernel of truth in Ezra's post is that movement conservatives never much cared for Nixon, who pursued accomodation with the communists, and whose domestic policies were not so different from Johnson's (esp from 68-70). So if Nixon doesn't quite measure up in the eyes of the Reaganite true believers, then he can't be all bad.

But movement conservatives don't really stir the drink; what connects Nixon to Bush is the Atwater/Rove ratfucking approach to power. And this is the defining characteristic of both administrations, a continuity which transcends, obliterates, the superficial ideological differences.

Posted by: kth | Jun 2, 2005 9:50:49 PM

That's a really sweet cheap shot at Kennedy's medical problems, too.

Posted by: DonBoy | Jun 2, 2005 10:13:21 PM

I think the key is Robert Kennedy's assassination. I think that he would have won in 1968. There would have been no Chicago convention riots. No Nixon means no Watergate. RFK as president would have meant no McGovern (a very decent man, but his people ruined the foreign policy bona fides for the Democratic Party for years). No Watergate means no Carter who ran on a "I'll never lie to you" platform. (And I like him much more since he has been an ex-President -- he's been excellent). No Carter means no Reagan who ran against Carter's "malaise." No Reagan means no Bush I or Bush II (who would have picked Bush I as vice president and who would have nominated Dubya if his father hadn't been president. Clinton on the other hand was running for President since 1963 and might have made it.

Posted by: mm | Jun 2, 2005 11:14:12 PM

Yes Marceau, and that's how he's remembered, too. Look, I like Carter, but the public perception of our party is the public perception of him and both are markedly undesirable.

Ezra this is bullshit. Where did you pull this party of Carter crap from? The thin air?

I don't remember Republicans using Carter as a pajorative during the last election.


Posted by: Mike | Jun 3, 2005 2:38:57 AM

Never, and I never said he was. My point is that the perception of Carter was transferred to the party he led. Carter, the first post-Johnson Democrat to take office, was weak on national security, helpless before Khomeini. Now the Democrats are weak on national security. Carter was a no-fun, sweater-wearing egghead who knew everything and believed in limits, constraints, humility -- now the Democrats are the party of small-thinking, of a constrained America.

Look, I like Carter, great guy and an underrated president. But he was a terrible communicator, had a horrid public image, and was the source and first example of many of the party's current public problems. The party of Carter is simply different than the party of Kennedy/Johnson, and we're suffering from it. I hate to go hawk on this, but after McGovern we should've put up a hardass -- we needed to repair our image. Instead, Carter and the world events he faced colluded to codify it.

Posted by: Ezra | Jun 3, 2005 2:51:21 AM

Never, and I never said he was. My point is that the perception of Carter was transferred to the party he led. Carter, the first post-Johnson Democrat to take office, was weak on national security, helpless before Khomeini. Now the Democrats are weak on national security. Carter was a no-fun, sweater-wearing egghead who knew everything and believed in limits, constraints, humility -- now the Democrats are the party of small-thinking, of a constrained America.

Look, I like Carter, great guy and an underrated president. But he was a terrible communicator, had a horrid public image, and was the source and first example of many of the party's current public problems. The party of Carter is simply different than the party of Kennedy/Johnson, and we're suffering from it. I hate to go hawk on this, but after McGovern we should've put up a hardass -- we needed to repair our image. Instead, Carter and the world events he faced colluded to codify it.

So Carter, a President who had more military service than any other 20th century president (except Eisenhower), hasn't enough military brass for America. Kerry, who served in Vietnam, is a combat veteran, isn't tough enough for America.

Do you really think these perceptions of these guys just come out of thin air?

Face it Ezra, you are just showing that you are as much a victim of the Right-Wing Wurlitzer as the rest of Americans. The disparaging of Carter has the same right-wing roots as the "Clinton is Responsible For All Bad In America" story.

If you think that putting a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense guy up for the ticket( gee, can you say...CLARK in '08??) you just watch....by the time the right-wing noise machine gets done with him, half of America will think he's weak on defense, or maybe is mentally unstable, etc., etc,....

If you can't defend your own good guys, how can you defeat the united GOP front?

Posted by: marceaumarceau | Jun 3, 2005 8:57:28 AM

Win Ben Stein's Rationalizations...

Posted by: Unbeknownst To Him | Jun 3, 2005 12:00:25 PM

Ezra,

I don't want to repeat what others have said, but you appear to have learned about both Nixon and Carter from books written by Republicans.

Nixon's foreign policy genius was a product of public relations during his presidency and an intensive campaign to rehabilitate his image after he resigned. Henry Kissinger's reputation is also bound up with Nixon's and the corporate press/media absolutely adored Kissinger. Think Alan Greenspan in the late 1990s, only add in the dash and panache of secret flights and international crisis.

Recognizing China was an act of brilliance akin to taking out the garbage can when it's full. The only reason it hadn't been done before Nixon is that 'who lost China' was the Republicans' first step back from the wilderness, and Nixon was among the top opponents. Nixon's other foreign policy victories are rather hard to find.

You should be ashamed of yourself for the things you say about Jimmy Carter. You apparently don't know anything about his presidency.

Read what Digby said upthread. Read more history of the era. Take the opportunity to talk with people who were there.

Posted by: James E. Powell | Jun 3, 2005 12:04:10 PM

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