Going from Boring to Riveting with Ben Stein

Ben Stein plays roles where he is boring, but he actually is skilled at making news with strong statements such as his call over the weekend for Donald Trump and his dirty jokes to drop out of the 2016 presidential race.

Ben Stein plays roles where he is boring, but he actually is skilled at making news with strong statements such as his call over the weekend for Donald Trump and his dirty jokes to drop out of the 2016 presidential race.

Ben Stein has made a career in Hollywood acting dull. On Sunday he showed how to go from boring to riveting.

Celebrated for his droning roll call in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stein is actually an accomplished writer and speaker. He is also well known as a Republican speechwriter and apologist who in 2005 famously defended Richard Nixon for lying about the Watergate break-in so he "could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going.”

In 2016, Stein has endorsed GOP nominee Donald Trump. That ended Sunday after disclosure of a tape in which Trump coarsely boasted about his star-status sexual advances on women. “I don’t want someone who talks like a dirty-minded eighth grader leading the greatest party on earth,” Stein said in a op-ed that aired on CBS Sunday Morning.

Stein implored Trump “to do the right thing” and drop out of the presidential race. “Take your boast and your swindles and your dirty jokes and your jet and go back home,” he said. “Let your great party try to save itself and the nation.”

“I disagreed with Trump on many things, but I stood up for him on TV and in print because he was a force for change, and he was not afraid to be non-PC,” Stein said. “But this latest is too much.”

“He now says that Bill Clinton has said much the same and worse. So what?” he continued. “I wouldn’t want Bill Clinton to be leading the Republican Party either!” As Stein himself noted, he has been a political conservative in Hollywood for 40 years “and it’s cost me plenty. No matter. Loyalty is sacred to me.”

Stein studied economics as an undergraduate, took his law degree from Yale and has practiced or taught law in areas such as poverty, consumer protection and libel. He isn’t fully out of character when he portrays the monotonous professor in movies or in TV commercials. In Dave, a movie starring Kevin Klein about two scheming presidential advisers who substitute a body double for the president when he suffers a stroke, Stein more or less played himself.

But as boring as he might be, Stein has mastered the art of putting spunk into his words. You remember what he says whether it’s about politics, patriotism or Trump. Here are three takeaways on how Stein goes from boring to riveting:

  • Stein uses simple language, familiar phrases and short sentences to make his point. He doesn’t try to overwhelm with his intellect or knowledge. He infuses power into what he says by making his point forcefully and without equivocation. He provides just enough detail to create meaningful context for his argument.
  • Stein fearlessly jumps into controversial issues. He waded into the debate over financial shenanigans that led to a global economic meltdown and the Great Recession. He defended former Senator Larry Craig after he was cited for allegedly soliciting in a men’s restroom at an airport. He teaches classes in creationism. He urged a tax increase on wealthy individuals. Not outrageous or over the top, Stein is certainly no wallflower. If he believes in something strongly or passionately, he talks about it.
  • Stein recognizes an opportunity to voice his views when an opportunity presents itself to make news. He puts himself out there in print, TV and online. He has the confidence to speak his mind and the discipline to express himself in ways that stick in people’s minds. The actor who once gave an improvised economics lecture about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act also wrote a New York Times op-ed criticizing Wall Street for being more interested in making money than fighting terrorism.

The next time you hear Stein being boring, remember he is acting. He knows how to be riveting.