- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

Woody, Babs, Jessica, Sean: Yankee doodle dandies they ain't.

Weighty with angst and spectacle, Hollywood luminaries have taken on politics. They sign petitions, make statements and pen missives about America or their vision of it, anyway.

Actor Sean Penn spent $56,000 on an ad in The Washington Post yesterday, warning President Bush against a "preemptive attack on a separate sovereign nation."

Mr. Penn continued, "I beg you, help save America before yours is a legacy of shame and horror." He added, "Your administration's deconstruction of civil liberties all contradict the very core of the patriotism you claim."

Woody Harrelson took to newspaper pages.

"I'm an American tired of American lies," he wrote in Britain's Guardian newspaper Thursday. Stay out of Iraq, he advised.

"This is a racist and imperialist war. The warmongers who stole the White House have hijacked a nation's grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist," Mr. Harrelson wrote.

His Los Angeles publicist had no comment, nor did his assistant. The White House, the State Department and the National Security Council had no response to the editorial nor the inclination among actors to offer op-eds.

"Well, he is a private citizen, and he is entitled to his opinion," one State Department source said.

The actors are not alone in their high-profile vitriol.

Last month, singer Barbra Streisand faxed House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, an indignant letter that accused President Bush of warmongering for the sake of the Republican Party.

"I find bringing the country to the brink of war unilaterally five weeks before an election questionable and very frightening," Miss Streisand said at a Democratic fund-raiser in Hollywood last week.

"In the words of William Shakespeare, beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into patriotic fervor," she continued. "Patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind."

The statement was mistakenly gleaned from an Internet parody of famous authors rather than a Shakespearean work. Miss Streisand also called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein an "Iranian" on her Web site Thursday; the geographical gaffe has since been corrected.

Some fault her strident approach.

"Once again, Barbra Streisand has opened her alligator-sized mouth before her humming-bird brain has a chance to catch up," actor R. Lee Ermy told the Sunday Telegraph. "Ms. Streisand does not speak for me or many other folks in this business."

Perhaps, but movie stars fierce for peace are taking curtain calls right and left.

Actress Jessica Lange told reporters last week that a military strike on Iraq was "wrong, immoral and basically illegal," and "hates" Mr. Bush.

Almost simultaneously, crooner Harry Belafonte went after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, comparing him to a plantation slave who had sold out his values to live in the "house of the master."

Meanwhile, actress Susan Sarandon recently told a Scottish film festival audience, "I don't think military expansion or violence is a solution. No, I don't think I would want to go to war against Iraq."

The loudest collective voice came from luminaries who signed "Not in Our Name," an anti-war statement published in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times and signed by Miss Sarandon, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, Tim Robbins, Ed Asner, Marisa Tomei, and Danny Glover, among 4,000 others.

Some took a more delicate approach. Actor Tom Cruise and director Steven Spielberg both said they feared Saddam. Once press reports called Mr. Spielberg a "Bush backer," he quickly issued a statement noting that "it was never my intention to give an endorsement."

Hollywood righteousness over American politics and policy is nothing new. Jane Fonda visited Hanoi in the Vietnam era, and actor Alec Baldwin said he would leave the country if George W. Bush became president.

"It's tempting to just say 'shut up' when actors debate issues of such great magnitude," said Syracuse University's pop culture analyst Robert Thompson.

No actors stood on soap boxes in World War II, he said, "but they are citizens, part of the debate and part of ideas we are free to consider."

There is an "ethical line," however, he said. "And they cross it if they're not sincere in their use of the Hollywood bully pulpit. If this is done for PR reasons, to get people to go to your movies, then that is out of line."

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