The despicable Ben Stein

By Felix Salmon
July 27, 2009

How low can Ben Stein get? Well, we know he’ll sell himself to sleazy rip-off merchants if the price is right. But now he’s penned an anti-Obama column for The American Spectator which is so despicable that it fairly takes one’s breath away.

Stein calls Obama an “anti-white” “ultra-leftist”; he says that the magna cum laude editor of the Harvard Law Review and University of Chicago professor has “total zero of an academic record” and a “complete lack of scholarship”; he claims Obama “has given Iran the go-ahead to have nuclear weapons” and wants “active destruction of our interests and our allies and our future”. Oh, and Obama “urgently” wants to “take away our freedoms”, because he “knows Americans are getting wise and will stop him if he delays at all”.

This is the kind of stuff which, if it was written by a left-wing commentator about a Republican president, would have Stein screaming about “treason”. It’s also the kind of thing which should automatically disqualify Stein from writing for the New York Times — as if his creationist propaganda and insane conspiracy-mongering weren’t reason enough. But I’ve given up hope at this point. I don’t know what Stein did to make himself untouchable at the NYT, but it was surely extremely effective. What’s sure is that the Sulzbergers and all other NYT stakeholders should be desperately ashamed at this point that they have anything to do with the man.

(HT: Gross)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Of the two, Felix, your essay here is far more incendiary. I like Ben Stein, and I think everything he wrote in the Spectator piece is essentially correct.

Posted by Sterling | Report as abusive

@Sterling, so you think Obama is anti-white, huh? His academic record was a total zero (whose record are you comparing it to, btw?)? not a fan of this country? (is everyone who disagrees with the right anti-american?)? global warming is a fraud?

So what do you like about Stein? Seriously. Please, tell us America-haters how you think anything he says in the piece is correct.

Posted by KenG | Report as abusive


* Stein said there are “anti-white writings in his books”, which there are. (I’m a little surprised any Obama supporter would want to challenge the ‘anti-white’ tag, actually. There’s a ton of documentation about it from last year, alone. Though you may not be aware of it given your media bubble.)

* Obama has released very little of his academic record and didn’t publish much of anything as editor of the Harvard Law Review, so yes, it’s a zero in the sense that it does not exist as part of the public discourse.

* Not every leftist is anti-American, obviously. Some are just naive.

* I’m no more worried about global warming than I am about Judgment Day, a doomsday scenario promoted by fanatics of a different faith.

Finally, I think Stein is very perceptive and has a long record of being right about a lot of things. In 1994 a feature he wrote for New York Magazine, on boiler room brokerage houses, kept me personally from making a very big career mistake. He’s not right about everything, nobody is, but I think he’s got Obama’s number.

Posted by Sterling | Report as abusive

I bid a not-so-fond adieu to Ben Stein a long time ago. ewell-to-ben-stein/

Giving attention to Ben Stein is a little like giving attention to Holocaust deniers. What’s the point?

Ben Stein’s opinions should be treated like those of a half-drunk idiot on the next bar stool.

Posted by Bob_in_MA | Report as abusive

ben stein wrote

“Now, Americans are waking up to the truth that ObamaCare basically means that every time you are sick or injured, you will have a clerk from the Department of Motor Vehicles telling your doctor what he can and cannot do.”

mr stein offers no reference to any pending legislation and no reference to any public speech

he just made this up to be inflammatory

on top of that, his intellectual dishonesty is clearly demonstrated by his nonsense claim that a clerk at the dmv will have to ok medical procedures recommended by your doctor

how sad that much of what passes for dialectic on the right has become trash…we need honest intelligent points of view from the right…i miss William F Buckley

what nonsense, what intellectual bankruptcy

in short mr stein is a political hack in the true sense of the word

The dishonest one here is you, Felix.

Obama didn’t produce scholarship — he has no signed publications, other than a piece on Saul Alinsky and radical organizing.

Obama himself tells us that he sought out Marxist professors at Occidental.

