Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Hollywood Vows to Keep Up Its Leftism

Bad News for Democrats
Hollywood activists vow to keep it up
Tuesday, November 9, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

In the wake of the unexpectedly emphatic Bush victory, Democrats got bad
news from Hollywood. Instead of announcing plans to immigrate to France or
Canada, the leading entertainment industry activists solemnly pledged to
intensify their already impassioned commitment to partisan politics--thereby
greatly complicating Democrats' efforts to shed their elitist image and
reconnect with the American mainstream.
Consider the example of John Cameron Mitchell, flamboyant creator of the
critically acclaimed transsexual musical comedy "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
He traveled to Ohio to get out the vote for John Kerry and refused to feel
discouraged by the disappointing results. "Ultimately, after a period of
depression yesterday, today I feel even more energized!" he proudly told the
New York Times.
Similarly, Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss saw no chance that
Tinseltown campaigners would allow an inconvenient setback like a GOP
victory to cool their ardor for remaking America. In an election-eve
interview on my radio show, Mr. Dreyfuss noted the powerful momentum behind
Mr. Kerry's candidacy and promised that in the unlikely event of a Bush
triumph, the energy would continue to build, leading, inexorably, to the
impeachment of the president.
Michael Moore himself, spiritual leader of pop-culture politicos, composed a
pep talk to his followers under the cheery headline "17 Reasons Not to Slit
Your Wrists." In addition to making predictions that President Bush would
slack off in the second term ("It'll be like everyone's last month in 12th
grade--you've already made it, so it's party time!"), he reminded the
faithful that they had nearly achieved the impossible and shouldn't "stop on
the three yard line."
Despite such confident exhortations, there's scant evidence that the
unprecedented participation of scores of A-list celebrities helped Mr. Kerry
march toward victory. Paul Newman surprised suburban homeowners by walking
precincts in Ohio, and Sean Penn no doubt alarmed voters by going door to
door in New Mexico, but both states wound up in the Republican column.
Despite tireless, all-but-unanimous support for Mr. Kerry from the
show-business elite (Bruce Springsteen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand
and the well-known political theorist Ben Affleck), Mr. Bush actually
improved his electoral performance in 45 of 50 states and even narrowed his
margin of defeat in California.
The relentless "Vote or Die!" jihad of P-Diddy proved no more successful
than amiable enticements by Drew Barrymore in "rocking the vote" with a
tidal wave of new participants at the polls: The 18-to-29 contingent
represented approximately the same percentage of total participation as it
did in 2000.
In fact, the celebrity campaigners who flocked to the Kerry cause presented
a painful dilemma for the Massachusetts senator: With his billionaire wife,
windsurfing hobby and vacation homes in Sun Valley and Nantucket, he hardly
needed further association with "the beautiful people" to emphasize his
distance from everyday Americans.
At a controversial July fund-raiser in Radio City Music Hall, entertainers
like Whoopi Goldberg, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep and John Leguizamo
delivered bitter, often obscene tirades against the president, after which
Sen. Kerry proudly declared that "every performer tonight . . . conveyed to
you the heart and soul of our country." Mr. Bush promptly (and deftly)
turned that comment against his opponent, noting at frequent campaign stops
(and even in his acceptance speech) that Mr. Kerry thought that you can find
"the heart and soul of America in Hollywood, but I know it is really found
right here in (fill in the blank)."
As Election Day approached, celebrity activists had aroused enough
resentment that they even turned up as sanctimonious villains in the
counterterrorism spoof "Team America: World Police." Puppets representing
Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Samuel L. Jackson and Matt Damon allied
themselves with the puppet version of the diabolical Kim Jong Il, and
suffered decapitation, evisceration and other gruesome fates on
screen--while audiences reportedly roared their approval in multiplexes
across the country.
Despite their popularity as entertainers, these performers maintain at best
a love-hate relationship with the general public (and feed innumerable
tabloids with lurid tales of their personal problems), so their endorsements
of candidates mean almost nothing. Moreover, movies long ago ceased
functioning as a unifying celebration of populist values and now serve a
primarily youthful niche market. Even box-office blockbusters typically draw
only seven million or eight million people on their opening weekends--less
than half the number who listen to Rush Limbaugh in any given week.
If Democrats intend to compete for support in "fly-over country," generating
fresh appeal to hardworking, religiously committed red-state voters who shop
at Wal-Mart without guilt, they must escape their identification as the
party of Beverly Hills dilettantes and self-righteous celebrities. This
means learning to live without Hollywood money, and focusing less obsessive
attention on fighting Ralph Nader (or other radical leaders) for a handful
of high-profile endorsements on the marginal left.
A future standard-bearer might even strengthen his appeal if fashionable
former Naderites like Ms. Sarandon, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins and Peter
Coyote once again abandoned practical politics and embraced a chic, purist
fringe party, leaving the Democrats to compete for the decidedly unglamorous
voters who can actually elect a president of the United States.

Mr. Medved, author of "Right Turns," due from Crown Forum in January 2005,
hosts a nationally syndicated daily radio talk show.