The Magazine

Hollywood Takes on the Left

David Zucker, the director who brought us 'Airplane!' and 'The Naked Gun,' turns his sights on anti-Americanism.

Aug 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 45 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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They caught the attention of some of Hollywood's boldfaced names--the show would serve as one of Lorne Michaels's inspirations for Saturday Night Live--and in 1977 they released their first film, The Kentucky Fried Movie. It was the first of many classics: Airplane!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun, BASEketball. Actually, BASEketball sucked, but by the time it was released in 1998, Zucker had put together enough of a streak that he was widely regarded as a comedic genius. Matt Stone, who together with Trey Parker created South Park, starred in BASEketball. He described Zucker's influence this way: "I used to sit at home with my friends in high school and watch Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane! and vomit from laughing."

Although these films had some political jokes, the movies themselves did not carry overt political messages. Naked Gun 2 came closest with a vaguely pro-environment theme. (It opens with George H.W. Bush meeting with the heads of America's coal, oil, and nuclear industries: the representatives of the Society for More Coal Energy [pronounced SMOKE]; the Society of Petroleum Industry Leaders [SPIL]; and the Key Atomic Benefits Office of Mankind [KABOOM].) Zucker, who owns a Toyota Prius and derives a third of the energy for his house from photovoltaic cells, is still an environmentalist.

In 1984, one of Zucker's college friends, Rich Markey, suggested he listen to a local Los Angeles talk radio show, "Religion on the Line," hosted by Dennis Prager. Zucker took the advice and soon struck up a friendship with Prager, whose conservative views appealed to Zucker as common sense. Although his politics were evolving, Zucker remained supportive of California Democrats, giving $2,400 to Senator Barbara Boxer in the mid-1990s. He contributed another $600 to an outfit called the "Hollywood Women's Political Committee" which, with members like Jane Fonda, Bonnie Raitt, and Barbra Streisand, probably wasn't calling for low taxes and abstinence education.

Zucker was still nominally a Democrat when George W. Bush was elected in 2000. "Then 9/11 happened, and I couldn't take it anymore," he says. "The response to 9/11--the right was saying this is pure evil we're facing and the left was saying how are we at fault for this? I think I'd just had enough. And I said 'I quit.'"

He decided to write a letter to Boxer, sharing his disgust and telling her not to expect any more of his money. Having never done this before, he asked a friend with the Republican Jewish Committee for help. This friend recommended Zucker contact Myrna Sokoloff, a former paid staffer for Boxer, who had recently completed a similar ideological journey.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Sokoloff had worked for several stars of the Democratic party's left wing. She served on the campaign staff of Mark Green, a close associate of Ralph Nader, when he ran for Senate in New York against Al D'Amato. She worked for Jerry Brown's 1992 presidential campaign and in 1998 was a fundraiser for Barbara Boxer's reelection effort.

Sokoloff had begun to sour on the Democratic party and the left generally during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. "As a feminist, I was outraged," she recalls. "If he had been a Republican president we would have demanded his resignation and marched on the White House." When she made this point to her Democratic friends, she says, they told her to keep quiet.

Although she didn't vote for George W. Bush in 2000, Sokoloff says she was glad that he won. Less than a year later, she understood why. "When 9/11 happened, I knew Democrats wouldn't be strong enough to fight this war."

Sokoloff and Zucker never did write the letter to Boxer, but their partnership would prove much more fruitful.

As the 2004 presidential election approached, Sokoloff and Zucker looked for a way to influence the debate. Their first effort was an ad mocking John Kerry for his flip-flops that the conservative Club for Growth paid to put on the air. In 2006, Sokoloff and Zucker followed that with a series of uproarious short spots mocking, in turn, the Iraq Study Group, Madeleine Albright and pro-appeasement foreign policy, and pro-tax congressional Democrats.

The Iraq Study Group ad was the most memorable. It opens with news footage of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain celebrating the signing of the Munich Agreement. A newspaper stand boasting "Peace with Honour" flashes across the screen.

Neville Chamberlain: "This morning, I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler. Here is the paper, which bears his name upon it, as well as mine."