Today, the Senate extended unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans. Despite the terrible shape of the economy, conservatives resisted extending unemployment insurance for weeks for Americans who can’t find work, launching a filibuster to prevent a vote on the benefits.
Writing at the American Spectator yesterday, former Nixon speechwriter and TV personality Ben Stein downplayed the suffering unemployed Americans are experiencing by writing that the people who are unemployed right now are “generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities.” He claims the unemployed are Americans with “unpleasant personalities…who do not know how to do a day’s work“:
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. To assure that a worker is not one of them, he should learn how to work and how to get along — not always easy.
Of course, saying that the 15 million Americans who are unemployed right now are “generally” people with “poor work habits” is as offensive as it is wrong. The current recession is a global phenomenon caused by the collective bad behavior of the world’s largest financial institutions. Before the recession, the unemployment rate hovered around six percent; it is ludicrious to say that millions of Americans suddenly got lazier and less able to work within the span of a few months.
Unfortunately, Stein is a widely respected voice on the American right who regularly appears on cable news to offer his thoughts on politics and policy. 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.