Health Reform, the Right and Show Biz Might

David Frum, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush, called the passage of healthcare reform a “huge win for the conservative entertainment industry.”

It wasn’t a compliment but a disparagement of the party’s deference for its loudest voices, or what he’s calling a “Waterloo” for the Republicans.

Frum may hate it, but the healthcare debate showed the extent to which show biz tactics — the daily battering of Rush Limbaugh, the nightly shrills of Glenn Beck — worked in that they “raised awareness” to the threat of socialized medicine. The difference was that this time it was the right, not the left, that thrived on the theatricality.

When it came to celebrity activism on this issue, the most ubiquitous figure was probably Jon Voight, who spoke at a Tea Party rally at the Capitol on Saturday. A bit ironically, Sarah Palin, who drummed up opposition by Tweet, trekked to Hollywood to pitch a TV show, albeit nonpolitical.

The tables weren’t quite turned, just twisted a little. Liberal Hollywood, almost always derided on the right, just didn’t turn out for healthcare in the way that industry activists showed up to campaign for Barack Obama for president. The issues were perhaps too polarizing, too difficult to grasp, too great a risk of becoming a target, not to mention the notion that it’s much easier to campaign for a person than for a policy. As pundits declared that healthcare reform advocate lacked a narrative, they certainly weren’t going to get many ideas from those who make a living writing them: primetime medical dramas proliferate, but few addressed the raging policy debates in their storylines.

There were the exceptions: MoveOn and Funny or Die chimed in with celebrity comedy pitches for reform. Certainly “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” delivered exceptional satire, with a progressive bent. And more than one person has mentioned to me that, unintentionally, Democrats finally got the “narrative” part on Sunday, when the nonstop cable news coverage played out like a movie, climaxing in the final vote that even landed in primetime in much of the country.

But opposition to healthcare has, as Frum suggests, only emboldened the showmen of the right, even if Democrats and Obama have scored a major victory. Meanwhile, conservative activists in Hollywood are looking at the midterms with a greater sense of hope than they had a year ago, just as the healthcare debate was starting. And they are hopeful enough for them to partake in a ritual dominated by Democrats in the entertainment industry. Next month, a group including Voight, Gary Sinise and Jerry Bruckheimer will be co-hosting a fund-raiser for Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), seeking Obama’s Senate seat and vowing to lead healthcare’s repeal.

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