Sure, there will always be Ronald Reagan, but compared with those Hollywood-loving Democrats, the Republican Party has long suffered from a movie-star deficit. Jon Voight has been in Tampa this week trying to make up lost ground.
“They regard me, first of all, as a very talented actor, thank God, with a good reputation,” Voight told me about his liberal colleagues in Tinseltown. “And then, in terms of politics, some people have said I was crazy and said a lot of terrible things about me. But over the years they’ve come around to respecting me…I have disproven the initial lies about me and the attacks on me.”
The 73-year-old Voight, who is probably more famous these days for being Angelina Jolie’s father than for his still-successful career in film and television, is the GOP’s top celebrity endorser, 2012’s answer to the late Charlton Heston. He certainly outranks such convention attendees as the Oak Ridge Boys, Pat Boone, Taylor Hicks, and 3 Doors Down—though Lynyrd Skynyrd might have given him a run for his money had the band managed to show up as scheduled.
On Wednesday, as Voight made his way through the Republican National Convention’s media center with a couple of RNC-supplied handlers, he was treated like a rock star. He was stopped every few steps by fans requesting autographs and snapshots (he graciously complied), and by reporters demanding his political views (ditto).
“I think the left is a blight, and I was once part of it in the late ’60s and early ’70s,” he explained. “But after we pulled out of Vietnam and the slaughter took place, and the left turned their backs—that’s what did it for me … I had to take personal responsibility. I had blood on my hands. We didn’t honor our signature on the Paris peace treaty. We didn’t come to their [the South Vietnamese people’s] aid when the communists crossed that line. And you know who was leading the charge against giving them support? Joe Biden when he was in Congress!”
Voight, wearing a Windbreaker and tie in the muggy tropical weather, has been cheerfully following a grueling schedule of media hits and meet-and-greets that begins early in the morning and ends at near-midnight. His message: Mitt Romney is a wonderful man, and President Obama is a dangerous socialist who hates successful people, encourages dependency on the government, has harmed America’s standing in the world, has injured America’s strategic alliance with Israel, and will lie, cheat, and do many other reprehensible things in order to retain power.
“I’m trying to keep things on the light side,” Voight said sheepishly, “and then I keep getting into deep waters.”
“The other side—‘the propaganda party’ is what I call them—what do they do? The invent another guy! ‘This guy can’t communicate with people. This guy is stiff.’ Baloney!”
This is Voight’s second Republican convention—the first was four years ago—but his passion seems not to have diminished. When one of his handlers attempted to cut short an interview with an African-American radio reporter (to whom the actor had been explaining how liberals try to intimidate black Tea Party members), Voight pushed the handler away with the palm of his hand and scolded: “Just a second! Let me finish! This is important!”
Bringing more energy than erudition, he then made the rather fascinating claim that the major television networks had “cut out all of the people of color from their reportage of the Republicans. Can you imagine? ABC, NBC, CBS! This is propaganda.”
In his chat with me, Voight complained, “We’ve sunk to a really new low where our president has overseen these attacks on the Republican candidate, calling him a felon, Harry Reid standing up with all the stature of the Senate and saying, ‘Somebody told me he didn’t pay his taxes,’ having this commercial saying he’s responsible for the death of this guy’s wife. He’s lost all stature of what a president should have.”
Jon Voight and Newsweek & The Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg spar over Obama at the RNC.
In due course, Voight was led into a conference room where two dozen young RNC staffers and volunteers were manning phones and laptops to manage the convention’s surrogate operation. At the actor’s appearance, they burst into raucous applause—never mind that most of them had not seen either Midnight Cowboy or Deliverance, Voight’s breakout movies from four decades ago.
He charmed them with a story about how Romney wowed various conservative moviefolk at a fundraiser—everyone from Clint Eastwood to Joe Pesci and Kelsey Grammer—and said: “Mitt is terrific to be with. He’s just a doll. He’s accessible to everybody, he listens to you…he’s very compassionate … He’s a righteous guy. But the other side—‘the propaganda party’ is what I call them—what do they do? They invent another guy! ‘This guy can’t communicate with people. This guy is stiff.’ Baloney! The whole thing is baloney! You know?”