THE BLOG

Conservative Night at the Movies

Sep 14, 2008 | Updated May 25, 2011

Not generally considered your typical source for Showbiz news, the current Weekly Standard cover article is surprisingly a perfect fit. A ripped-from-the-headlines, behind-the-scenes exclusive of an upcoming film all about "anti-Americanism."

The Taliban, perhaps? Al Qaeda? The Axis of Evil? No, no, we're talking real anti-Americanism. And you know that can only mean one thing.

Liberals.

Yes, liberals. You know, those anti-Americans who brought us Social Security, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week. "Anti-American" stuff like that.

The movie, An American Carol, is a parody of liberals starring Kelsey Grammer and James Woods, directed and co-written by David Zucker, who made "The Naked Gun" movies and Airplane!, among others. Talented people all. I've worked with David Zucker on four films -- and he's a wonderful person. Decent, gracious and genial. I've worked briefly on two movies that James Woods starred in, and he's a seriously bright guy, a political science major from M.I.T.

The movie's plot concerns liberal opposition to the Iraq war and how an anti-American, left-wing filmmaker, 'Michael Malone,' (get it?!) is unwittingly recruited by terrorists. According to the article, there are digs at all manner of liberals throughout the movie.

Liberals are a goldmine for humor. If done wonderfully, it could be hilarious. Unfortunately, the very premise of the movie presents a pesky problem -

It's not liberals who oppose the Iraq War. It's - Americans. CNN polls show opposition to the Iraq War to be 66%-33%. A Time poll goes further: 58% believe America was wrong to even go into Iraq in the first place, compared to just 35%.

Worse, a quarter of conservative Republicans favor a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq (!), according to the Gallup Poll.

The overriding problem is that myopically suggesting that being against the Iraq War is "anti-American" is a spit-in-the-face to the two-thirds of Americans who understand why they are against it.

Ultimately, such false presumptions are the problem that flows throughout the article.

The title certainly has attention-getting bravado, "Hollywood Takes On the Left." Alas, like most posturing, it becomes defensive - awkwardly playing the victim with unsupportable platitudes.

"No one on the left wants to admit that radical Islamists want to kill Americans," states the film's Robert Davi, perhaps best-known as the villain in "License to Kill." While this sounds tough-talking, in reality it would be stunning if Mr. Davi can name even a dozen people who actually think this. C'mon, 12 people shouldn't be so hard -- he says that "no one" does. From tens of millions, 12 is a piece of cake.

Certainly this is bombast, but that's no substitute for accuracy. Moreover, it's bombast of the worst kind: a deliberately-misleading fabrication to demonize. This is not acceptable at any time. It is most especially not acceptable, however, when hoping to offer serious political comment.

Certainly, political differences are fair game. But as Daniel Moynihan stated: "You are entitled to your opinions. But you are not entitled to your own facts." What's problematic in the article is the reckless use of such unsupported opinions as facts.

For example, the article notes, "Zucker says that one of the major differences between the left and the right in America today is that leftists think of their political opponents as evil."

Such simplicity may sound comforting to those who need to believe, but they contradict the very premise of this movie, that liberals supposedly don't see others as evil and threats. More importantly, however, it conveniently ignores that it was the right which coined and embraced the phrase -- The Axis of Evil.

Admirably, those interviewed are passionate in their beliefs. The author notes a wide range of political topics vigorously discussed among cast and crews. By comparison, on most movie sets, conversations tend to center on meal penalty, women and overtime.

Unfortunately, the only substantive comment quoted is yet another complaint, that "the rich in this country are being criminalized." Though passionate, this may not be the issue they hope to resonate through most of America.

(We do learn, though, that Robert Davi "can't stand Keith Olbermann. Jesus Christ, I want to slap that guy." Explaining where Olbermann is wrong, using specifics, would seem more meaningful and adult. But I don't know, that's just me.)

Bombast, of course, exists on both sides, as when Kelsey Grammer's staffers one day referred to Ann Coulter as the antichrist. For some reason, however, Mr. Grammer felt his reply -- "What the f-- do you know about the antichrist? You don't even believe in Christ" -- was a snappy, pointed comeback. Certainly there exists a thoughtful, specific response to his staff. But "You don't even believe in Christ" is not it.

