Sunday, March 2, 2003
Who is Ben Stein? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?
He walked onto the stage at Miami University like a guy looking for his gate at the airport. He carried a black satchel like a lawyer on his way to court and looked like the eccentric-but-lovable professor everyone had in college.
Meet Ben Stein - actor, writer, game-show host, talent judge and Republican Party animal in Hollywood.
Maybe it was the outfit that made everyone smile: conservative, dark-blue suit with a pink shirt and bright blue polka-dot tie, over gray mall-walker sneakers.
"They're comfortable,'' he explained, as if it were as obvious as a knock-knock joke. Eccentric but loveable.
That also described his message to 750 students in a packed auditorium Monday night.
Jerry Springer, eat your heart out. A week before, the Hugh Hefner of sleaze TV couldn't draw flies to a dump. Only 300 showed up at MU, and a third of them walked out early on Springer.
Like Springer, Stein is a TV star, pundit and political activist. But he is the polar opposite - and the turnout for him was a compliment to Miami students' good taste.
Stein told a few jokes, and then he delivered a lecture from Life Experience 101.
"The world owes you a living and a damn good one at that,'' he told the students. "Whatever happens, it's not your fault.''
He was reading from his book, How to Ruin Your Life, which he said was "inspired by a man I used to work for in the White House, who ruined his life.'' Richard Nixon.
The facetious lessons included:
Don't work. Use drugs and alcohol freely. Treat people like dirt. And always remember, "Your feelings are the only ones that matter.''
Then he played the flip side, and shared his secrets of a happy life:
Hard work. Integrity. Know that everyone makes mistakes and get off your own back. And live your life with gratitude, "especially for the people who fought to keep us free.''
Judging by recent student complaints about the liberal Miami faculty, that's something they don't often hear in class. Maybe Stein was a small antidote to the left-handed indoctrination that dominates campuses - the liberal philosophy that Stein described as "whining and b------- about everything.''
"That is total nonsense,'' he said. "America is God's gift to humanity.''
There were no jeers or boos, no snickering hecklers. It is Stein's gift to present his beliefs in a graceful and lovable way. They don't sound eccentric - just true, like the wisdom of Ben Franklin.
In a way, Stein is a modern Renaissance-man Franklin.
He's an economist who writes op-eds for the Wall Street Journal; a lawyer who wrote speeches for Nixon; a game-show host on Win Ben Stein's Money; a talent judge on Star Search; a prolific author and entertaining speaker. He can switch gears easily from "what about North Korea?'' to reciting his famous lines from Ferris Bueller`s Day Off: "Anyone? Anyone?''
"I'm not sure there's anyone who's had a more varied career,'' he said.
At the end, he left the students with something more important than any of that.
"Be good to those you love,'' he told them. "Be good to your parents. Each unit of attention you give them is worth 100 times as much to them.''
He described the "redemptive act'' of devoting time to his parents before they died. "We all have opportunities for greatness in our own little sphere of influence.''
Maybe that explains why Ben Stein's sphere of influence is a lot bigger than, say, Jerry Springer's.
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