A Night at Los Angeles Public Library

We live in times when the different sides in our country speak languages as far apart as Chinese and Italian.

Witness what happened to me earlier this week when I was a panelist at the Los Angeles Public Library’s ALOUD Program on the subject of “Hollywood — Left and Right.” With me on the panel were Mike Farrell, actor and left-wing activist, and Steven Ross, a USC history professor who had just published a book on the topic.

I supposed I had been drafted to play the reverse of liberal Bob Beckel on Fox’s “The Five” and approached the evening with some trepidation. I didn’t know the half of it.

The moderator, film critic Ella Taylor, kicked things off by asking Ross about one of the main theses of his book — that although the movie business was dominated creatively by liberals, it was the Hollywood conservatives that ran for office and exercised political power. Ross cited Louis B. Mayer, George Murphy, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger as examples.

Taylor then turned to me — as “house rightie” — and asked if I agreed. Ignoring the reference to mogul Mayer, who never, to my knowledge, ran for office, I responded that I largely did, but noted that without Reagan it didn’t mean that much. Only Reagan had had a genuinely influential political career — after all, I added casually, he “tore down that wall.”

Suddenly, the audience erupted in boos.

I stared out nonplussed. Naive me, I had assumed that regardless of political stripe most people it the U.S. of A. regarded the downfall of the Soviet Union as a plus. Not so evidently the near-full house at the Los Angeles Public Library, many of whom were apparently still unfazed by the Stalin-Hitler pact. And that wasn’t an idle reference, since a quick perusal of the audience revealed many sitting there were in their 80s and up. I even recognized a few of them, old CP fellow travelers, from my left-wing days.

Nothing good will come of this, I immediately concluded, and decided to do my best to clam up for the rest of the evening. But it was hard, considering the tenor of the comments by my co-panelists. And, I admit, I am an inveterate pop-off.

So when Farrell started chastising Reagan, whom he obviously despised, as in the clutches of right-wing evil-doers in Central America, I reminisced about my left-wing youth and experiences with the Black Panthers, hoping to use my change as an illustration of something.

It was pointless. Although they are obviously more violent about it, Muslims aren’t the only ones with a distaste for apostates. I was only succeeding in getting the audience, and my fellow panelists, more angry with me, digging a deeper grave for me or what I might believe.

This reached its apotheosis when Ross offered his professorial explanation of why liberals were more creatively successful in Hollywood — and to him the better artists. Conservatives, he said, lacked empathy. Liberals were the ones able to get into the skins of others and create their characters.

Wow, I thought, the man was saying I lacked empathy. I mumbled something about the film “The Blind Side,” but I was substantially speechless while thinking …

Robert Duval, Clint Eastwood, Robert Downey Jr., Bruce Willis, Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie, Patricia Heaton, Adam Sandler, Tom Selleck … all actors and actress more or less on the right. Did they lack empathy?

And what about writers? Arguably the two greatest playwrights in the English-speaking world, possibly the entire world, were Tom Stoppard (a self-described libertarian) and David Mamet (who recently published a book about his conservatism). In Ross’ view, they must lack empathy, as well.

I knew at that point it was time to go — and I did.

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