Ben Stein in a nutshell (appropriately)


Ben Stein is too easy to kick around anymore.  His views on politics, science, and general public policy have inflated so much above the troposphere that he really cannot speak about life on the ground at all.  The movie mockumentary “Expelled!” provided the early signs of pundit dementia.

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column: Even in the art, Stein's out of it; his column is titled, "Nation's Pulse," but the graphic shows Uncle Sam hooked up to a machine measuring everything but his pulse. Even Sam's genitals get wired, but the nurse isn't counting heartbeats, nor does it appear any other monitor is.

At the same time, he’s a friend of dogs.  One of his tributes to his old dog literally brought tears to my eyes, and reminded me much of the old saying that heaven has no room for those who don’t like dogs.  That also raised the horrible vision of spending eternity in a heaven with dog-lovers who also happen to be political idiots.

Stein won’t kick dogs, but he’ll kick scientists, and poor people, and anyone in the middle class.  Maybe heavens don’t take people solely on the basis of their affection for dogs.

I digress.

At the remains of the American Spectator — a once-great, nearly revolutionary and smart journal of conservatism slipped on the slime to twitchy, bumper-sticker politics — Stein’s every-issue column turned to his vacation in an exclusive and expensive home in Sandpoint, Idaho, his distaste for undeveloped land and and outright fear of wilderness, friends, and the birth of his granddaughter, nicknamed Coco:

I feel so worried about Coco, She is only a tiny infant with eyes barely open. What do I want Coco to know? To do her best. To love her parents. To forgive. To be a lot more prudent about money than I am. To be grateful for this, our America, the best place in the universe. To turn her will and her life over to God and turn to Him for help in every situation.

But I wish my parents and Alex’s parents were here to help. And I wish my sister lived closer so she could help. And that Mr Nixon were still alive to give the leaders of this nation some clue about how to lead a nation. I am excited about Coco, but I am scared.

Right emotions, wrong thoughts.  We need Lyndon Johnson, with a concern for eliminating poverty among the aged (something he did!), not Richard Nixon.  With the possible exception of his trip to China, nothing Nixon did couldn’t have been done better by Johnson with another four years, or Humphrey, had we had the sense.

But that’s Stein.  He’s human on the family front, full of emotion, loving dogs, getting a cold treat for his ill wife, worrying about the future his granddaughter faces, especially from his privileged palace in Sandpoint, a nice nearly-wild area unfortunately become home of right-wing militias, Aryan-loving neo-Nazis and Keystone Kops-style militias — then switching to his brain-driven mode from emotion-driven, and doing everything he can to make sure anyone who lacks a few million dollars in the bank courtesy of the Old Man will be unable to rise above the fears.  Stein luckily led a charmed life, dependent on the kindness of family, friends and strangers, and he cannot understand why others don’t do the same.  Stein’s solutions stand magnificently out of reason:  Out of work?  Take a tax cut.  Need money to go to college?  Your father needs a tax cut, if he’s rich.  Health care tough to find because you can’t pay for it?  Tax cuts for the owner of the company you wish to work for.  And stop your arguing for more practical or workable solutions whining.

Stein stands in such sharp contrast to the Nepali prince Siddhartha, whose views of real life led him to forsake his princely heritage and seek spiritual enlightenment.  One hopes for a Stein-like character with the conscience of Siddhartha, but the practicality of Ross Perot who once noted that what America really needs is a political leader who will fill some potholes, and then, instead of holding a press conference about it, fill some more potholes.

Ben Stein’s road of life has been stripped of most potholes.  It’s so smooth, he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t drive that way, going to fancy school’s on Dad’s big money, hobnobbing with Republicans at the country club and occasionally taking the opportunities they toss your way.  Wouldn’t such a life be divine?

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8 Responses to Ben Stein in a nutshell (appropriately)

  1. [...] “Ben Stein in a nutshell (appropriately),” at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub [...]

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  2. The Peters essay sounds fascinating, Ed. If you ever get hold of another copy of it, I would greatly appreciate your posting on it.