Obama himself tells us he spent his extra time at Columbia attending socialist conferences.

Obama himself tells us his dreams for making the world a better place and his ambition to become a political activist came from his socialist father, Harvard trained economist, author of \”Problems Facing Our Socialism\”.

Obama himself tells us that his socio-political mentor as a teenager was the communist poet Frank Marshall Davis.

Obama himself tells us that his understanding of America and his political education as a child came from his mother, who attended the \”Little Red Church\” on the hill in Mercer Island, WA.

Obama did have the most left wing voting record in the U.S. Senate when he was in the Senate.

Obama did attend a radical left wing church for 20 years.

Obama did attend speaking engagement — organized by his wife — with 60s radical & terrorist Bill Ayres.

Obama did work with 60s radical & terrorist Bill Ayres on Chicago school funding projects — and did share a small office building with Ayres over a number of years.

This stuff is all public record. Folks like Stein have every right to make of it what they will.

Being dishonest about the facts doesn’t help.

Posted by Greg Ransom | Report as abusive

@Sterling – I don’t follow much of the media on either side (what they present as news is merely a apthetic attempt at entertainment), and I haven’t read Obama’s books. I have heard him speak many times, and I just don’t get any sense of anti-white, nor do I get even a whiff of pro-black. I don’t see him proposing or endorsing legislation that favors or hurts either race, I see him as one of the most race-neutral politicians in a long time, which he had to be to get elected.

His lack of public record does not make him a zero – I can assess his skills and knowledge from the comments he makes and the positions he takes, and I detect intelligence, a quality long absent in the white house. I would doubt that a conservative college like the U. of Chicago would recruit an “ultra leftist” like Obama to teach if he didn’t have a stellar academic record, or are you saying that bastion of conservative thought likes to practice affirmative action for failing (zero level) students?

Climate change is real, and far more threatening than even most who believe in it will admit. It is not being promoted by religious fanatics, and the consensus among those who understand scientific principles (unlike Stein, who understands nothing about any form of science), is nearly unanimous. Will it bring the end of the world? Probably not, but it is going to induce incredibly painful change and dislocation across the globe.

I haven’t seen any evidence of perception demonstrated by Stein. It’s great he saved you from joining a boiler room brokerage, but his stating what was obvious to a lot of people does not make him perceptive, but more likely just a bandwagonner. His perceptive skills not only did not let him avoid last year’s bloodbath, but drove him to endorse investing in the market when it was on the verge of collapse.

Ben Stein is an entertainer. He is not smart or perceptive, but he knows how to do the thing that makes him money, which is to make a bunch of noise that will push people’s buttons.

Posted by KenG | Report as abusive

Uhhh, Ben Stein was working in the White House 40 years ago, long before he became an actor.

My only beef about Obama is that his congressional record was incredibly weak. He was in the US Senate for about what, 40 weeks, before declaring his candidacy…based on what? 5-6 years as an Illinois state senator? Come on…I don’t question his intellect but now the man must lead.

The US has most likely exchanged one group of elitists for just another group of elitists…only this elitism is the kind that MSNBC can program around for 3-4 hours each night. And by program I fully meant to say cheer lead.

The hypocrisy of a supposedly free press just kills me. “I can’t believe Stein wrote that” Well, plenty of US citizens follow it. Disagreement and debate just seems to be a functioning democracy…anyone, anyone ?

Posted by Griff | Report as abusive

It would be interesting to know if anyone from Comcast reads a political polemic like AS. …and if they think their mascot.. er.. a… pitch man Ben Stein is throwing off the sort of optics they like. And I wonder what Shaq thinks.

Posted by VennData | Report as abusive

KenG, how can you say Ben Stein understands nothing about science? He played Kevin Arnold’s science teacher in at least ten episodes of The Wonder Years. I’m sure he must have picked up something…

@Greg Ransom

I think you should look up a little about the labor movement and what it did for the average American during the first 50 years of the 20th century. Look at how corporations, Hoover,McCarthy, and others took so much for American during that same period.

