CNN BREAKING NEWS
Interview with Ben Stein
Aired December 6, 2002 - 10:49 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: There's been a lot of debate about the state of America today, and now author and actor Ben Stein is weighing in. He's written a book "How to Ruin Your Life," and now Stein is talking about how to ruin America. He joins us now from our New York bureau to talk about whatever may be on his mind this morning.
But hey, Ben, good to see you again.
BEN STEIN, AUTHOR, "HOW TO RUIN YOUR LIFE": Nice to see you.
HARRIS: We've got to first talk about this news coming out of Washington, about Paul O'Neill, Treasury secretary, resigning. I know you follow the markets quite closely yourself, and you've been in the corridors of government in your past as well. I want to know what you think about this news coming out.
STEIN: Well, I actually worked quite closely with Paul O'Neill in 1973-74, when I was working -- sorry -- for Mr. Nixon.
Someone just walked by with some perfume that's making me sick. I worked with Mr. O'Neill when I was working for Mr. Nixon -- I'm reaching for some soda now, and he's a brilliant, brilliant man, but a bit eccentric. But very, very smart. But there's plenty of good talent out there to replace him.
Martin Feldstein, genius economist, actually George Shultz is getting elderly, but he's still very, very smart and very, very capable. If Mr. Bush wanted to reach to the Democratic side of the aisle, Charles Shultz (sic), who is not young, but is still very, very capable is out there.
O'Neill is a genius, but a bit wacky.
HARRIS: I'll let you get a sip of water here. I'm surprised to hear you say George Shultz. I didn't know that he had an economics or financial background.
STEIN: George Shultz -- all right, I'm going to have to clear my throat. Somebody walked by here and made me cough. Now it's OK. George Shultz was head -- dean of the University of Chicago School of Business. He is a genius economist, especially about labor economics. He was a brilliant secretary of the Treasury under Mr. Nixon and Mr. Ford. He's a genius, genius guy.
HARRIS: Now, I read your little book. I have to admit I got a good kick out of reading "How to Ruin Your Life."
STEIN: I try to make your life a little funnier.
HARRIS: Well, you did a great job and I appreciate that. And the thing is, I have to admit, there were quite a few pages in there that reminded me of people in my own family.
STEIN: Yes, the best one of all is, Don't be grateful to anyone at any time, and also, have a romantic relationship with someone you really, really don't like very much, and believe you can change them.
HARRIS: But you know what? When you talk about things like that, do you see any way that perhaps Paul O'Neill and his conduct in office, any of those traits that you mentioned in that book, that he may have exhibited?
STEIN: There's one that I believe says, Say anything that comes into your mind, anytime, and don't feel you have to measure your words.
I think Paul O'Neill had the unfortunate habit of just saying anything that came into his little head. He is terribly, terribly, terribly smart, though. No one should underestimate how smart he is. He's just a little tiny bit eccentric. But honestly, there is -- Martin Feldstein, I would beg Mr. Bush to get him down there. He's solid, he's intelligent, he's a genius guy, he's not going to have anything put over on him by anybody. An amazingly intelligent, capable guy who should be in government service.
HARRIS: What do you have to say, then, about him staying in the position this long, and then see how long it took Harvey Pitt to also be forced...
STEIN: Well, Harvey Pitt -- wait -- Harvey Pitt is a whole different story.
HARRIS: Yes, but it is all the same economic team.
STEIN: No, it isn't -- it isn't, really. Harvey Pitt has never been thought of as being particularly capable. He's just a tremendous self-promoter. He's a guy who toots his own horn all the time. Nobody ever thought he was very smart. Paul O'Neill is a genius who just happens to say, sometimes, things a little too frank for the public consumption or political consumption.
Larry Lindsey, an authentic genius, a wonderful, wonderful guy. I'm not sure why they got rid of him. He's a wonderful, wonderful guy. But Harvey Pitt and Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey do not go together. Harvey Pitt is a salesman for Harvey Pitt. Paul O'Neill is a great guy, Larry Lindsey is a solid academic. Don't compare a solid academic with a salesman.
HARRIS: Interesting. Interesting. Well, sorry we've got to move on. That's all the time we've got this morning...
STEIN: I appreciate it.
HARRIS: Never got a chance to talk about your plan to ruin America.
STEIN: Oh, well. Mostly let the trial lawyers take over. That's the long and short of it.
HARRIS: Yes, I've heard that one before too. Ben Stein, thanks for coming back. Appreciate it.
STEIN: Thank you.
HARRIS: Take care, good to see you.
STEIN: Thank you.
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