Ben Stein Watch: March 30, 2008

Ben Stein is back in the NYT again this week: after filing just one column in all of February, he’s managed no fewer than four in March. Doesn’t he have a film to promote or something? Stein this week turns in one of his more sensible efforts (which isn’t saying much), but that doesn’t prevent him from writing passages like this:

Plan for living more frugally. This is not easy for some of us. “What were once vices are now habits,” as the Doobie Brothers once said. This is true for millions of us, but we simply cannot escape the logic and power of arithmetic.

We cannot live forever on more than we have in principal and interest (or earnings ) and pensions. If that means no more second homes, or no more third cars, so be it.

No comfort is worth putting yourself in genuine fear of poverty. For me, your humble scribe, this is a vicious problem, but at some point, it must be solved.

Apparently Stein’s "genuine fear of poverty" is "a vicious problem". Does he even know what poverty is? Remember that when he talks about "second homes", he means homes plural: in a column for this very website headlined "It Ain’t Easy Being Rich", Stein enumerated among his holdings "a home in Beverly Hills, a home in Malibu, a writing retreat in Rancho Mirage, another in a high-rise condo in West Hollywood, and a pied-ßøßø-terre in Washington, D.C., and some others I won’t mention right now".

Stein does have a problem, and quite a vicious one, which is that he has become the worst kind of propagandist in the promotion of his new film. On a conference call Friday he claimed that "Darwinism is politics masquerading as science," and was quite unambiguous about what kind of politics he was talking about: "If I’d had my way about this movie, I’d have had much more about Nazi Germany," he said.

Stein is becoming a sick and unfunny joke at this point, and the NYT, by association, is the butt of that joke. Nick Kristof and many other reporters do a very good job reporting on real poverty for the New York Times; I hope they’re barraging their editors right now with complaints about how Stein is trivializing an extremely serious problem. Given the level of intellectual honesty that Stein displays in his new film, it shouldn’t be too hard at this point for the NYT to kill his column permanently.

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