Few issues are troubling Hollywood political activists like a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Invasion opponents have been frustrated by what they see as a lack of Democratic political leadership on the issue, particularly from national figures who fear strong opposition will undercut their ambitions to retake control of the White House and Congress.
“A lot of people feel if there was a real response being organized by Democrats or the rest of the national community, they could be part of that,” says Lara Bergthold, Norman Lear’s political adviser. “But how does Hollywood take the lead on that? It’s hard to figure out.”
Some are taking public stands, such as Warren Beatty at a recent event honoring columnist Arianna Huffington, herself an invasion critic.
Angered by a recent New York Times article that portrayed him as reluctant to speak publicly on the issue, Beatty lashed out, calling the Congressional invasion resolution “an act of political expediency” and “pure careerism.”
“Is this a preventive war to create peace,” Beatty was quoted as saying. “Or preventive war to build empire?”
A recent protest in Los Angeles reportedly attracted the quiet presence of celebs James Cromwell and Tony Shalhoub. And Barbra Streisand condemned an invasion during a perf for a recent Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser that brought in $6 million.
“There are a lot of places you probably wouldn’t want to take her,” one political consultant says of Streisand. “Republicans paint her as a screaming liberal. But she spoke for a majority of the party that night.”
Her message was diminished by a series of small but embarrassing factual goofs in her comments and on her Web site, which invasion supporters quickly seized upon.
“I think the problem is, it was in the interest of some people to make a mockery of some of these things,” says Bergthold.
Long-time activist actor Mike Farrell says he has been trying to organize Hollywood performers to oppose the war, but admits it’s been slow going.
“There are issues that some people stay away from for fear it will taint them,” Farrell says. “Nobody wants to be depicted as being in favor of Saddam Hussein, but that’s the game they (invasion supporters) play.”
State legislator Tom Hayden says some of that reluctance is a leftover of the damage done to the Hollywood Left by McCarthyism and the blacklist 50 years ago.
Many actors fear they will hurt their careers opposing an invasion.
Further, Hollywood’s substantial Jewish contingent is deeply concerned about the security of Israel, which muddles its position on invading nearby Iraq.
Hayden says, “Sept. 11 was an attack on the United States, the situation in the Middle East is complex and the security of Israel is at stake. You can see why some people are struggling to know what to do.”
Torie Osborne, exec director of the Liberty Hill Foundation, adds: “The natural grief and solidarity after Sept. 11 were kind of manipulated into a more superficial kind of patriotism. Right now, I feel a different stirring and an anger.”