Policy makers look to the stars
By Michael M. Bates
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is one left-leaning gent, even by Democratic standards. The non-partisan National Journal earlier this month ranked him the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. In the company of such stalwarts as Teddy Kennedy, Hillary the pantsuit and Barack the empty suit, that's a noteworthy, if dubious, achievement.
Comparing American soldiers to Nazis, Communists, and Cambodia's Pol Pot burnished Dick's credentials. When this inanity was extensively reported, he fell back on what liberals typically do. He didn't apologize; he simply expressed regret that others may have misunderstood him. The Arab satellite TV network al-Jazeera reported this on its Web site as "US Senator stands by Nazi remark.
Durbin wants the United States out of Iraq pronto. With an element of truth, he said in January:
"The Iraqis must understand that they alone can lead their nation to freedom. They alone must meet the challenges that lie ahead."
I believe that we can't and shouldn't try to serve as the world's policeman. Some liberals seem to share that view, but only as it pertains to Iraq. Darfur is another matter. The situation in that Sudanese province is undeniably grim. More than 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced.
Hollywood lefties have jumped on the Darfur bandwagon. Actress Angelina Jolie, known for big lips if not big brains, is one of them. She's opposed to our Iraq involvement, yet simultaneously demands action in Darfur. Last month in a Washington Post op-ed piece, she wrote of the region:
"But humanitarian relief alone will never be enough. Until the killers and their sponsors are prosecuted and punished, violence will continue on a massive scale. Ending it may well require military action."
The piece was received warmly by Senator Dick Durbin. What does he want to do, take our troops out of Iraq and send them directly to Darfur? The senator had Jolie's analysis published in the Congressional Record. By way of introduction, Durbin noted that Ms. Jolie is "is a comely actress whom I had a chance to meet a year or two ago when she came to town in her capacity as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees."
"Goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees" sounds like a title even Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband wouldn't bother trying to buy. If Ms. Jolie weren't comely, maybe Dick wouldn't have found her article so essential. Or perhaps he's besotted because she used to wear a vial of blood around her neck. Or possibly Durbin's enchanted by one of her 11 tattoos.
Politicians attracted to Hollywood personalities isn't a new phenomenon. What is different is Washington's comparatively recent zeal to take actors seriously on important policy issues.
Musician Bono is accepted on Capitol Hill as an authority on Third World debt relief. Elton John asked a Senate committee for more money to fight AIDS in other nations. Actress Meryl Streep testified before Congress on the alleged dangers of Alar, a chemical used on apples. Model Christie Brinkley has discussed nuclear accidents before a Senate committee. Actress Julia Roberts tearfully requested a House subcommittee increase funding for Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder.
And in what had to be a nadir, in 1985 a Democratic task force on agriculture brought to Capitol Hill actresses Jane Fonda, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek to speak about the plight of American farmers. Two of them choked back tears as they denounced President Reagan's farm policies. Panel chairman Tom Daschle (D-SD) earnestly thanked them "for your eloquence and your empathy."
What authoritative credentials did the gals bring with them? Why, they'd all played farm women in a movie or on TV. Surely that made them expert enough to advise Congress.
One of the few politicians to shun the madness is Senator George Voinovich. Five years ago, the Ohio Republican opted to skip a subcommittee hearing because, he said, "It's just a joke to think that this witness can provide members of the United States Senate with information on important geological and water quality issues."
"This witness" was a member of the Backstreet Boys. He probably figured that if Congress listens to Bono, they may as well hear from him. What's next, summoning Freddy Boom Boom Cannon to testify on where he stands on the imported ethanol tariff?
Senator Voinovich said, "We're either serious about the issues, or we're running a sideshow." Senator, that's been determined for some time now. You can verify it with Dick Durbin.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the March 15, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.