That empty sense of specifics permeates the entire article. Worse is the persecuted claim that Hollywood is in a "new McCarthy era." It's a seemingly pointed comment, but one so profoundly misguided that it speaks louder about those making the charge, than the charge itself.

Hollywood has always shown an openhearted greediness to work with anyone who will make it money. Tim Allen, Robert Downey Jr., and Keifer Sutherland all went to prison. They didn't get ostracized by Hollywood, they got deals. If audiences want to see you, Hollywood will hire you.

The suggestion that studios only hire liberals relies on believing that these international mega-corporations are bastions of liberalism. You know, companies like General Electric, Time-Warner, Sony, Disney, and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

The filmmakers making this faux-charges of McCarthyism know all this. They're long-time professionals.

To imply that Hollywood is in a "new McCarthy era" is a lie that suggests Kelsey Grammer (the highest-paid actor in TV history) and James Woods don't have remarkable careers. Or that Robert Davi hasn't had a 30-year career with five upcoming movies. It suggests that being conservative has blocked Tom Selleck, Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, Drew Carey, Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Sarah Michelle Geller, Fred Thompson, Patricia Heaton and Mel Gibson.

(Okay, so Mel Gibson's career was hurt. But in fairness that was because he had a drunken, anti-Semitic, sexist rant.)

But most insidious about suggesting a "new McCarthy era" is its contended ignorance, and its attempt to co-opt reality and mislead others.

When people talk about "The Blacklist" of the actual McCarthy era -- it was a real list. Called "Red Channels."

People had to testify before Congress under oath about their private beliefs. They were pressured to inform on friends.

Or risk work.

People were put in federal prison for their beliefs. And those beliefs were liberal.

Suggesting a "new McCarthy era" is an ignorant misunderstanding and deception of what McCarthyism truly was. It's a fake persecution complex. McCarthyism wasn't "some people scorn me." It was putting Americans in jail.

I'm sorry that conservatives feel guilty about McCarthyism and putting liberals in jail, but the appropriate response is to apologize, not to try to diminish its horror by co-opting reality and making themselves a fake-victim.

Hollywood makes movies that it thinks the audience wants to see. Period. Hollywood made "Baby Geniuses 2" because they thought there was an audience for it. Hollywood hires people it thinks audiences want to see. And anyone who tries to suggest otherwise is fooling themselves. And you.

Among the unending complaining in the article, what's generally missing is what they are for. Further, not one word in support of George Bush. On anything. But then, with only 29% of Americans supporting the president, they're not alone.

As I said, I like David Zucker very much. We weren't social and haven't crossed paths in a few years, but he has always been a joy of a person. He's open and supportive, profoundly decent and warm-hearted. Even when we disagreed on politics, or debated the ACLU, it was always gracious. Though his political outlook seriously-changed long before 9/11 that the author states, David was and is a good guy. And a wonderful filmmaker. If we're lucky, one day we'll all get to see his version of Davy Crockett - it's a brilliant screenplay.

The point here is not differences - fair men can always disagree fairly. Political discourse, like competition, drives and invigorates America.

At issue is the article. A piece that, among its relentless lamentations, suggests the film is "an extended rebuttal to the vacuous antiwar slogan that 'War Is Not the Answer.'"

That sounds pithy. But it's a straw man. Criticism of the Iraq War has never been that "War is not the answer." Criticism is vast, varied and deep, but basically centers around what Ron Suskind has just written and no less than The American Conservative magazine has confirmed - that Dick Cheney's office pressured the CIA to forge a document linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and falsely linking him to efforts to get yellowcake uranium, to justify going to war.

That's the criticism.

You have to admit - as far as criticisms go, it's a pretty good one.

All criticism has to begin with facts. Not empty platitudes. Because when you start with a leaky premise, you end up with an empty bucket.

You end up with an Administration putting America $482 billion in debt, creating a housing crisis, destroying the economy, ignoring global warming, prohibiting full stem cell research and entrenching America in a disastrous 5-year war costing 4,136 American dead, and $600 billion - that only 29% of Americans support.

Looking at it all from their self-persecuted corner are those few: happy to lob empty, unsupportable grenades - and then wondering plaintively, as the article quotes, "Shouldn't I be allowed to say that?"

Sure, you should! And if anyone complains, don't worry -

The ACLU will defend you.