WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's an ironclad rule of American politics that being liberal means never having to admit you're wrong. It doesn't matter whether the issue is, unilateral disarmament, a philandering, perjuring president or lawsuits against Oreo cookies. Liberals are never wrong, and it's just plain "mean-spirited" to suggest otherwise.
Actor-turned-political-activist Sean Penn is brazenly taking this principle to new levels of absurdity by claiming in court that his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq has made him a "blacklist" victim. And Judge Irving Feffer of the Los Angeles County Superior Court just may agree with him.
According to Penn's legal brief, the plot goes like this: Last year, Hollywood producer Steve Bing contracted with Penn to star in a film titled, "Why Women Shouldn't Marry." Having achieved fame as the pot-smoking surfer Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and his brief gig as Madonna's husband, the ever-charming Penn was certain to bring a unique perspective to such a film.
Allegedly at Penn's behest, Bing, who has an interesting reputation of his own as the sire of actress Elizabeth Hurley's otherwise fatherless child, hired Woody Allen to doctor the script of "Why Women Shouldn't Marry." But, as Bing now tells it, that's when Professor Penn decided that he preferred the role of political polemicist to screen star.
First, Penn declared in a $56,000 "open letter" to President Bush in The Washington Post, "That bombing answered by bombing, mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing, is a pattern that only a great country like ours can stop." Then he embarked on a "fact-finding mission" to Baghdad, paid for by the leftist Institute for Public Advocacy, pursuing "a deeper understanding of this frightening conflict." And when he returned, Penn accused the Bush administration of "teaching a master class in the manifestation of rage into hatred."
According to Penn, the First Amendment protects all these erudite antics. But Bing, apparently concerned about getting a return on his investment from Americans who overwhelmingly support President Bush and our troops, asked Penn's agent for "assurances" that the actor "would stop making public statements about Iraq." Penn claims Bing left a voicemail message stating that "the public might be fooled by propaganda and take it out on you and me by not going to the movie."
Bing also allegedly made a personal plea that Penn stop damaging the film's chances of success with his diatribe. When that didn't happen, he exercised his own constitutional right to free association and dismissed Penn from the "Why Women Shouldn't Marry" project. Penn retaliated by filing a $10 million breach of contract suit and decrying a return to "the dark era of Hollywood blacklisting."
In a scenario worthy of Judge Wapner's courtroom, Bing has now counter-sued for $15 million, castigating Penn as "an irrational and irresponsible actor" making "an extraordinary extortion attempt." According to Bing, Penn attempted a "shakedown" in which he threatened to cry "blacklist" if Bing fired him. Tune in for the next installment on June 18, when the two litigants return to court for some more role-playing.
Blacklist? Baloney! Hollywood is full of "stars" who agree with Sean Penn. Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Danny Glover, Matt Damon, Kim Basinger, Oliver Stone and Jane Fonda have all denounced the war and President Bush. Martin Sheen, of "The West Wing," dismissed Operation Iraqi Freedom as a "personal feud." Barbra Streisand judged it "very, very frightening."
Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon's "life partner," apparently believes we need more of what Sean Penn has delivered. In a speech at the National Press Club, Robbins claimed that, "Millions are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope -- hoping for someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution, and to defy the intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security and warped notions of patriotism."
Not to be outdone, filmmaker-absurdist Michael Moore announced this week that his next "documentary," titled "Fahrenheit 9/11: The Temperature at which Freedom Burns," will show linkages between President George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. Miramax, the Disney film subsidiary responsible for films of such dubious merit as "Kids" and "Priest," reportedly will distribute Moore's new effort.
Moore is, of course, the same ignoramus who rebuked the dead passengers on the four hijacked 9-11 aircraft during a series of monologues in the United Kingdom. According to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who writes a column for "The Independent" of London: "Moore went into a rant about how the passengers on the planes on 11 September were scaredy-cats because they were mostly white. If the passengers had included black men, he claimed, those killers, with their puny bodies and unimpressive small knives, would have been crushed by the dudes ..."
Perhaps Moore would like to express those thoughts to Lisa Beamer, whose husband Todd led the rebellion aboard American Airlines Flight 93 before the aircraft went down in Somerset County, Pa., on 9-11. Or perhaps Miramax can find work for the irrepressible Sean Penn. Maybe they can even arrange a soundtrack by The Dixie Chicks. Then we can all stay home from the movies.