George Clooney for president?
I wouldn’t go that far, but the dyed-in-the-wool liberal do-gooder has earned our respect of late. And it’s time we give him some credit, especially as he has distinguished himself from the poseurs who posture as defenders of free expression but cower from the opportunity to take a bold stand.
The well-deserved stereotype about Hollywood liberals has long been this: They are dilettantes, more concerned about popularity than principle. They want to save the rainforest, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their lavish lifestyles. They spout insipid sound bites about wanting to “help the children,” but live cloistered and decadent lives. They slavishly support the Democratic Party, not because they have any core beliefs, but because they’ve gotten the memo this is how to make friends and influence people on the left coast. They are, in essence, liberals because it’s cool, not liberals because they have any coherent political philosophy or core beliefs they’d be willing to sacrifice, much less die, for.
But there exists another breed of liberal, one who actually believes in the virtues of Western liberal democracy, and is courageous enough to defend these values. And I would suggest George Clooney is among a small group of Hollywood liberals who has earned our grudging respect, by virtue of his leadership in defense of free expression.
Consider just the last month or so. In the wake of the hacking scandal involving The Interview, Clooney helped pen and distribute a petition in support of Sony:
[W]e fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands. We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.
It is baffling that a petition circulated by the man who is arguably the number one movie star in the world could elicit not a single signature. Not one. “All that it is basically saying is, we’re not going to give in to a ransom,” Clooney told Deadline. “As we watched one group be completely vilified, nobody stood up. Nobody took that stand.”
But Clooney’s penchant for defending free speech didn’t stop there. In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris, Clooney once again rose to the occasion, exercising much more public moral clarity than our liberal President, Barack Obama. During Sunday night’s Golden Globe awards, he was among a handful of actors spotted wearing a “Je suis Charlie” pin, and, as CNN’s Brian Stelter reports, George Clooney, who was being honored with a lifetime achievement award, brought up the “extraordinary day” that had unfolded, with millions of people marching in Paris and other cities.
The marchers “were Christians and Jews and Muslims,” Clooney said. “They were leaders of countries all over the world.”
“They didn’t march in protest,” he said. “They marched in support of the idea that we will not walk in fear. We won’t do it.”
Clooney ended his speech with the now-familiar saying, “Je Suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie” in English. As numerous others have pointed out, there is a problem with the “I am Charlie” slogan, but let’s give credit where due.
I’m not suggesting this is the greatest profile in courage the world has ever seen. But, if one were to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, the smart move would probably be for Clooney to just avoid politics.
George Clooney doesn’t need to take bold political stances to further his career. This isn’t the case of a washed-up movie star desperately exploiting a public-relations opportunity in order to gin up attention. He clearly has core beliefs he’s willing to stand up for, even (in the case of the Sony petition) when he’s all alone.
(In recent years, I’ve come to have a similar grudging respect for Angelina Jolie. Here, we have someone who could have dined out for years on her early career, but instead has professionally pursued serious roles and projects, and personally invested herself in philanthropic causes. She could have had a quite nice and comfortable life had she devoted herself to a purely libertine existence. She’s come a long way since wearing Billy Bob Thornton’s blood in a vial around her neck. The fact that she has pursued a purpose-driven career and life is commendable.)
Conservatives have a lot of fun pointing out the sometimes uninformed, often naive, political views of the rich and famous (Ben Affleck’s comments about Islam feel especially pollyanna, in light of recent events.) We might not always agree with Clooney’s positions, but this strikes me as someone who has a consistent worldview. And guts. You've got to respect that.