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June 30, 2011

The Strange Case of Ben Stein

Yesterday, Ben Stein was on O'Reilly talking with Laura Ingraham. He was raving about the necessity of raising taxes on the wealthy. He said that they were not paying enough, that they can "afford more," and that there would be no effect on the economy. His certainty was disturbing, as well as his strident manner. He was completely unwilling to enter into anything resembling a discussion about the merits of his position.

Recall that Stein wrote a bizarre defense of Dominique Strauss-Khan last May:

1.) If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn't he ever get charged until now?

. . .

2.) In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?

. . .

3.) The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn "forced" the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He's a short fat old man.

And so on. Note the tone and the aggressive manner. Recall that last October he savagely attacked Joe Miller, calling him a "dangerous, stupid clown." On what basis could you possibly think Joe Miller is either dangerous or stupid? Miller is a small-government, anti-establishment conservative and, by any measure, a level-headed and intelligent man. Stein's attack was nothing more than pure emotion driven by... what? territoriality? Small government types are a threat to establishment types. But where does he come by the urgency and vitriol?

I saw him in a fairly recent interview aggressively shooting down something that resembled a minor attack on the super wealthy. Not that I have a problem with the wealthy, either, by the way. The point is about his odd tone. In response to some minor jab, he was quick and very firm. He said, to paraphrase: "Oh, all that money they have, they give it all to charity. They give all of it to charity." This was communicated with a tone of finality, of "that's the end of that argument," and "no one could possibly ever disagree with me," and "next, please." He made it clear he was completely closed-off to a response. His tone had the same belligerence mentioned above--that caused by an attempt to maximize rhetorical gain rather than discuss issues.

He said something interesting in his interview with Laura Ingraham; he mentioned his rich friends. From the interview embedded above:

Everyone knows that's the third rail of politics in America but we do know that if we tax rich people more, we will raise more money. Look, I live in a neighborhood . . . everyone except -- everyone except me is rich and so do you and you know very well that if you raise their taxes, if you put a surcharge of 10 percent or 15 percent on their taxes they would still be rich. They would still be able to have families. They would still be able to send their children to . . . .

He seems to draw a distinction between himself and the super rich while arguing that there is "no objective evidence" taxing the super-rich less stimulates the economy and job production and that it is a matter of simple math that they have to pay more in taxes. The problem is, 1) the rich don't have enough money to fix things, even if you took all of their money, and 2) even the super rich employ fewer people, buy fewer companies, widgets, and invest less when taxes are high. And one does not have to be an economist waving around a study labeled "Objective Evidence Taxing the Rich Less Stimulates the Economy" to make such a claim. It's just a given. Also, 3) when it comes to actually raising taxes, somehow the definition of "rich" always seems to change. So Democrats will, of course, use arguments like his as cover--as part of a bait and switch campaign--and then move toward pushing for increased income taxes on everyone over, say, 250k. So Ben Stein's appeal isn't helping at all; it's hurting. It's emotional, and it's naive.

Well, at least he wasn't always that way! In fact, just last year Stein was ranting about raising taxes during a recession:

He had that dogmatic tone then too, but when I like the point he's making, it's a-okay.

Ben Stein has a bad case of wealthy liberal elite cocktail party disease, Potomac fever for rich people. It's worse even than Peggy Noonan's. He's been spending too much time socializing with his ultra-wealthy liberal friends. And he wants to continue hanging out. His aggressive defense of his establishment buddies buys him tickets to the next cocktail party. Those parties must be something very special indeed.

The problem is, everything he says now is beginning to resemble everything they say. He used to be such a dependable conservative voice. I can't believe Stein is a crank now.

But he gets to go to the next party and collect attaboys.

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posted by rdbrewer at 05:50 PM

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