Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Hooray for Hollywood?

I'm not usually a fan of Eric Alterman, but he has written a fine treatment of Hollywood politics in the latest Atlantic Monthly. Alterman rightly insists on his subject's importance -- the entertainment industry gave nearly $100 million to Democratic candidates in federal races between 1989 and 2003, nearly matching the amount given to the GOP from the oil and gas industry.

A few key points from Alterman's piece:

  • While there are certain key players in the Hollywood liberal community, no one dominates it today as Lew Wasserman of MCA did in the 1960s or Norman Lear in the 1970s.
  • With a few exceptions (Streisand, Redford), actors are not among the top givers to Democratic candidates or liberal causes. Often, stars will make their "contribution" by simply showing up at a fundraiser. (Actors rarely accumulate as much wealth as producers or executives -- compare the fortune that Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David made from "Seinfeld" to the much smaller sums made by the rest of the cast). The "real money" is more likely to come from the likes of David Geffen, Rob Reiner or Haim Saban, creator of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
  • Alterman argues that Hollywood figures give to boost their egos or promote liberal causes than to gain access for private benefits. He compares this unfavorably to business executives giving in order to influence legislation. I'm convinced of the first, not necessarily of the second.
  • Laurie David, wife of Larry David (co-creator of "Seinfeld" and star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," owns a gas-guzzling private jet despite her role as Hollywood's top environmentalist. (Robert Redford lives in Utah).
  • Not only was Rob Reiner one of Al Gore's closest advisors in 2000, when Gore announced two years later that he would not run again, "Reiner came to work the next morning to find four phone messages waiting for him: one from Howard Dean, one from John Kerry, one from John Edwards, and another from Howard Dean. (He went with Dean.)"
  • While some Hollwyood liberals try to push the Democrats to the left (Laurie David declared she'll never support Tom Daschle again after he backed the Bush energy plan), that's not a priority this year:
    "At a gathering at the lush Santa Monica estate of the screenwriter Steve Byrnes and the lawyer Jamie Mandelbaum, for instance, the difference in sensibility between those in Hollywood who spend a lot of time on politics and those who don't was on clear display. One of the more casually political people in the
    room expressed a desire that John Kerry would "show moral leadership" in embracing gay marriage, and received no encouragement whatever—this in a group
    of people for whom gay marriage is perhaps less controversial than the heterosexual kind. Right now nobody in Hollywood who plays politics seriously is talking about how to make the Democrats more liberal. Rather, screenwriter after producer after actor after director at the gathering spoke only of the desire to help Democrats win."
    Alterman correctly identifies Hollywood as one of the Democrats' three critical financial constituences (the others are labor unions and the trial bar). In the interests of alliteration, I usually tell my students that the three legs of the Democratic financial footstool are labor, lawyers, and liberals. (The last category allows me to lump together Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Jews, gays, and the sort of upscale, culturally liberal givers who have been driving Internet fundraising).

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