Ben Stein and ‘poor personalities’

BEN STEIN AND ‘POOR PERSONALITIES’…. Republican criticisms of the unemployed have been in abundance lately. Those who’ve lost their jobs in the brutal recession have, just recently, been labeled “spoiled” and “hobos.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) thinks if you don’t have a job, you might very well be a drug addict. A common Republican talking point is that the unemployed are just lazy folks who choose not to work, preferring government aid.

But Ben Stein pushed the anti-jobless line to new depths this week.

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some, but when employers are looking to lay off, they lay off the least productive or the most negative.

Stein went on to suggest that young people learn lessons on “how to do a day’s work.” Among the things he wants folks to learn: call your colleagues “sir” or “ma’am,” and remember the importance of “not talking back.”

His antiquated employment tips notwithstanding, Stein’s notion that those who’ve lost their jobs are necessarily to blame for their condition — they have “poor work habits and poor personalities” — is just crazy in the midst of an employment crisis with five applicants for every opening. What’s more, it’s based on literally nothing but his own twisted perceptions.

That wouldn’t be especially troubling — there are plenty of dumb columns out there — were it not for the fact that Stein remains a prominent voice in media: “Using the Critical Mention media search engine, ThinkProgress finds that the name ‘Ben Stein’ was mentioned 64 times in major television media networks within the past thirty days alone.”

There’s no reason for this. Stein has odd connections to a sleazy financial services company; he has truly insane beliefs about modern science; and in 2007, as the sub-prime bubble began to burst, Stein used his media perch to tell the public the crisis “will all blow over.” (It didn’t.)

I vaguely recall the point, some years back, when Stein was considered something of a mainstream figure at the intersection of politics and entertainment. He’d show up as a cable news talking-head, in between Hollywood cameos and hosting a game-show. He seemed quirky, conservative, and harmless.

Those days are long gone.