For those who haven't heard, a chill wind is blowing through our nation. So sayeth actor Tim Robbins, significant other and parenting partner of fellow actor Susan Sarandon, speaking a few days ago at the National Press Club.
Robbins was expressing his concern about the increasingly fragile First Amendment - the same one that was protecting his speech that day - particularly as he and Sarandon have noted their popularity plummeting in certain quarters.
"A chill wind is blowing in this nation," Robbins intoned. "A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown: 'If you oppose this administration, there can and will be ramifications.'"
In a phrase, swamp gas.
Robbins' sudden constitutional concerns have arisen from what he and Sarandon interpret as their being censored owing to their anti-war position. Both have been outspoken in their opposition to the U.S. strike against Iraq. Both have been rewarded in recent weeks with rejection by parts of the private sector.
Sarandon was uninvited to speak at a Florida conference on women's leadership. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., canceled a 15th anniversary celebration of the baseball movie "Bull Durham" that was to include appearances by Sarandon and Robbins.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the cancellations (I disagree for the same reason one ignores a showoff), one thing needs to be clear. That chill wind Robbins feels isn't coming from a censorious or conspiratorial White House - which is busy frying somewhat larger fish - but is the cool response of consumers enjoying a free market. Welcome, in other words, to the real world.
Just as Robbins and Sarandon (and I) have a right to speak as we please, a free marketplace provides that consumers have a right not to buy, or listen to, or otherwise subsidize products, ideas or people they find unappealing. It's called choice, which everyone seems to understand when they're doing the choosing.
But Robbins and Sarandon, who have occupied the lofty heights of stardom, aren't accustomed to the firefights that take place on America's streets. When they descend from the protected planet of Hollywood, they're shocked to discover that some would decline their warm embrace.
In his defense, Robbins is justifiably outraged that some of the public's scorn has been directed toward his children. He's also right to criticize the more rabid reactionaries who propose death to anti-war activists. I don't blame him for being angry and bent on revenge vis-à-vis his press club appearance. Let's hear it again for free speech, by the way. The man is permitted his podium.
But where is Robbins' passion and outrage toward America's real enemies, the terrorists who attacked us and the countries that protect or support them? This is what Robbins is missing and what other Americans find so appalling.
In his speech, Robbins noted, for example, that after 9-11, he "held on to a glimmer of hope in the naive assumption that something good could come out of all this." He hoped that the United States would send a message to terrorists:
"If you attack us, we will become stronger, cleaner, better educated, more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a Phoenix out of fire, we will be reborn."
His message, straight from the we-deserved-it school of self-loathing, characterizes much of the war opposition: If only we had been better people, none of this ever would have happened. Given our badness, we can do no good.
Zen master Robbins wants to send terrorists to the corner for "time out" and convene a support group for self-improvement, while the rest of America - the 75 percent or so who support the war - are scrambling for Terminator's phone number.
As for "something good," does letting children out of prison and ending the sidewalk beheadings of women count?
Robbins ended his talk as he began it - by flattering the assembled media, some of whom couldn't resist applauding themselves. "The fate of discourse, the health of this republic is in your hands," he said portentously. " . This is your time, and the destiny you have chosen."
I think I speak for my fellow journalists when I say, 'Thank you, Grasshopper." I feel like a better person already and plan to surge like a phoenix just as soon as our soldiers get the rest of those screaming people out of those underground dungeons. Meantime, feel free to ignore this column. It's a free country.