When Michael De Luca was on the film-festival circuit earlier this month, touting two films he'd produced -- "Moneyball," which just opened this weekend, and the upcoming political satire "Butter" -- he managed to lose his California driver's license. When he finally went to the DMV to apply for a new one, he also was given the option to update his voter registration, and was asked to declare his political party affiliation.
He opted for Democrat. In la-la-liberal Hollywood, this would hardly be a shock, except for the fact that in recent years, De Luca had been a vocal convert to the Republican cause. A longtime political junkie, De Luca had abandoned the Democrats after 9/11, believing that the GOP had the right muscular approach to national defense at a time when the country was engaged in a war on terrorism. When I staged a mock Hollywood debate during the 2004 election, De Luca happily argued for George W. Bush, with fellow producer Lawrence Bender taking the liberal position. De Luca cast his presidential ballot in 2004 for Bush. And when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor in 2006, De Luca voted for him too.
In 2008, even though his foreign policy views were more in line with those of John McCain, he voted for Barack Obama, believing he could steer the country out of the Great Recession. But even though De Luca remains skeptical of Obama -- "I still think he's a hopeless amateur in a lot of ways" -- he is even more disenchanted by the Republican presidential field. Call him a political contrarian. At a time when so many liberals are disenchanted with Obama that The Hollywood Reporter just ran a big story headlined "Disappointed Hollywood Giving Obama Cold Shoulder," De Luca is willing to give Obama a second chance.
The recent Republican debates were the clincher. "Watching them on stage, there were just too many Republicans saying crazy things that didn't make any sense," he told me Monday. "I just couldn't connect with anyone there. Normally I'd be attracted to Romney, but he doesn't even seem willing to stand behind his own ideas. I have a lot of problems with Obama's health care plan, which in some ways offers up the worst of all worlds, but we're really in a bizarre alternate universe when Romney can't brag about what he did to help people out with his own health care program in Massachusetts just because it goes against the party's orthodoxy."
De Luca is also appalled by what he calls a Republican "jihad" against government spending designed to get the economy back on track. "Obama may have taken a real wet noodle approach," he says. "But at least he's trying to do something. [Mitt] Romney and the other Republicans are buying into this deficit-reduction craziness, which is a disastrous scenario in the middle of what's becoming a double-digit recession. And at the debate, they seemed to care a lot more about social issues than getting America back on track. The country is melting down and they're arguing about the HPV vaccine."
He wasn't impressed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry; De Luca said that, judging from his debate performance, the candidate was "clearly not ready for prime time."
So isn't De Luca worried about being labeled another latte-sipping Hollywood liberal? "Not me," he said. "I'm still not comfortable being around all the hard-core lefties who believe that America was conceived in original sin. I believe in American exceptionalism. Our experiment in democracy, as constructed by the founding fathers, is better than any form of government in any other place in the world."
If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were in the presidential race, De Luca -- who grew up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn -- might still end up voting Republican. But for now, he's on the Obama team. "Call me a flip-flopper, but as long as the Republicans are going to use the economy as a political football at a time when jobs and people's livelihoods are at stake, I'm going to hold my nose and vote for Obama. I guess that makes me a conservative Democrat, but right now, that's better than being a nutty Republican."
-- Patrick Goldstein
Photo: Michael De Luca, right, with producer Lawrence Bender, photographed after a mock presidential debate in Los Angeles in 2004. Credit: Los Angeles Times