I would like to also add that I am soooooo sorry that our President is a biracial highly educated man. He is no different then any other white highly educated man who has run this country into the ground at various rates throughout our history. The only thing that makes him different is his background. If you do not see this then it is clear that the only thing blinding you is skin color. That alone makes your comments pointless. I hope you grow up.

Please could you try reading/listening to biased media and try opening up your intellect a little?

Posted by j | Report as abusive

Felix, when you stick to economics/finance, your writings are objective and rational. When you move into any aspect of politics, your liberal biases scream and you lost most of your rationality and objectivity. As others note above, much of what Stein says is factually accurate. You don’t even seek to disprove any of it, but merely rail about Stein’s effective use of them in criticizing your “hero”. You might also benefit from regular excursions outside of your sheltered world there in NYC.

Posted by j willie | Report as abusive

As a liberal, it entertains me to no end watching the far-right nutjobs trying to slander Obama. Especially the Red baiting, which must have been so easy for them to do in the Reagan days that they just don’t want to give it up. The Birthers are the most pathetic and hilarious of all. We should encourage them to keep it up, for sheer entertainment value.

Posted by p crawford | Report as abusive

Felix you upset all the trolls who are worried that the top marginal rate may reach 42%, 8% percent less than it was after Saint Ronald cut it to in 1981. Ben Stein speaks for the agrieved here. After, all look what Obama has done to the country over the last eight years. Oh, wait second, that was the other guy, Bush wasn’t it who was paying attention as the country received its worse terrorist attack, who started two wars and failed to finish either, who spent the surplus his predecessor left him and left his successor with the worse deficit in American history and the worse economy since the Great Depression. It will take a lot for Obama to hurt the country any more than that. Ben learned a lot from Nixon. One was to shameless in your rhetoric to advance your political agenda. Two, the lives of little people, Americans or foreigners, when killed in the thousands in war, are, as Stalin said, just statistics.

Posted by Rickstersherpa | Report as abusive

Stein pretty much hit the nail on the head.

Claiming Obama is anti-white is stronger language than I’d use, but Obama uses the race card shockingly often for someone who has benefitted from public goodwill as much as he has. For example; D928S7080&show_article=1

He has no academic or legislative accomplishments to speak of. Feel free to prove us wrong by naming any he might have.

Obama is far left in his views, meaning he is more “progressive” than the majority of Americans. Just because you personally agree with his leftist views doesn’t make him a moderate. Not everything is subjective, or subject to the illusion that modern leftists are even liberal anymore.

Beyond ignoring Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he also kept clam during their election fiasco.

Active destruction of:

Our interests – Apologizes to the world for us even having national interests, let alone following them.

Our allies – Israel.

Our future – Seen our public debt lately? Unlike most people who go in debt up to their eyeballs, we didn’t even have a good time spending it.

Do you understand how governments take away their citizens freedoms? The first thing they do is nationalize. Sound like anything that’s happened, or is happening, lately?

And I doubt you have to worry about Stein over-reacting to your, or other, polemic(s). After the Bush years, I doubt anything a leftist says would shock a conservative or Republican.

And I’d be very surprised if the NY Times has any shame at all.

Posted by AFelixOfADifferentStripe | Report as abusive

@ mock turtle:

If you read HR 3200, you would find that each and every thing Stein said is true.

I read almost 500 pages of it and it made me want to puke about each three or four pages.

Please note that the architects of Obama Care give themselves a complete pass: this health care system completely bypasses the Congress and Federal bureaucracy. Hypocrisy watch: If it was so good, why do the Obamabots not want it?

Posted by Jeremy Wa | Report as abusive

I believe it was none other than Darth Cheney…er Dick Cheney,…who stated that deficits don’t matter. Even the most right of Republicans must ask themselves where the hell their party went in bush/cheney term # 2….at least regards to “control govt spending” or “not in favor of expanding government”.

But they can sure scare the hell out of the base with those crazy gay marriages !

