Because California, and Hollywood in particular, have been the punch line for so many jokes over the years, I suspect that people who don’t live out here assume we can’t possibly be that wacky. They don’t know the half of it.
In order for you to better understand what conservatives in this neck of the woods have to deal with, I’ll relate a few typical incidents. The first took place about 10 years ago. My wife and I were invited to a dinner party by the widow of a screenwriter who’d been my longtime tennis partner. We were one of six couples. Which meant that, counting the hostess, there were 13 of us sitting around after dinner. I recall thinking at the time that this is how superstitions come to be perpetuated.
All the men in the group were in show business. As we were all either writers, directors or producers, it was probably inevitable that somebody would bring up Charlton Heston’s name, and in a negative manner. At the time, after all, Mr. Heston had just become the president and spokesman for the NRA, and was garnering a great deal of national attention.
Although I had never met Mr. Heston, we had exchanged a number of congenial letters. So when one of the guys at the party made an insulting remark about him, I naturally took umbrage. But knowing that my wife is always nervous about my ability to turn a minor skirmish into an all-out war, all I said in Heston’s defense was, “Well, whether or not you agree with him, you have to admit he’s got guts.”
The way the other guests reacted, you’d have thought I’d said something along the lines of, “For all his faults, you have to admit that Hitler dressed well and had good table manners.” They were simply outraged.
As I wanted to be certain I hadn’t been misunderstood, I added, “I’m not saying you have to agree with Heston’s point of view. All I’m saying is that, as a working actor, it takes a great deal of courage to be openly conservative in a town where most of the people in a position to hire him are obviously liberals.”
In the end, I could not get a single person, aside from my wife, to acknowledge that, whether or not you agreed with the man’s politics, you had to grant that he had the courage of his convictions.
That evening provided me with one of my more enlightening epiphanies. I had long been aware that left-wingers were on the wrong side of every issue I cared about, but dealing with those 11 weasels confirmed that they lacked even the modicum of honesty required to give a decent man his due.
The next incident took place quite recently. The WGA hosted a reunion lunch for all the “MASH” writers. There were two large tables filled with us old duffs. Over coffee, one of the fellows at my table announced that he had recently canceled his subscription to the L.A. Times. That grabbed my attention, and I said, “Really, Gene? I always thought you were a liberal.”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
“Well, I’m a conservative, so it would make sense for me to cancel that rag. But why did you?”
“Because the Times has gotten too damn conservative!”
Two interesting things then took place. First my jaw hit the floor. Next, the writer who had been seated between us for the entire lunch turned to glower at me, and said, “You’re really a conservative?”
As soon as I admitted I was, he got up and walked away so quickly, you might have thought I’d acknowledged being a leper.
But his glower was nothing compared to the sneer I was getting from Gene. “How can you be a conservative?”
I wasn’t sure if what confused him the most was how I could possibly be a conservative if I was Jewish or a humorist or a former “MASH” writer or simply dare to be in his immediate proximity. But all I said was, “It’s easy. I think conservatives are right and liberals are wrong.”
“Wrong about what?”
“Well, Iraq, for one thing. I believe we were right to invade, to topple Saddam Hussein, and to stick around and make certain the bad guys don’t win. I’m sure even you wouldn’t want to see Al Qaeda using Iraqi oil revenue to fund worldwide terrorism.”
“And how long do you think we should stay there?”
“As long as it takes. For crying out loud, we still have troops in Korea 55 years later. Heck, it’s been over 60 years since the end of World War II and we still maintain a military presence in Germany and Japan. What’s the big rush to get out of Iraq?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve lost 4,000 soldiers over there!”
“Nobody regrets that more than I do, but I’ll remind you that we used to lose that many in a single battle. The difference is that in those days, we didn’t have a bunch of people like you insisting that our soldiers had died for no good reason. The fact is, the men and women we conservatives call heroes, people like you and John Kerry call saps.”
With that, he pointed his finger in my face and announced, with eyes blazing and spittle flying in my direction, “You’re George Bush!”
“And you, Gene, are an idiot.”
“Don’t you dare call me an idiot! I didn’t call you names.”
What made Gene’s outrage over my lack of decorum so amusing is that I knew something that he didn’t know I knew. Back in 2001, you see, shortly after the presidential inauguration, a friend of mine and his wife were invited to a Hollywood cocktail party. By the time they arrived, most of the other guests had gathered in the living room. As the two of them entered, one of the guests proudly announced, “Well, I, personally, don’t know a single a--hole who voted for George Bush.” At which point, my friend said, “Well, you do now.”
The fellow who felt entitled to make that public announcement in a room with ladies and maybe even a few conservatives present was none other than Gene.