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  3. Pangolin says:

    Frankly, you would do a cockroach a disservice to compare it to Ben Stein. Ben Stein loves his dogs and his grandchildren but condemns other people to conditions worse than his dogs would ever suffer.

    I’m sure Ben’s dogs sleep in the house, in a comfortable space that is warm in winter, cool in summer and appropriately sized. Meanwhile homeless people created by the policies of Ben’s heroes sleep on sidewalks or under bushes with their alternative being crowded, disease-ridden “shelters.”

    Ben’s dogs probably get regular visits to the vets and get their teeth cleaned quarterly while millions of U.S. citizens have no access to medical or dental care.

    Ben is confident that he can afford to live in a beautiful, exclusive, location while Climate Change is slowly forcing millions of people from their homes.

    If I ever got hold of Ben Stein I would slap him till MY hand bled and gladly do the jail time for the privilege. I wouldn’t say anything to him but “stop whining” if he protested.

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  4. Say what you want, Ed. But Johnson wasn’t in favor of Johnson in 1968.

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Paul, I heard it this way (and I’d have to look up the first use): Liberals, like Adlai Stevenson, “loved humanity but hated people.” I’d contrast that to Utah’s former Republican U.S. Senator Jake Garn, who loved individuals, but hated humanity. So he’d vote against making organ transplant drugs more readily available and establishing an organ transplant registry, but when his daughter needed a kidney transplant, he forbade the rest of the family from being tested, and donated one of his own.

    (In 1974 I got into a press conference with newly-elected Garn, who had been Mayor of Salt Lake City. Someone asked him what different view he brought to the Senate, and he said he didn’t think there were any ex-mayors or ex-governors there. Oddly I’d made a list of ex-mayors and governors, and it was a big bunch of people. So I asked him what distinguished him from Hubert Humphrey, former Mayor of Minneapolis or Herman Talmage, former Governor of Georgia, or Mark Hatfield, former Governor of Oregon. Garn said (and I’m close to quoting), “I won’t get federalized.” He said he would never take advantage from being a federal official. I thought of that comment for hours when he took advantage of being the Senate chairman of the space committee and took a ride on the Space Shuttle.)

    Tom Peters wrote, somewhere, an answer to a lady who wrote him asking how to be sure her MBA-bound son would be a success in business and life. Peters suggested five or six steps to secure success, culled from the self-help and business-healer books. The sort of stuff that would make a group of CEOs, CIOs, and company finance officers nod their heads in agreement.

    Then Peters add the exceptions, the problems that might knock the kid off the rails. He said the kid was bound for success, “unless” he got jilted badly by a girl at 16, or he got sick in college and lost a year, or he had a bad boss at his first job out of business school, or he got laid off for no good reason in a recession, or his father died just before he got his first vacation to go visit the old man . . . It was a long list, stuff that happens to everybody even when they try to avoid it. Peters went on to say we must never dismiss the element of luck, but successful people almost always do.

    I’d sure love to have that Tom Peters essay again. I’ll wager Stein experienced few of those career crushers, and none of them without the safety net of his father’s money and position.

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    It’s all in the evidence, Morgan: If you could prove that Watergate and the crumby end to our defense of Vietnam provided great benefits to America, you’d make the case that Nixon should have won in 1968. But absent such a demonstration, it is res ipsa loquitur that Nixon should not have won in 1968.

    Now I go a step beyond that — I argue we’d have been better off with Johnson for another four years, than we were with Nixon. I’m going for the conservative, Southern Democrat who ramped up Vietnam in the first place, over Nixon. The choice is even more obvious that way.

    But go ahead: Tell us all the great things we got from Watergate and abject failure in Vietnam. Be my guest.

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  7. Great post, Ed!

    Someone used to tell me her observation that both Conservatives and Liberals were concerned with others. But Conservatives were notably more concerned with people in their immediate vicinity — family, friends, and perhaps pets — while Liberals were more generally concerned with larger groups and even humanity as a whole.

    I used to think she both had a point, and that combining a bit of both points of view might be best.

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  8. If you can “prove” the election of 1968 needed to be reversed, you can prove anything.

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