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Ben Stein: The truth about Nixon

By Ben Stein
June 4, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll defined the 1960s. But the decade was also a time of pivotal change — politically, socially and technologically. Check out 60 of the most iconic moments of the decade, and then <a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/us/the-sixties'>experience "The Sixties" on CNN</a>. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll defined the 1960s. But the decade was also a time of pivotal change — politically, socially and technologically. Check out 60 of the most iconic moments of the decade, and then experience "The Sixties" on CNN.
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60 iconic moments from the 1960s
The 'Greensboro Four'
Elvis discharged from the military
Sharpeville massacre in South Africa
The laser is born
FDA approves birth-control pill
Nixon-Kennedy debate
Bay of Pigs invasion
'Sex and the Single Girl'
First interactive video game
'Turn on, tune in, drop out'
First James Bond movie
Marilyn Monroe dies
Spider-Man arrives
Carson takes over 'The Tonight Show'
Cuban missile crisis
Boeing 727 debuts
Polaroid adds color
'The Feminine Mystique'
Patsy Cline's death
The Beatles' first album
Alabama governor resists desegregation
Medgar Evers assassinated
JFK's Berlin speech
'I Have a Dream'
Cronkite becomes anchor
Birmingham church bombing
First push-button phone
President Kennedy assassinated
Instant replay debuts
Berlin Wall opens
Warhol and pop art
'Beatlemania' comes to the U.S.
Ali becomes heavyweight champ
Ford Mustang debuts
Mandela sentenced to life in prison
Civil Rights Act of 1964
'Daisy Girl' ad
U.S. troops in South Vietnam
Malcolm X assassinated
'Bloody Sunday'
Voting Rights Act
The Watts Riots
'Batman'
China's Cultural Revolution
First Super Bowl
Six-Day War
Marshall on Supreme Court
Anti-Vietnam protests
First human heart transplant
Tet Offensive
My Lai massacre
Martin Luther King assassinated
Robert F. Kennedy assassinated
Democratic National Convention unrest
Prague Spring
'60 Minutes' premieres
First men on the moon
Woodstock Music Festival
Manson murders
Forebear of the Internet
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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

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. Experience "The Sixties" on CNN on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

(CNN) -- 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.

Ben Stein
Ben Stein

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 gives the victory sign after winning the presidential nomination at the GOP Convention in August, 1968.
Nixon gives the victory sign after winning the presidential nomination at the GOP Convention in August, 1968.
Ben Stein was Richard Nixon\'s speechwriter in the 1970s.
Ben Stein was Richard Nixon's speechwriter in the 1970s.
President Richard Nixon dances with his daughter, Tricia, at her wedding on June 12, 1971, at the White House.
President Richard Nixon dances with his daughter, Tricia, at her wedding on June 12, 1971, at the White House.

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.

Ben Stein on the 1960s: 'A lot of sex'

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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