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Comedian transcends politics, humor in discourse honoring U.S. troops

Some came to hear author and comedian Ben Stein talk Thursday evening in the nearly full Montante Center at Canisius College because they love his humor.

And some came to this appearance sponsored by the Canisius College Republicans and the conservative Young America's Foundation because they love his politics.

In the end, he dazzled them all with a breakneck discourse titled "Honoring America's Soldiers" that transcended laughter and partisanship as it celebrated the blessings of freedom, the giant steps of social and economic progress and the heroism of those who protect our way of life.

After a few jokes, he got to his point by noting how the Oscar presentations celebrated films that stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy ("Good Night and Good Luck") -- "who's been dead for 50 years" -- and greedy oil companies ("Syriana"), but said nothing about Islamic terrorists or the American servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I don't consider an actor a star if he's paid $20 million and grimaces in front of the camera and has a stunt man stand in for him," Stein said.

"They may be fine actors, but they're not role models. The real stars are wearing body armor in 130-degree heat . . . They're getting shot at and they don't have any stunt doubles standing in for them."

Stein also paid tribute to some of his other heroes -- the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ("If he came back today, what could he possibly think but 'Free at last, free at last, the dream came true' "), President Ronald Reagan ("He had a vision that freedom would be victorious and it carried the day") and the local auto workers ("I drive only good General Motors products with good General Motors Tonawanda engines in them . . . I hope you stay in business another 100 years").

Stein's fans got him down to issues in the question period, bringing up supply-side economics ("You do not get enough [economic activity] so it replaces the lost revenues"), the reintroduction of the military draft ("It's not necessary. There should be higher taxes on the most wealthy and it should be used to raise military pay") and who he likes for president in 2008.

"I remember the election of 1964, when we had really big people running, [Nelson] Rockefeller, [George] Romney, [Barry] Goldwater, people who had really big ideas," he said. "It seems to me we don't have anybody big enough for the task. I don't see anybody with the big vision. I see a bunch of maneuverers."

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com

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