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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Hollywood conservatives: Abandoning McCain? Part 2

October 28, 2008 |  6:17 pm

Four years ago, in the days leading up to the 2004 Bush vs. Kerry election, I staged a debate between a Hollywood liberal and a Hollywood conservative in one of the back rooms of the Sony commissary. As they say at the U.N., they had a frank exchange of views; the charges and countercharges were flying. And even though I'm a liberal, I have to admit that if I were scoring it like a heavyweight fight, I'd have to say--perhaps as a portent of things to come that year--that the conservative won by a knockout.

De_lucca The conservative was Michael De Luca, a former production chief at New Line who's now an independent producer, having made such recent films as "Ghost Rider" and "The Love Guru." Born in a working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, De Luca had been a moderate Democrat until the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. The muscular Republican response to terrorism won him over, prompting him to pick Bush over Kerry in 2004. He's also been a longtime admirer of John McCain. But no longer.

"I'm inching toward Obama," he told me today. "There isn't anything unique about me. If you look at what Colin Powell has said and Peggy Noonan and Christopher Hitchens, you'll see this is a bigger thing with people who believe in the ideals of the Republican party, but are disgusted by what's happened during the past four years. After the Justice Department scandal, the Katrina [mess] ups, the Plame scandal, all of the catering to the religious right, this is about the narrowing of appeal for the entire Republican party. It feels like a collapse of a conservative movement that goes all the way back to Barry Goldwater. It's a perfect storm that is driving moderates like myself out of the party."

Like producer Eric Gold, the onetime McCain supporter who announced his support for Obama this morning, De Luca isn't starry-eyed about the Democratic challenger. "But after watching the debates, I think Obama has the temperament to sit in the Oval Office, which isn't something you feel as sure about with McCain. I worry that McCain today is more in league with the lunatic fringe of the right than Obama is with the lunatic fringe of the left."

De Luca certainly hasn't been swayed to Obama by any of his Hollywood liberal pals. Au contraire. "All they do is scream about Sarah Palin. I'm sure they'd happily embrace a socialist government. They basically have the Janeane Garofalo point of view, which seems to be that Republicans should be put in jail for being Republicans." He laughs. "I keep telling 'em, 'Shut up! If you want my vote, don't open your mouth. I'm almost there.' "

Having had a number of lively political debates with De Luca over the years, I asked him to write an essay about his anguish over this election. Call it "The Thoughts of a Conflicted Conservative." It's a good read, especially for Hollywood liberals who live in such an insular lefty world that they rarely get to hear a thoughtful conservative point of view. Here's De Luca's take on why he's having trouble sticking with the GOP ticket:

As much as I’ve been impressed by Barack Obama’s ascension, I was sure that this year would be an easy call for me. McCain would have been my choice in 2000 had he survived the South Carolina bloodbath and won the nomination, and I was looking forward to having a chance to vote for him this time around. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the election. The McCain of 2000 vanished, and the man on the left who was supposed to stand for a new kind of politics proved he could pander with the best of them, in a decidedly old style of politics. Where to go now? What to do? Anguish has set in.

After the incompetence and cronyism of the last four years, fours years that I admittedly voted for, I swore to myself that this time I would be extremely well versed in all the issues and every candidate’s positions. I watched every single primary debate on both sides, I’ve read every op-ed piece, seen every pundit, heard every radio talk show host and devoured issue after issue of the Economist and Foreign Affairs. Through it all I’ve watched McCain 2008 with increasing alarm. The move to the hard right, that convention, the stutter-step on the economic crisis, the robo-calls, Palin’s positions and lack of gravitas, they’ve all stopped me in my tracks. There’s something more emotional than policy at work on me here. It may be shallow, but it’s affecting my gut and it has to do with the “type” of leader these men are revealing themselves to be. Disappointingly partisan and not transformative  or maverick enough by half.

