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Anti-Stardumb: Wayne Gretzky

The tide shifts modestly as American celebrities become less embarrassed about their country's actions.

6:00 AM, Mar 27, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
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FROM THE PRO-BUSH sentiments of hockey great Wayne Gretzky to actor Adrien Brody's rousing acceptance at the Oscars, the last few days have finally brought good publicity for the war effort. The patriots are coming out of the woodwork, their confidence in America as visible as the liquid contempt spraying from Michael Moore's lips.

Gretzky told a press conference in Calgary on Tuesday: "All I can say is the president of the United States is a great leader, I happen to think he's a wonderful man and if he believes what he's doing is right, I back him 100 percent." Like the president himself sometimes does, Gretzky appeared to stake his faith on the man even more than the principle. "If the president decides to go to war he must know more than we know or we hear about. He must have good reason to go and we have to back that."

Gretzky said he had a personal connection to the troops. "I have a cousin who is in Iraq right now and is in the U.S. Marines," said the Great One. "He was there in '91 and he's there now and it's a tough time for his family and it's a tough time for all of us." Ever the gentleman, the Canadian Gretzky passed on the opportunity to criticize his own prime minister, Jean Chrétien, who has parted ways with the United States on the issue of Iraq.

Accepting the Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday, Adrien Brody made a couple of detours before arriving at his heartwarming comments. First, he pulled Halle Berry, who'd announced the award, into his arms and dipped her for a long, mouthy kiss. Standing up and taking his place at the mic, he then stumbled to express his hope that the fighting would soon end. Sounding like he'd spent his summer at peace camp, Brody said peace was desirable whether you believed in God or Allah.

But then the tall, gaunt thespian with the beautiful rasp in his voice made this eloquent statement, "I have a friend from Queens who's a soldier in Kuwait right now, Tommy Szarabinski, and I hope you and your boys make it back real soon and God bless you guys, I love you." (Incidentally, I went to high school with Adrien Brody, a very nice guy when I knew him, and I confess to feelings of deep envy for what he's accomplished. You know, kissing Halle Berry.)

Traditionally, the onset of military action brings out bipartisan calls to "close ranks," but such has not been the case this time around. Howard Dean, perhaps the Democratic party's leading contender for the presidential nomination, is running explicitly on the wrongness of Bush's Iraq policy (a policy whose aim, regime change, was initiated by Clinton). Meanwhile the left has been galvanized by a foaming disgust for Bush. That and the absolute refusal to believe in the potential morality of military action or the desirability of toppling Saddam are the left's chief characteristics today.

The antiwar movement's most prominent voices have in turn been distinguished by shrillness instead of eloquence, putting one in mind of Lionel Trilling's phrase, "the adversary culture," which Irving Kristol employed in his 1979 essay "The Adversary Culture of Intellectuals."

Today such an essay might be updated as "The Adversary Culture of Celebrities." Its argument would be reduced to reflecting on the words of, say, Hollywood actor Tim Robbins, who recently threatened physical violence against a Washington Post reporter for his disparaging reports on the political activism of Robbins's "partner," actress Susan Sarandon. Not that reason-shunning is limited to actors. Readers of this series know that the celebrated British novelist Martin Amis, who recently compared Saddam Hussein to Winston Churchill, has resorted to falsehood and anti-religious bigotry to make his anti-Bush arguments.

But the last few days have seen a turn for the better in gossip columns and entertainment pages as some leading lights of the popular culture have come to the aid of the American cause. Rush and Molloy reported in the Daily News this week that Brad Pitt may have his doubts about the link between Saddam and al Qaeda, but he believes now's the time to stand with the president: "We're in this together as Americans. We're going to have to go in and get the job done as soon as possible." Joe Pantoliano, who played Ralph Ciffredi on "The Sopranos," told Rush and Molloy that now that the war is on, "there's something compelling about a photo of hundreds of Iraqis kissing U.S. Marines." But perhaps most gratifying to many of the young soldiers abroad is the support of starlet Brittany Murphy, who appeared in "8 Mile" with rapper Eminem. She sent her thanks to American soldiers and their families.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.