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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Election season in Tinseltown

The other day a bunch of Hollywood actors showed up in Seattle to tell us whom to vote for. Actually, that’s not quite right. Their mission was, more precisely, to tell us whom not to vote for.

The role that Hollywood celebrities play in American politics is something that fascinates me. If you agree with the candidates and the issues these people promote, then you are inclined to say, good for them, more power to them. If you disagree, then you are prone to ask (quite reasonably), what qualifies this stranger to try to influence my opinion beyond the fact they are famous in a field totally unrelated to politics or public policy? The more interesting question is: Why are we (or the mass media, on our behalf) so interested in what these people have to say anyway?

It’s easy to get the impression that all actors are bleeding heart liberals. And maybe most of them are. There are a few conservatives around Hollywood, and you don’t have to go all the way back to Ronald Reagan to prove it. You have Charlton “from my cold, dead hands” Heston and Tom Selleck. And I’m pretty sure I spotted Chuck Norris at a George W. Bush rally on TV the other night.

But most famous actors do seem to be of a more liberal bent. And this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, anybody who goes for a career in the arts is obviously more interested in the quality of life than in things like money or profit. And, if such a person happens to become filthy rich and/or famous by hitting the big time, well, it’s only natural that such a person would want to use his or her wealth and/or celebrity to give something back to the world that had treated him or her so kindly. And, if you have to pick a political party that talks a lot about helping people, you couldn’t do better than the Democrats.

So it’s no surprise that the group that showed up the other day—which included the “acting president” of TV’s The West Wing, Martin Sheen, as well as Rob Reiner, Christine Lahti, Alfre Woodard and Dule Hill—should have been speaking in support of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. What was interesting to me was that, as I mentioned above, they didn’t seem to be speaking so much in favor of the Gore/Lieberman ticket as against George W. Bush. And they didn’t seem, in fact, to be as worried about Bush as they were about Ralph Nader.

To tell the truth, nothing any of them had to say stuck in my mind as much as something Tim Robbins had to say last winter when he was interviewed by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. Robbins was on the show to promote his movie, Cradle Will Rock, which was an homage to actors and artists of an earlier era who resisted censorship by the federal government. (Okay, it wasn’t so much censorship as the government declining to fund a radical musical work.) Leno tried to lure him into a political discussion, but Robbins resisted. Leno persisted, and finally Robbins allowed, “Well, I did vote for Clinton.” This surprised absolutely no one, but Leno looked totally confused (as, I suspect, did his entire audience) when his guest then added, “First time I ever voted for a Republican.” The host shook his head and moved on. (I heard Robbins repeat this comment more recently on Politically Incorrect.)

The fact is that Robbins and his better half, Susan Sarandon, have angered a lot of people in Hollywood because they are supporting Ralph Nader. And you do have to wonder why there isn’t more support for a candidate whose views and (more importantly) record on the environment and defending the consumer against large corporations seem to jive so well with what so many Hollywood actors espouse—as opposed to supporting a duo who have all but proposed censorship of the entertainment industry and are identified with an administration whose main legislative accomplishment over the past eight years has to been to throw a lot of people off welfare. The answer is: Pragmatism. Nader not only has no chance to win the election, but he could actually throw the election to Bush. And liberal Hollywood is convinced that this would be a disaster of galactic proportions. Even though George W. (despite the demonizing rhetoric on both sides) is the most moderate Republican to seek high office since, well, since his own father sold out his middle-of-the-road principles to run with Ronald Reagan.

So better to preserve the entrenched two-party system than to cast a vote based purely on principle. And, really, what’s so bad about the two-party system anyway? This time around it has given us a clear choice between candidates. On one hand, we have a politician running with a sense of entitlement that apparently stems from his father’s own illustrious political career (it probably helps that he even has his father’s name), who attended the best (i.e. private) schools but purports to tell us how to fix the public schools, who hails from a conservative southern state but isn’t above changing (or at least softening or downplaying) previous stands on issues like abortion and gun control for the sake of national electability, and who doesn’t hesitate to shamelessly scare people over even the most reasonable of his opponent’s proposals. And, on the other hand… Oops. I guess there is no other hand.

-S.L., 2 November 2000

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