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by Tumbleweed Smith

When I think of eloquent speakers I think of Churchill and Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. My favorite speaker today is Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister. His speech after 9-11-01 is a pattern for all speakers to follow. The other day he gave a speech that resulted in a twenty minute standing ovation. He could hardly leave the room because everybody wanted to shake his hand.

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Ben Stein, a truly outstanding speaker. He spoke at Midland College as part of a distinguished lecture series. When he walked onto the stage, the audience applauded and laughed. Everyone could see he was dressed in a suit and wearing tennis shoes. That set the stage for an enjoyable evening.

Ben Stein was valedictorian of his Yale Law School class of 1970. He is an economist, actor, journalist and teacher. His TV quiz show, Win Ben Stein's Money, has won six Emmys. His appearance in the movie, Ferris Beuller's Day Off elevated him to near-cult status. His columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and he occasionally is a commentator on the CBS Sunday Morning program. He appears in TV commercials.

The title of his speech was 'Free at Last. What's Right With America.' Ben knew his audience. He made everyone in the audience feel special. He told us how smart we were to be living in West Texas. He talked about small town conveniences and friendliness. He told us about his houses in Los Angeles, New York and Washington and how the people in those big cities were just crazy. He told us he was glad to be out here with some real people who were not crazy. He saw peace of mind on our faces.

Ben mentioned the fact that our area has few trees. But then he said, 'Out here, the people are trees. They give shade and comfort.'

Ben had a script and followed it. He read most of his speech but we didn't really notice it because he was familiar enough with the material that he maintained good eye contact. Occasionally he would leave his prepared remarks to tell a story. He told us about the division of political parties, that he had never seen so much polarization. He mentioned the hate that he hears from party loyalists. He spoke of heroes and mentioned the names of some people in the news who are not heroes but seem to get plenty of exposure on TV. He told us movie stars who criticize our country and its leaders are not heroes. Heroes are fighting men and women who are in Iraq and Afghanistan. He reinforced our feelings about American values.

He spoke for fifty minutes and was interrupted by applause a dozen times. He lived up to his reputation of being a humorous economist and law professor, something that can be said of very few people.

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