For reasons unclear to anyone but the editors of the Guardian, that newspaper sought the opinion of actor, game show host, and “conservative intellectual” (*snrk!!*) Ben Stein on the 2016 presidential election. We’re guessing somebody lost an especially humiliating bet.
Stein characterized the 2016 campaign as “an extremely strange year,” said he finds Donald Trump’s anti-free-trade rhetoric appalling, thinks Bernie Sanders is “willfully ignorant,” and believes Hillary Clinton has a fairly solid grasp of economics. And yet, if you didn’t read our headline right up there, you will be astonished to learn he plans to vote for the guy he says doesn’t know “a goddamn thing about economics.”
The Guardian asked Stein a whole lot of questions, as if he were anything but a skin-covered set of policy outlines from the Cato Institute. Someone standing behind Stein’s chair hit “play,” and he said things like this:
conservatives’ favorite lies about taxes:
When I hear Mr Trump or Mrs Clinton or Mr Sanders talk about how they are going to stop free trade and in some way block America from being part of the world trading system, it makes my blood run cold. That’s a terrible, terrible prospect.
Second, it is very clear, extremely clear, that additional regulation on the economy at this point would be a burden on growth and whichever candidate imposes the most regulation is going to get the least growth.
In terms of tax policy, all of them say they are going to cut taxes on the poor, but that’s a fake because the American poor already pay no taxes. Approximately 50% of American wage earners don’t pay any tax already, so that’s a fake.
Let’s tear that one apart one more time, since it’s a lie every single time: About 47% of Americans pay no income tax, and a large part of that is because they receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, which means they make very little money to begin with. As we have noted before:
The right likes to pretend that income tax is the only kind of tax in the world, because then it’s a lot easier to pretend that poor people pay no taxes at all. In reality, as a terrific piece at Vox reminded us, most Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes — yes, even those 47% slackers! And of course, middle- and lower-income people pay a hell of a lot more in state and local taxes, which conveniently enough are higher for the poor than for the rich. Imagine that.
Ben Stein is either deliberately lying or he’s just fucking lazy, is what we’re getting at here. Fine, he has moments of lucidity, like when he says “Mr Trump says he can both reduce taxes and reduce the deficit. That’s complete nonsense.” Stein doesn’t mention that it was also nonsense when it was Ronald Reagan’s entire economic program, but it’s nice to see he’s come around.
Stein doesn’t think Trump’s an especially good businessman, either:
He is not a great businessman. He inherited a great deal of money. He did some successful real estate deals. Hardly anyone could miss doing successful real estate deals in New York considering the incredible boom that has taken place and the very low base point when he started out. He is not a great businessman at all — in no way.
He does acknowledge that “everyone I know says he is an incredibly nice guy,” which probably says more about the company Ben Stein keeps than about Donald Trump. He thinks Trump would be terrible on trade, that Trump might tank the economy, that Trump’s promise to bring back all the jobs from China is naïve, and that he’s simply dumbfounded Trump has become the nominee of the Republican Party:
I am absolutely … I am open-mouthed, gasping, unbelievable. But he has his charms. There must be something people like about him. I don’t get him but there must be something people like.
And of course, Ben Stein intends to vote for Donald Trump, because Ben Stein is a bloviating attention whore who seems to enjoy wallowing in his own cognitive dissonance:
I don’t think Trump knows a goddamn thing about economics. But I like him anyway, I might add. I think Mrs Clinton knows something about it. She is an intelligent woman, she went to Wellesley. She was a classmate of mine at Yale law school and I hope we learned something while we were there.
Nonetheless, Stein will be pulling the lever for Donald Trump (even if it’s a punch-card ballot — he’s just that much of a traditionalist). Perhaps he’s contractually obligated to do so after Trump was the last player standing on Win Ben Stein’s Grudging Endorsement.