Last night, the University of Massachusetts was given a jolt of star power, as the UMass Republican Club hosted author, actor and commentator Ben Stein, who spoke at the Lincoln Campus Center.
The lecture focused on issues affecting the future of the United States. After an introduction by the joint leaders of the UMass, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College Republican clubs, Stein greeted the assembly and jumped into a discussion of the U.S.’s economic situation.
Detailing the problems of unemployment, single parenthood and income disparity, Stein used economics as a backdrop to discuss government and education. According to Stein, government has a responsibility to protect the country from financial ruin, something that has been done only haphazardly in the past.
“My goal is to stimulate thought about the state of the nation and the economy,” said Stein.
One topic that was discussed repeatedly was the U.S.’s relationship with China. Stein made the distinction that country became an economic powerhouse only after adopting free market principles, and asked questions about the shared future of the two world powers.
Stein criticized the classical Keynesian model of stimulating the economy by increasing government spending, saying that it had “failed during the Great Depression” and should not have been employed in the stimulus package endorsed by President Barack Obama in 2009. Also under fire by Stein was the method of cutting taxes to increase spending by the populace.
Another major topic of the evening was the national education system, which Stein views as being in dire straits. Of particular concern to Stein was schools’ focus on improving students’ self-esteem, rather than providing them with a solid educational foundation.
When told by a student that the national level of college loan debt had exceeded $826 billion, Stein replied jokingly, “Well you’re all really f**ked, then.”
A far cry from the drab monotone that he is known for in TV and film, Stein kept the audience engaged throughout the event. Grim societal commentary was broken up with stories of his family, friends and TV experiences. These stories got frequent laughs from the assembly, and also served to further his points about the state of the nation.
“We chose [Mr. Stein] as a speaker given the timeliness of his topic, relevance to students and wide recognition as a prominent actor, commentator, novelist, etc.” said UMRC president Justin Thompson in a recent email interview.
While previous speakers invited by the Republican Club have been met with harsh protest from the primarily liberal campus community, Stein received a warm welcome from the over 400 in attendance.
A majority of the questions asked at the end of the lecture were chiefly respectful in nature. Two students did attempt to confront the speaker about his more controversial views, but Stein dismissed the questions and said they were poorly thought out. The students received little support from the audience.
Known by many for his work in film as well as his Comedy Central game show “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” Stein is also noteworthy for his involvement in many fields of academia and government. Over the years he has worked as a lawyer, professor, presidential speechwriter, author and journalist.
“I’m all of those things,” said Stein in a post-lecture interview, when asked how he defines his career. “I want to be a communicator. I want to make people laugh, laughing is good for you.”
Andrew Sheridan can be reached at [email protected]