Any conservative who has had an argument with a Very Serious Moron, or with anyone else who thinks reading Anna Quindlen is the equivalent of reading Thomas Aquinas in the original Latin, has heard about the dire consequences of “legislating morality.” Amazingly, “legislating morality” — according to elite received wisdom — is something only knuckle-dragging Bible-thumping right-wingers want to do. For example, banning abortion involves “legislating morality,” while making it something you can do at the drive-thru is without moral content.
There’s no place where this attitude is more prevalent than among the Hollywood Left. For example, Basic Instinct and Showgirls screenwriter Joe Eszterhas — who looks like Wilford Brimley after a year in the hole — is on a one-man secular jihad to denounce Joe Lieberman’s attempts to add some morality to government’s work (See my syndicated column on the ADL reaction). Though he seems out in front, Eszterhas is actually solidly in the middle of the Hollywood consensus about politics, which is to say his views are fairly typical of those who believe you can select moral outrage as if from a Chinese menu.
Look at two of the biggest causes among the Hollywood Left these days. The first is campaign-finance reform. Admittedly, I doubt more than a handful of the political crowd in Hollywood really understand or care about the topic (you might want to see The “Industry” Gets Involved). But their agents or maybe Warren Beatty have told them they should say campaign-finance “reform” concerns them a great deal, when asked on Entertainment Tonight. The essence of what Beatty et al. propose is a system under which the government gets to regulate, i.e. decide, not only which groups can express themselves politically but how they do it (See my syndicated column on this point).
This is kind of funny because what bothers the Eszterhas crowd most about Joe Lieberman is that he has allegedly threatened to use government power (through broadcast licenses, etc.) to regulate the content of artistic expression. Now I do believe that artistic expression is very important — though censorship doesn’t scare me — but surely political expression lies at the heart of the First Amendment’s intent. The Hollywood gang isn’t merely oblivious to the fact that campaign-finance “reform” will gut that intent, they actually consider such gutting an imperative for the health of our democracy. Oh well.
Or take the other hot political issue among the Hollywood crowd and hand-wringing liberals everywhere: hate-crimes laws. The essence of the case for hate-crimes laws — as gleaned from the editorial page of the New York Times and the dialogue from NBC’s West Wing — is that hate-crimes legislation will do two things. First, such laws will “send a message” that certain kinds of crimes are really unacceptable. Sure, killing a white guy for his wallet or because he insulted your mother isn’t nice, but society really needs to go on record that killing a black guy is really, really bad.
Relatedly, the second benefit of “sending this clear message” — as Al Gore and so many others like to say — is that it will deter hate crimes. “There is no adequate federal standard of what constitutes a hate crime, and nothing could make plainer the need for one than the way young Matthew Shepard died in Wyoming yesterday,” asserted the New York Times after the young gay man’s murder. “He died in a coma yesterday, in a state without a hate-crimes law.” The two mouth-breathing morons who killed Shepard both received sentences of life in prison — and one had faced the death penalty until a deal was struck. (Since Hollywood & Co. seem fairly uniformly against the death penalty, that should be just fine with them.)
Maybe 0.001% of Americans have any idea what is on the federal law books with any specificity. But, according to the Left’s logic, this strong and clear expression of our common disapproval will prevent actual murderers who are otherwise undeterred by the Ten Commandments, common sense, common morality, and, oh yeah, punishments like the death penalty or life in prison. Such is the power of such messages. But when critics say that the film industry fosters violence and depravity, we are immediately told that Hollywood has neither the responsibility nor the power to alter popular behavior.
Let’s sum up. Hollywood regularly insists that government should not “legislate morality,” even though it wants to imbue certain lives with greater moral worth than others. We are told that messages in films, TV, and music — which reach not 0.001% of the population but, say, hmmm, nearly 100% of it — have little or no effect on society. But a statement by Congress will have a lasting impact. We are told that free and unregulated expression is vital to the health of our democracy, unless that expression actually speaks to the real-life functions of democracy, in which case we need complete and total government involvement in the form of government-run elections.
Am I the only person who has a hard time taking these people seriously?
DEAR READERS My apologies for not writing a column on Monday. Quite frankly, I took the day off to do other things. Sorry about that. I loaded today’s column with self-promoting links to make up for the shortfall.
So listen, the Olympics are coming up and we at NRO have no idea what to do about it. If you have ideas about the kind of coverage you’d like from us, drop me a line. I’m not particularly interested in straight sports coverage because, well — read Marcus Aurelius (Of each particular thing ask: What is it in itself? What is its nature?) — National Review Online is not a sports site and sports junkies won’t be coming here for our coverage. They might come here for our coverage of the coverage or even our coverage of the coverage of the coverage. Anyway, if there’s something you’d like to see us do, lemme know.
Lastly, I might be writing an “appreciation” piece on Budweiser. If any of you have strong insights or interesting tidbits to share, let me know (you were a great help when I wrote thatMcDonald’s piece). Please put “Budweiser” in the subject header. Please, no anti-Bud hate crimes.