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The real Hollywood politics

Peter Bart: D.C. vibe is bubbling up

Hollywood is of one mind politically — at least, that’s the long-standing myth. Well, at this moment (a rare moment) the myth may have become reality. The anti-war sentiment in the entertainment community is as pervasive as it was during Vietnam. Yet there are many other cross-currents as well — and they are strengthening as the ’08 campaign looms.

One obvious area of disagreement, of course, involves personalities. Barack Obama’s cameo appearances in town have created a fervent constituency, and Hollywood likes instant stars. Still, the Hillary backers have power and money and are diligently trying to disconnect her from the debacle in Iraq.

The political star system has its built-in tensions, to be sure. Adam Venit, a honcho at Endeavor, hosted a reception for John Edwards at his agency the other day. Not present was Venit’s partner, Ari Emanuel, who threw a hot Obama bash not long ago and whose brother, Rahm, may (or may not) remain in the Hillary camp.

At the same time, Hollywood loves box office, and Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” has become Paramount’s single most profitable release. Suddenly Gore is a star again.

There are other emerging fissures, as well. The aggressively photogenic John Edwards was cruising along, detailing his litany of liberal causes last week until, during question time, he invoked the “I” word — Israel. Perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace, Edwards remarked, was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a chill descended on the gathering, the Edwards event was brought to a polite close.

Support for Israel in the U.S. has lately become bafflingly multi-cultural, representing an alliance between diaspora Jews, traditional Zionists and evangelicals. Support from Christian zealots, who now represent about one third of Israel’s tourist business, is welcomed even though, according to evangelical doctrine, Judgment Day will bring the ultimate destruction of Israel and death to most of its residents.

The Economist observed this week that “knee jerk defensiveness” of Israel ultimately will erode support for that country around the world, even among Jews. Only 17% of American Jews today regard themselves as “pro-Zionist,” the magazine points out, and only 57% say that “caring about Israel is a very important part of being Jewish.” And Jimmy Carter only exacerbates these mixed signals with his recent perorations that Israel must “give back” territories to the Palestinians.

Given that the Christian Right and neo-conservatives in this country seem more obsessed with Israel than the Jewish community, the “I” word is becoming a potentially lethal component of today’s political dialogue.

The Middle East crisis represents just one of the issues that could splinter the formidable anti-Bush sentiment in the entertainment community. Further, as Democratic candidates compete to propose ever bolder ways to bureaucratize health care, this issue, too, could undermine the seemingly liberal consensus.

Liberals also have to figure a way to catch up with The Governator on environmental issues. Clearly, Schwarzenegger is finding consensus positions that cross party lines — something the liberals have been unable to fashion.

All this provides both an opportunity and a trap for Obama as he mounts his presidential campaign. His platform has the purity of a fresh screenplay that’s about to be submitted to the Hollywood studios. And Hollywood has mastered the process of messing things up with its interminable “notes.”

Obama must at once enter the fray and stand above it. And his mentors, whoever they turn out to be, must remember that while Vietnam knocked the bad guys out of power, it delivered the nation to Richard Nixon.

That didn’t help much.

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