Posted by Griff | Report as abusive

OK, I’ll bite.

What’s factual about the statement “way too cozy with the terrorist leaders in the Middle East”. Is this supposed to refer to Iran? To the Palestinians? If so surely “cozy” is at best a misrepresentation.

Posted by a | Report as abusive

“Active destruction of:

Our interests – Apologizes to the world for us even having national interests, let alone following them.”

Which apology is … in our national interests. Think about it – without paying a cent and just making a few speeches, Obama has improved our standing and reputation in the world immeasurably. Bush could have proposed peace on earth and the multitudes in other countries would have attacked him for it – because very few thought well of him.

Posted by a | Report as abusive

Ben Stein is an affirmative action hire:

“He is the son of noted economist and writer Herbert Stein,[1] who worked at the White House under President Nixon.”

So his daddy got him a job with that racist, anti Semite Nixon.

And he has the nerve to spout off nonsense about Obama? Has he ever been right about anything?

Posted by wade | Report as abusive

Stein is a hack as an economist. As far as I know, he has only ever written two articles that disagree with the radical right wing of the Republican Party. Other than those two articles, he has been wrong about every economic trend for the last 20 years.

Felix has disagreed with Obama more in the last six months than Stein has disagreed with Nixon, Reagan, and Bush put together.

Stein is smart, but dishonest. For an economist, I would much rather read someone with less ability to delude himself.

Part of the problem with what BS wrote, and with the arguments in support of what he wrote offered here, is his language. If Ben wants to complain that he doesn’t have full access to Obama’s school records, then he should do that. Instead, he claims Obama has “a total zero of an academic record”. That is the sort of language you use if you want to be able to circle back and defend one meaning of what you’ve said, while fostering a more damaging meaning. It is simply not true that Obama has no academic accomplishments, and dishonest to make that claim. If challenged, though, Ben has left himself a crack through which to slither. By “no record” he doesn’t mean no accomplishment, but only that Ben doesn’t have access to the record. Dishonest, but true to the playbook of Ben’s ilk.

Same problem with Sterling, who in what appears to be a carefully calculated matter-of-fact style, claims that Obama’s writings are anti-White, and that the only reason one might not realize that is that one lives in a bubble. One can point out the short-comings of public education without being anti-public education. One can complain that there is too much sugar in pie, without being anti-pie. Sterling is simply declaring what is convenient to his own position to be true – reason enough to disbelieve him. An honest person would be willing to have an honest discussion.

Posted by kharris | Report as abusive

“Which apology is … in our national interests. Think about it – without paying a cent and just making a few speeches, Obama has improved our standing and reputation in the world immeasurably. Bush could have proposed peace on earth and the multitudes in other countries would have attacked him for it – because very few thought well of him.”

Name a foreign policy “win” by the Obama administration, please.

Immeasurable, indeed.

Posted by AFelixOfADifferentStripe | Report as abusive

If Stein is wrong on all accounts, then please direct us to links to scholarly articles, reviews, thesis, etc. that Obama wrote in college.

Posted by Blane | Report as abusive

“Name a foreign policy “win” by the Obama administration.”

Not invading Iraq.

Game, set, and match. (Gosh that was easy.)

Posted by a | Report as abusive

I’m a con man. Don’t you guys know that yet? I lie all the time. I’m a clown who is greedy and hates Arabs. I’m really a prick behind my friendly exterior.
OK, enought of that truth serum!

Posted by Ben Frankenstein | Report as abusive

@kharris: I suppose I’m just a “typical white person”, to use Obama’s phrasing.

I tend to give Obama some slack on his race games, because it’s obvious that he’s played them mostly to ingratiate himself with American blacks, who unlike him are overwhelmingly descendants of West African slaves. Obama himself is half white (mostly Scots-Irish?) and half Kenyan – neither one of these groups is remotely closely related to the ethnic groups in Africa from which most American blacks descend.

It’s pretty obvious that American whites are willing to tolerate vast amounts of racial hatred from blacks. Obama has never come close to the boundary that con-artists such as Al Sharpton have made careers out of running along.

