Hollywood McCarthyism 2012
by David Gerken
The talk in the room turns to politics. The writer clams up, fearful that if he offers his views it could hurt his career. You might assume this is Hollywood in the 1950s, that the views the writer is afraid to espouse are of the liberal, leftist sort and that the people he ultimately fears are Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and something called the House Un-American Activities Committee. Wrong. It’s the Hollywood of 2012 and the views this writer fears revealing lie on the opposite end of the spectrum, the conservative end. Sadly, many conservatives in Hollywood sincerely believe that their careers are adversely affected by their right-leaning political views. It shouldn’t be that way.
You might be surprised to know that I’m neither a conservative nor a Republican. I’m a life-long Democrat who spent fourteen years in Washington, D.C., part of it working as a legislative assistant for current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Washington I experienced in the late 80s and 90s was largely tolerant. Yes, the Gingrich revolution in 1994 stirred the pot but, by enlarge, a Democrat could sit down for dinner with a Republican without fear of a brawl breaking out.
So upon moving to LA in 2001 to pursue a writing career, I was disheartened by the lack of political tolerance I encountered. Whether in a writer’s room for a TV show or out at dinner with friends, the goal always seemed to be a tacit competition for who could “out-Liberal” the next person. Because I found these one-sided conversations boring (political conversations, like drama, are flat when devoid of conflict) I used to say nice things about W. just to spice things up. I got slammed, just like real conservatives do when they deign to offer an alternative to the liberal line.
This isn’t to say that conservatives don’t get my blood boiling when we talk politics. I don’t have a problem with much of conservatism’s basic philosophy of a smaller, more efficient government and an emphasis on individual self-reliance. But what I’ve noticed in these past few years is that many conservatives exhibit an inordinate amount of emotion that leads to irrationality when discussing politics. Hatred of Democratic party leaders prevents them from having a rational political debate. Not long ago conservatives couldn’t talk about Hillary without breaking out in hives. Now it’s Obama. How do you have a rational discussion with somebody whose every political thought travels through a prism of visceral contempt for an individual?
But the point isn’t whether conservatives are right, wrong, rational or irrational. It’s that one of the great bulwarks of the modern Democratic Party is its emphasis on tolerance. In fact, tolerance is at or near the top of the list of reasons why I’m a Democrat.
Which is why it angers me that the Hollywood wing of our party acts the way it does toward conservatives. It’s antithetical to what it means to be a Democrat. I believe that one’s political views should take a backseat in service of a larger virtue that underpins America: tolerance for those that are different from you. It’s right there in the first amendment – freedom of speech.