“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.”  – Ben Stein, The American Spectator

Guten Tag Ben!

It’s probably as big a surprise to you as it is to me that I’m writing, but I just had to give you a little shout out, or, as we said in my day, Sieg Heil!

Turning the tables on those unemployed bums and blaming them for their own plight was brilliant! (Although I must remind you that I perfected that technique!)

One job for every five people doesn’t mean the four out of work aren’t just lazy bums, and definitely not team players! We had the same problem back in my day! First we made sure no one would hire our little sub-humans then we blamed them for their laziness! Brilliant again!

The next step is to criminalize the victims and turn everyone against them, which is easier than it sounds (believe me, I know!) You’ve made some great contributions toward this already, Herr Stein!

If I might be so bold as to offer some suggestions based on our success in this field, how about a cute little symbol for their jackets? The yellow star was actually quite a fashion accessory and it sure made it easy for us to spot the bums.

Maybe you could have little green money symbols? Makes it easier to see who gets on the train. Speaking of trains, your transportation system is a wreck! We sure had some efficiency back in our day but don’t let that stop you. Your propaganda machine is the envy of the world and I’m sure you can build your class warfare into a great system of repression for these unemployed parasites. A little labor camp can get the work ethic in gear and your unemployment rates will be lower than ever!

Anyway, thanks a ton Ben! You’ve really helped redeem my reputation. By the way, do you mind friending me on facebook? I’m going for six million friends! HA HA! That’s just a joke Ben! No, seriously…..

Your BFF,

Joseph Goebbels

Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.

  1. Billy, a perfect sendup of aguy who’s made a lot of money doing very little! Who will come to his defense? Anyone? Buelller?

  2. Ben Stein as a Nazi? Doesn’t anyone else find this offensive?

    1. Billy Howard

      I struggled over the decision to make this analogy, albeit satirically, but decided that the true offense was Ben Stein’s decision to blame people already victimized and weakened for their own plight. The analogy to a regime that made a machine out of creating a system that weakened a particular segment of their society and then blamed them for that weakness was my point. This is what Ben Stein did in his statements, which I, along with many others, found offensive.

      And while I do not mean to trivialize the Holocaust, I do believe the only way to learn lessons from the past is to use the lessons from the past to understand the present.

      I am constantly trying to understand the impact of words and if I have gone over the line with this post, I apologize to any offended. I will try to listen to those responses and learn from them, as I hopefully have from yours.

      1. I don’t feel you struggled enough on whether you trivialized the holocaust. You did trivialize it.

        1. Billy Howard

          To clarify my thinking: I believe the Holocaust as well as most other genocides and ruthless authoritarian rule, start with a machinery of propaganda that turns victims into villains, dehumanizing them, which allows the majority to watch their abuse without raising to their defense. They are, in effect, less than human so why should we care.
          The buildup to this kind of thinking starts small, with people on the fringes creating an atmosphere of permissibility to scapegoat segments of the population. This is what Ben Stein, in my opinion, has done.

          While I think the ultimate horrors of the Holocaust are unlikely on our shores, the ratcheted up nationalism in our politics and the rush to gun ownership is worth pondering. Hitler was not the first nor the last of his kind: witness Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan. Shutting down political satire because some events in history may be too sacred is an argument worth having and I am listening for a meaningful argument.

          1. Billy,
            A brave stance and a finely sharpened dart.

            Your satire brought to mind this quote:

            “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
            Edmund Burke


    2. Lee Leslie

      Ben Stein has a long public history of making racist and fascist statements (could have included homophobic and misogynistic). Combine the two and you have the two primary tenets of Nazism. Granted, he does not seem to be an anti-semitic, substituting over religions and races. Offensive? Sure. Ben Stein should either keep his mouth shut or not be quoted.

  3. Well written Billy!
    What I find offensive is Stein’s statement. Maybe he should review the concept of Rachmones.

  4. Blaming the victim goes way back–all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Eve was at fault for believing the snake. People exploiting other people is perhaps not quite as ancient. Nevertheless, the current example is about as low as it gets.

  5. Will Cantrell

    Good piece Billy, as usual. One of the hidden —but very real and very frightening —tragedies of the recession is that Ben Stein’s opinion seems to represent a statistically significant portion of the population. These are the same people who have been unscathed by the recession —-or at least “less scathed” —-who seem to feel that their success/survival is due ENTIRELY to their own hard work, their own good decisions, and their own ‘good Christian” lifestyle. Their attitude is that “…if you laid off, down sized, right sized, foreclosed up people had all been leading perfect lives like me and mine, you’d have made it out alive too.”

    While I take NOTHING away from their efforts, the reality is that some of us have survived by merely the luck of the draw. Will

  6. In the last few decades it has become fashionable to blame economic victims for their plight.

    These same social currents are feeding a frightening movement of propaganda & misinformation designed to inflame fears, polarize and vilify certain groups – poor people, smart people, gay people, moderate Republicans, and often (in thinly veiled language) African Americans and Hispanics – or at least those who chose to promote the causes of social equalities rather than joining the Reagan/Bush-onomics of deregulation-until-a-catatrophe-happens, from the collapse of the banking industry to gargantuan oil spills — an economic agenda created to give a pass for the biggest fish to gobble up everybody else. Which, as it turns out, is why people are out of work and victimized today – the little guys always end up paying for the foolish arrogance of the big guys. America in the last decades seems to be one of the only societies in modern history where those caught in the lower economic circles actively embrace and cheer on those at the highest levels who keep them suppressed! Power-mongers squash common sense and replace it with blaming victims and promoting irrational fears — EXACTLY the same game the Nazi’s played so effectively – so Billy is just calling it like it is – and woe to us if we are too afraid to hear it – I like the Edmund Burke quote. — Kathryn

    Also – the Nazi’s did lose in the end – and the Khmer Rouge lost in the end, and the Serbian militias, and Al- Kaeda will lose sooner or later, the leaders of both American and South African apartheid societies eventually lost and all the power-mongering bad guys eventually lose, and the Bush/Cheney admin. will be remembered as a “loser” presidency – but so much is destroyed in the process of waging these losing wars and agendas – could we like, maybe learn from history? — and like, not have to go thru all that pain repeatedly? — and like, learn to recognize when social currents are shifting in a downspiral direction and learn to nip these things “in the bud” so to speak? Billy – you go!