Posted by Sterling | Report as abusive

Is he replacing that annoying pirate? the guy who sings in restaurants and Renaissance Fairs about free credit reports?

The worst of those ads is where the guy complains that if he had known his bride’s credit report he would never have married her. Chivalry ain’t just dead, its charbroiled.

Better Stein and an animated squirrel.

This sounds everything very much of a virulent campaign, as well as I remember in some weeks or months ago, another co-author of the New York Times – Herald Tribune Int. however, very much resembles.
The July seems to be not only a month of human joining, but he also sprays a lot of hatred envy and otherwise what with many peoples to preseem brings.

However, must it be unconditional then that the NEWS GURU REUTERS the New York Times with in the mud pulls?

Certainly there are still many other good significant newspaper publishing companies, the New York Times is still one of the Most important publishing companies with very big potential in the correctness of her journalists, Story’s, criticism of any column as well as objectivity.

Myself myself do not like thus something, but I retrain integry the context fairness and freedom of speech.
What I lack in your criticism, is the exact cause of her
Certainly, criticism never is is absent on the place and also had to do our life not only negative influence.

Is your real problem the New York Times or Ben Stein? Or the kind of journalisms of that?

Attack to me without appreciative facts please not the world important New York Times.

And a little bit more shown circumstances, so that the reader can make to himself a better picture of the cause, would be right like in the topical example of judge Sonia Sotomayor, nevertheless, with thanks very much.

Posted by Ingeborg Metag | Report as abusive

It’s a comment on the standards of the Right that they can criticize Obama for lack of achievement and put forward folks like Palin and Bush. It boggles the mind; it shows the dominance of ideology over reason.

The only good thing is that it’s so clearly off base that it demonstrates how out of it Republicans have become. With every ‘character attack’ they attempt, they betray their own lack of character. Sorry, guys. Perhaps you should work more on your own character development.

Posted by lark | Report as abusive

@lark – Bush had actually been governor of one of the largest states in the US for almost six years, which many if not most reasonable people would consider to be the optimal experience for the US Presidency. He won reelection to that office by a huge margin and was endorsed by many Texas Democrats when he ran for US President.

Palin obviously was far less experienced when selected for the VP slot, but she still had more experience than Obama.

Posted by Sterling | Report as abusive


By race games, lets put it bluntly, what you actually mean is he is “Being president while black.” There is nothing he could do to stop your accusation of “race games” because it isn’t him who is playing them – its you.

He could dress in a “scary ghost” costume and publically burn crosses on his own lawn for America hiring a black man as president and you would still accuse him of being anti-white.

Why? Because how he actually acts is irrelevant to racists like you. That he is successful instantly makes him “anti-white” to you, because you are a loser and you despise the fact that someone who you were raised to think of as being inferior actually got further in life than you did.

And lets face it, with the accusation that Obama’s healthcare plan means someone from government can “deny you healthcare” what the heck do you think is happening now dumbass?

There are people out there paying insurance who are finding due to so-called “pre-existing conditions” they aren’t actually insured – and good luck to them ever getting their money back.

Health care costs made up about 50% of the US’s bankruptcy procedings prior to the start of the current economic meltdown – the health insurance “industry” (Or more like organised crime racket, complete with a dubious concept of the value of human life) and America’s health care costs are the highest in the world – while ranking just above Cuba in terms of how good the service actually is, and it still doesn’t cover as many people.

The current system isn’t just broken it is cancerous.

Posted by Bruce Gorton | Report as abusive


“I’m a little surprised any Obama supporter would want to challenge the ‘anti-white’ tag, actually.”

Wait, so Obama, who is half-white, is anti-half himself?

The hilarity of the brainwashed fascists never ceases to amaze…

Posted by sigh | Report as abusive


“I think Stein is very perceptive and has a long record of being right about a lot of things.”

Such as the economy being “very strong” right before the global collapse?


Posted by sigh | Report as abusive