The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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McCain fans hit Obama with Hollywood whupping stick

September 15, 2008 |  5:31 pm

Obama_2If you thought it was a stretch for John McCain sympathizers to claim that Barack Obama had insulted Sarah Palin by saying that McCain's efforts to brand himself an agent of change was like putting lipstick on a pig, then you'll really be astounded to discover that Obama is now being blamed for all the dumb and naive things Hollywood celebrities said last week at the Toronto Film Festival.

New York Post critic-blogger Kyle Smith had a field day today making fun of anyone who seemed to prefer Obama to McCain, deriding "The Secret Life of Bees" director Gina Prince-Bythewood for hoping her film might help Obama get elected, poking fun at actress Keira Knightley for praising Michele Obama for her "wonderful features" instead of her personal accomplishments and seeming genuinely surprised that Spike Lee showed up in Toronto wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Obama on it.

It's a tried and true conservative tactic -- heap scorn on the dimwitted Hollywood types who blindly support (fill-in-the-blank Democratic candidate). But even by past conservative standards, this new line of attack seems a stretch, especially when Smith tried to draw a parallel between Obama and Che Guevera, claiming that the Steven Soderbergh "Che" biopic that screened in Toronto was, like Obama's campaign, about "fairness, fighting for the underclass, health care and the need to 'change the economy in a fundamental way' (in Obama's words on David Letterman's show last week").

CheSmith goes out of his way to ridicule "Che" as a classic clueless liberal love letter to a cold-blooded revolutionary. I can't say he's entirely wrong about that, but it feels like cheap political trickery to claim that there's any connection between "Che's" revolutionary excesses and Obama's cautious, incremental desire for change. Smith ends his piece by quoting a cornball snatch of dialogue from the movie -- "We have made mistakes" -- adding, "Actually, that's a difference between two men who appear on a lot of T-shirts: One of them was able to acknowledge his shortcomings." It's Smith's nod, nod, wink, wink way of saying: Obama is even more ideologically rigid than Guevara.

Maybe Smith should've spent a little time talking to some rank-and-file Canadians, who live in a country that has been a staunch American ally but has the value of enjoying a little distance from our presidential battles. When I was in Toronto last week, I found myself talking to a young Canadian who was driving a cab during the day while going to computer programming school at night. He didn't care what Knightley had to say about Michele Obama -- he just wanted to know if Knightley had a boyfriend. But he did ask me one serious political question: "If you Americans are so tired of fighting a horrible, bloody war in Iraq," he said, genuinely puzzled, "why would you want to elect someone who promises to fight the war for 50 more years, when you could be spending all the money you're using for your soldiers on all your problems at home?"

I'm betting even the silliest Hollywood celebrity would realize that's a pretty darn good question.

Photo of Sen. Barack Obama by Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo; Benicio Del Toro in Steven Soderbergh's "Che" project from Bickford/Morena Film Productions.