  7. Cliff Green

    Folks, you’re going to too much trouble to try and explain this. Ben Stein was a speech writer for Richard M. Nixon. He’s simply re-working one of the right’s hackneyed themes. That’s all.

  8. Jim Fitzgerald

    Billy, I find it interesting that the people offended by your satire did nothing to ‘refudiate’ Ben. One suspects they agree with him, hence their offense.

    1. This one suspects you are wrong! Comparing Ben’s comments to the Holocaust was over the top. Has nothing to do with whether I agree with Ben or not. Some good and bad employees have lost their jobs in this economy. I do suspect that an employer would let go the lest productive go first, and they will more than likely not be hired back by that employer when the economy improves.

      1. Billy Howard

        I have continued to struggle with the questions raised by this post and have looked further into Ben Stein’s rhetoric, finding this choice quote before the Democratic National Convention: “Seventy-five-thousand people at an outdoor sports palace, well, that’s something the Fuehrer would have done. And I think whoever is advising Senator Obama to do this is bringing up all kinds of very unfortunate images from the past.”
        The Democrats hold their convention outdoors instead of indoors and Ben Stein equates this with Hitler?!
        Thus, Mr. Stein brought Nazi’s into the conversation already. Quite frankly, based on other extremely disturbing things out of his mouth, I struggled more with the issue than needed.
        And, out of my own masochistic sense of curiosity, are you as offended by Mr. Stein’s statement as you seem to be of mine? Just asking.

        1. I do not agree with Ben’s statements. but I am not offended by them. A lot of good people lost or are losing their jobs. That being said, I do not agree with your parody of his statements. You could have picked someone other than Joesph Goebbels and the trivialization of the murder of 6,000,000 people by comparing them to remarks about job lost. There is just no way they can or should be compared. You are better that that.

  9. Terri Evans

    As compelling as the original story, your comments and defense are solid and believable. Of course, I happen to know that you have a big and compassionate heart.

  10. There was no trivializing of the Holocaust in this magnificent piece and Ben Stein’s own words were the true offense. His limited vision and hostile arrogance were the door-openers to rebuttal and it could have been much more vitriolic in less sensitive hands. This is just the latest example of the scope of Billy’s creative genius and empathetic sensibility. I wish it were available for everyone in the country to read. Thank you, Billy.

    1. I disagree. It did trivialize the holocaust. The systematic murder of 6,000,000 people engineered by Joesph Goebbels and his ilk, cannot be compared to the lost of jobs. Comparison to the systematic murder by Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot against there own population or the Armenian massacre by the Turks or the Serbian massacre of the Croats, OK. The comparison was over the top, and not worthy of the author. He could have picked a Joseph McCarthy or someone of that ilk for a better parody and more appropriate.

      1. Billy Howard

        And I am still curious as to your view of Ben Stein comparing the Democratic National Convention to something “the Fuehrer would done” thus bringing Nazi’s into the conversation long before I did. Just to be blunt: he compared the Democratic convention to a Nazi rally…..And, it was not a comparison to loss of jobs but to dehumanizing those people who have lost their jobs. The dehumanization of people deemed weak was a Nazi specialty.
        And by the way, thank you Billie for the incredible compliment.

        1. It was over the top and should not have been compared to the Nazi gatherings.

          1. Billy Howard

            And yet it was, which, along with other equally odious statements from Stein opened the door for his own rebuke. I do appreciate that you view each statement as inappropriate, escaping the hypocrisy found in too much of the blame mongering between both sides.

  11. I’m always amused that Ben Stein is tagged “economist” whenever his talking head appears these days (he’s a lawyer). I’m expecially amused by the American Spectator comment as no economist has ever offered “poor personalities” as an explanation for unemployment. There is Cyclical Unemployment, Structural Unemployment, Frictional Unemployment, and labor market wage rigidities, but…Personality Defect Unemployment?

  12. Billy Howard

    Excellent point, as an example of his economic prowess, here is his statement in 2007 leading up to the sub-prime crisis: “You can panic if you enjoy being panicky. But this will all blow over and the people who buy now, in due time, will be glad they did. ” His prescient analysis: the economy was robust: invest, invest, invest!

    If by “due time” he means the next millennium, then perhaps he was right, but I pity anyone who actually paid attention to him!

  13. Dear Del Olds:
    I respect your point of view and surmise that you carry even more angst than most in this regard, or otherwise I think you would understand that Billy’s piece was anti-Nazi as much as or more than anti-Stein. If I were Jewish, I believe I would feel the same. At 11 years of age, I stood in the shadows of Dachau and shuddered to see lampshades made of human flesh. Only someone horrified by the atrocities of Hitler Inc. could make the parallel that Billy did.
    At any rate, my heart goes out to you in your pain.

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