Obama’s initial painting of McCain as out of touch and caught in a perpetual “senior moment” insulted my intelligence and offended my sense of fairness, as has McCain’s shocking effort to paint Obama as anti-American. When I want to believe the myth of “Obama the messiah,” he opens his mouth and sounds an awful lot like the hell-spawn of Jimmy Carter and George McGovern. When I want to believe in the McCain of 2000, the man who decried the “agents of intolerance,” he then goes out and seeks their endorsements. Like many Americans, I operate out of a base of centrist common sense. It makes sense to me to not raise corporate taxes in the middle of a recession if you want to protect job creation and lower the risk of inflation. It makes sense to me not to give tax refunds to people who pay no income tax. It makes sense to me to not afford regimes like Iran the same treatment you’d give countries like the former Soviet Union.

On the other hand, common sense also tells me it is blasphemous to threaten something as sacred as the U.S. Constitution by suggesting we use it to deny people equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation. Common sense tells me it’s about time the right stops calling evolution a “theory.” It’s not. Common sense tells me not to trust the government to get between a woman and her doctor on reproductive rights, nor to trust it with the power of life and death in the form of the death penalty. I want the government to keep its boot off my neck, hands out of my pocket, eyes out of my bedroom, I want it to keep the playing field fair so people can achieve and not just collect handouts, and I want it to keep us safe. That’s it. That’s a common sense role for government. Where’s that candidate?

Neither of these guys offers that kind of balance. Obama engages in class warfare and McCain engages in cultural warfare and the rhetoric pisses me off. When did working for a corporation mean you’re less of a “true American” than being a construction worker? How can Obama criticize Palin for her “Real America” comments when he indulges in the same kind of divisive rhetoric, only over class and not culture? How is Obama claiming that blue-collar Americans are more American than white-collar Americans different than Palin telling me that the people I grew up around in Brooklyn, N.Y., are not as patriotic as rural, small town voters. What happened to “E Pluribus Unum”? “Out of many, one.” Ignoring that creed, the candidates divide and divide and divide us.

Obama’s camp belittles Palin’s small-town experience, McCain’s camp belittles Obama’s community organizing. Obama ridicules “Joe the plumber,” McCain’s camp accuses Obama of literally paling around with terrorists. One side mocks traditional values, the other side mocks excellence itself, as if being well educated and well spoken were somehow anti-American traits. The demagoguery on both sides has turned what should have been an easy call for me into something of a horse race. For all the independents out there who are socially progressive but fiscally conservative and strong on defense, the pandering on both sides turns us all off. The left continually forgets that it is the dream of most poor people to become rich, not to resent the rich, and the right keeps mistaking the role of government for the role of a  repressed headmaster at some kind of morality-camp boarding school.

I am deeply offended by the empty and shameful theatrics of the Terri Schiavo episode, as well as the betrayal of the taxpayer that went on during the 2000 and 2004 defense of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae by Barney Frank and his ilk. Maybe it is unrealistic of me to be a pro-choice, pro-school voucher, anti-affirmative action, pro-business, pro-environment, pro-gay marriage, anti-death penalty, pro-globalization, pro-universal health care, pro-tax cuts, anti-pork barrel spending, pro-war on terror Republican, but that’s where I am.

I’m going with whatever party comes closest to that common sense center and so far in this election neither has come anywhere near it. It’s all class warfare and cultural warfare. Will Obama be able to resist the Pelosi/Reid agenda once he’s bestowed with democratic majorities in both houses? Can he keep an eye on a second term and posterity rather than an extremist legislative initiative? Bush couldn’t. Will McCain reach across the aisle and buck his party as he did on immigration reform and campaign finance? Will the spirit of the eminently sensible “gang of 14” prevail or will he owe payback to the extremist base that put him in office?

I want to believe in both men, but I have to pick one, yet they both continue to pander. Obama on class, McCain on culture. Don’t we deserve better? Where is our President for ALL the people. This year, in this election, with American seen in the world the way it has been for the last eight years, with a dependence on foreign oil that MUST be broken, and with a seemingly never ending fight against violent extremism threatening to stretch across half this new century, it may be time to turn the page.

It’d be easier if they just stop picking on Joe the Plumber.

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Los Angeles Times photo of Michael De Luca