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Lott, Bellesiles, and more.

Dec 23, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 15
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"Celebrities" Aren't What They Used To Be

OVER THE YEARS, liberals of our acquaintance have sometimes snickered about conservatives' gaping celebrity deficit. Indeed, The Scrapbook would be the first to admit that when Republicans go sniffing after an endorsement from Hollywood, they have few names on their call sheet: There's Charlton Heston, Kennedy-conservative Arnold Schwarzenegger, maybe Shannen Doherty, who led the pledge at the 1992 GOP convention, and even we'd be embarrassed to mention the names lower on the list.

What irks us is the inference that one's ideas are bankrupt because some room-temperature-IQ'd celebrity isn't espousing them. Or at least it did, until now. This week, The Scrapbook had occasion to teleconference into an anti-Bush celebrity press conference (bearing the cumbersome title "Win Without War to Resist Bush Preemption of Peace Process"). Brought to us by Fenton Communications, the same PR people who flacked for the Sandinistas, the roster was less a Who's Who than a Who's That? "100 Celebrities to Speak Out," Fenton had promised. Clearly, though, the term "celebrity" was being used remarkably loosely.

Sure, some of the 100 or so names attached to the antiwar letter are recognizable, A-list signatories: Anjelica Huston, Matt Damon, Kim Basinger, and Martin Sheen (the last of whom shouldn't count, since he signs everything). But most of the others are now on the infomercial circuit--if they're lucky. Are those who oppose war with Iraq really supposed to be emboldened because Rene Auberjonois (Clayton from "Benson") or Ken Howard (Coach Reeves from "The White Shadow") says they should be?

Among actual attendees, the obscurity problem was even worse. Yes, Wendie Malick, star of "Just Shoot Me," is close to A-listish, but she had to leave almost immediately since, as one organizer said, "she has to go to work." That didn't seem to be a problem for too many of the others. The cavalcade of "stars" included a former regular from the now-cancelled "Coach," the wife of "The Practice's" Dylan McDermott (he couldn't make it), and former "Hill Street Blues" star Barbara Bosson, who's been off the air so long that even an organizer had to ask about her credits.

Co-organized by Robert Greenwald, perhaps best known as director of the 1984 television movie "The Burning Bed," and Mike Farrell, who knows all about the horrors of war from his stint as B.J. Hunnicut on "M*A*S*H," the celebrity press conference was unusually self-effacing. "We are not experts in this field," Greenwald warned, perhaps superfluously.

Consider the statement of David Clennon (Miles Drentell on "thirtysomething," a popular show fifteensomething years ago), which read, almost in its entirety: "We have achieved our objective; we do not need to go to war. The war is over, and we have won. Thank you." Or Ed Begley Jr., who is best remembered--on the rare occasions he is remembered--for playing Dr. Ehrlich on "St. Elsewhere," explaining that we "need to win the war on terrorism," and that the best way to curtail Saddam would be to follow Begley's example of driving electric vehicles.

Any antiwar types hoping for an infusion of celebrity energy had to have been disappointed. "Looking at it closely and going over and over it," said Greenwald, "one comes back to the same feeling that there aren't any ideal solutions." Perhaps, in the interest of generating some, they could go a little deeper into the B-list celebrity bench. The Scrapbook suggests Sharon Claridge, who played the unseen dispatcher on "Adam-12." She has an excellent speaking voice, and if she's still alive, she could probably use the work.

Strom Thurmond, the Man and the Myth

TRENT LOTT said a lot of unconvincing things last week, but this one, in his interview with Sean Hannity, takes the cake:

"When I think of Strom Thurmond, I'm talking about defense issues. If you look back at that time, which was 1948, defense was a big issue. We were coming out of the war, of course, but we also were dealing with communism."

What do you mean "we," white man? For Thurmond's Dixiecrats, the Cold War that mattered was the one they were fighting with their fellow Democrats, and while they agreed that there was a totalitarian threat, they thought its headquarters was in Washington.

The Scrapbook dusted off a copy of the "declaration of principles" from the States' Rights convention in Birmingham, and--get this--there's not a word in it about defense policy. Here, though, is its warning about totalitarianism: