The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Tea party' troubadour says: 'In Hollywood, being a conservative is the kiss of death'

May 18, 2010 |  1:06 pm

Sarah_palin For years and years, conservatives have been stoutly defending the 1950s Red Scare-era practice of ex-Communists naming the names of their fellow travelers when they were hauled before congressional committees on a hunt for alleged Communist influence in Hollywood. It was a noble, patriotic thing to do, conservatives contend, because the only way to root out left-wingers and Marxists in Hollywood was to publicly inform on all your old friends and business associates so they would have to step out into the light, where their perfidy could be witnessed by all. 

Today's conservatives are still complaining about they say is Hollywood's rigid ideological slant, but they apparently aren't brave enough to actually name any names. That's my take-away from this intriguing front-page Wall Street Journal story about Jonathan Kahn, a former Hollywood writer-director who's become a star in conservative circles using the stage name of Jon David and belting out patriotic anthems such as "American Heart" ("I got American parts, got American faith, in America's heart") at "tea party" rallies.

Using his pseudonym, Kahn has been regaling the true believers with his songs everywhere, opening for Sarah Palin at the tea party convention in Nashville last February and crooning "American Heart" two weeks later at the $275-a-seat "presidential banquet" at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. But until now, Kahn has been working incognito, saying: "It's for protective reasons. In Hollywood, being a conservative is the kiss of death."

For years, Hollywood Jews did Anglicize their names, as Kahn has, because they were able to prove with chapter and verse that being publicly Jewish was a career hindrance. However, like so many other conservatives who have made "kiss of death" claims, Kahn can't back it up. In the entire Journal story, he didn't come up with even one tiny specific example of liberal bias against his work. Born into a wealthy Pacific Palisades family, the 42-year-old writer earned good reviews for an early 30-minute short, 1993's "Chili Con Carne," but in the ensuing years, according to IMDB, he's only managed to direct one film, the 1998 teen drama, "Girl," about groupies and rock stars in the Seattle music scene, which earned lukewarm reviews and barely got a release. 

Based on that very limited output, it's seems like quite a stretch to say that Kahn's politics have held him back. But that's what all too many conservatives do. They put the blame for their stalled careers on liberal Hollywood, when lack of marketable talent might be a far more likely source for the problem.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Hollywood isn't lousy with liberals. It is indeed an overwhelmingly liberal community. But it is also very much a free-market community where the best ideas, scripts and talent ultimately rise to the top. I have been around all sorts of all-star liberals who practice the squishiest of politics in their personal lives, but when it comes time to make a deal or get their film greenlighted, business comes first every time. If a political conservative (in or out of the closet) wrote a hot action script that looked like a global tent-pole hit, all those squishy liberals would be pushing their best friends down elevator shafts left and right trying to get the rights to it.

I don't disagree with Kahn when he says that Hollywood practices a core hypocrisy in "how it benefits so much from capitalism and bashes it at the same time." But hypocrisy is everywhere. On Wall Street, it works in reverse, where the biggest investment firms make billions of dollars from the free market, but then depend on socialism -- i.e., government bailouts -- to reimburse them when things go wrong. But in the workplace, Hollywood is capitalism in its purest form.

If you can create entertainment that attracts the biggest possible audience, you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams, whether you're liberal or conservative, straight or gay, black or white. And if Kahn really thinks otherwise, he'd better start naming names, because this story line of shadowy Hollywood liberals squashing the careers of righteous conservatives is getting pretty old indeed.

Watch "American Heart" for yourself and see what you think:

Photo: Sarah Palin addressing the tea party convention in Nashville last February. Credit: Ed Reinke / Associated Press