THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

archives
articles

A LITTLE HISTORICAL NOTE YOU WON'T SEE ANYWHERE ELSE | 2004-07-31

After the Watergate incident, Nixon got into deep trouble over his White House tapes. The public was outraged to learn that Nixon had recorded everything said in the Oval Office.

By now it is common knowledge that every president did that, at least since Franklin Roosevelt took office.

One of the top members of Franklin Roosevelt's Brain Trust was Bernard Baruch, a wildly wealthy New York Jew. The press establishment was conservative back then and opposed the Roosevelt Administration, but Baruch was popular with the press. He was more conservative than the rest of Roosevelt's Brain Trust, but that was not the whole secret of his media popularity.

Baruch's real appeal to the press was his Southern accent and his eccentricity. By far the best known of his eccentricities was the charming fact that he gave all his heavy financial advice on a park bench. They were always snapping pictures of this wildly wealthy man on a park bench.

Those park benches humanized him.

It seemed hilarious that he would give the advice that determined the course of the entire American economy sitting out there on that bench instead of in a plush office. It was cute.

What everybody forgot was that most people would rather have heard what Baruch said out there on that bench than they would what the president was saying in the Oval Office. Baruch's words determined the fate of billions of dollars.

That park bench out in the open was not just cute.

Thirties technology was a bit cumbersome. You couldn't invisibly wire a park bench back then. And I bet the one Baruch used was carefully checked daily by an expert before the press got there.

Baruch was raised in Camden, South Carolina before he moved to New York. He said he discovered anti-Semitism for the first time the first day he lived in New York. His father was Deputy Surgeon General of the Confederacy and a member in good standing of the Kershaw County Ku Klux Klan.

When Bernie got to New York, he was not rich, but he used his Jewish connections. And he used that deep Southern accent. He showed everybody that he was just a guy from down there in the sticks, and he made a point of it.

Many a brilliant New Yorker, Jew and gentile, decided that Bernie was a nice Jewish boy from down South, very honest, very intelligent, but very naive.

Bernie was soon the richest man in New York.

Only another not-too-bright Southern boy has ever provided an explanation as to why Bernard Baruch used those park benches, and you are reading it now.