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The Founding

Brad Pitt on our Founding Principles

That great political thinker, Brad Pitt has some interesting things to say about American politics. In the context of endorsing George Clooney (!) for President and shoring up his own cred in "humanitarian" circles (where there is some speculation that he's only concerned because of his relationship with Angelina Jolie), he says the following: "That's idiotic! I do it because I'm a member of the human race . . . We're all cells of one body, with the same emotions and desires for our families, for a little dignity and a chance for a better life. Let's focus on that! I believe in the founding principles of America. I want to fight for that. I know most Americans feel the same way." What did Jonah Goldberg say about the "We are the World" mentality on the left?
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Discussions - 14 Comments

I would love to see a candid answer from Pitt on what he believes are the "founding principles of America." And then I would love to see him explain -- and defend, without mere talking point catch-phrases -- what elements of those founding principles are under attack now ... and how they're under attack ... and who is doing the attacking.

I'm sure his answers would be enlightening.

Oh, by the way ... I think Pitt is an acceptably good actor within the boundary of things he does well. What is it about actors that makes them think such a talent justifies going beyond that?

I am an acceptably good computer specialist, within the boundary of things I know and do well. Having that skill provides a nice salary and a roof over my head. But it provides precious little in the way of expertise about matters beyond that.

It's pretty amusing that in a post where the message is "idiot celeb has different views than everyone at Ashbrook" the smackdown is provided by a reference to the wisdom of Jonah Goldberg, an otherwise unremarkable fellow who was launched into punditry stardom primarily due to the direct, seedy involvement of his mother, Lucianne Goldberg, in the DC equivalent of a Britney Spears or Hugh Grant-type scandal, the Monica Lewinsky affair. Had it not been for that, I doubt any of us would have ever heard of him. But now, the adoration of this guy here at No Left Turns is unstoppable.

Don in AZ, does your distaste for actors "going beyond" their acting talent include the overreach exhibited by, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood (he threatened to kill Michael Moore!), or Fred Thompson?

I won't speculate on how knowledgeable or sincere Pitt is on any of the issues he has publicly expressed opinions on. Frankly, I haven't paid any attention to it. It seems to me that he has simply spoken his mind when given the opportunity, when handed the mike, and of course, as a celebrity that occurs frequently. (Britney Spears has spoken positively of Bush before) From a market-is-everything perspective it makes sense for Ruper Murdoch's tabloids, as even those who scoff at (liberal) celebs in politics do their part by reading the articles and continuing the name-dropping exposure. Sure, it might not be fair or make sense, but what Pitt and Schwarzenegger do is simply take advantage of a bigger version of the opportunity you take when you type out a comment here at lil' old NLT.

Craig, my point is that Pitt (and others) expect us to respect their opinions on matters outside their realm because of their celebrity. Few state it exactly like that, but that's the implication.

The examples you cite all stepped into politics and offered the voters a chance to accept or reject at the ballot box the respective candidate's qualifications. It would be foolish to deny their celebrity had something to do with their success, but it would be equally foolish to say that their success in electoral politics was only because of their celebrity status.

Pitt is free to rail on all he wants about the woes of this world, as are others such as Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. And we are free to look at them and ask, "Why, exactly, should your opinion have any merit over anyone else's?" Too often the press, fawning over celebrity as they often do, present the opinion of these actors as something more than merely the opinion of "just another man on the street."

The most striking example of this, in a different setting and some years back now, was Meryl Streep and the issue of alar and apples. Near as I could figure -- and anyone else could figure as well -- Streep had no particular credentials when it came to horticulture, alar or apple growing. Why Streep? Because she was a celebrity. And the implication was that her testimony somehow had additional weight because of it.

Whatever ... I'm not going to argue this point. If Pitt wants Clooney to run for president, I suggest they get his name on the ballot and see what happens. It'll probably meet with the same success that Warren Beatty had a few years back -- a big fact yawn.

Incidentally, Goldberg would have thinned out and disappeared years ago if all he had to operate on was the connection to his mother and the whole Lewinski affair. I would think the reasonable mind would agree that after all these years he has presented his own case for continued existence in the space of political commentary.

Craig ... in addition (I really wish this comment section had an "edit" function) ... the point of my first post was to hypothetically probe what might be in Pitt's mind as he claims he wants to fight for the "founding principles of America." If he were to come forward and explain what he views those to be and explain in clear terms why he believes they are in jeopardy, then I might be persuaded to believe there's more merit to his case than simple celebrity. In a sense that would be like what Reagan did ... as has been shown in recent years, Reagan was an accomplished political thinker and writer before assuming the role of Governor of California.

Monica Lewinsky would not have been much of an issue if Clinton had not lied under oath in court and, ultimately, to the people on live TV.

And, to slam Jonah for his mother is a rather poor argument against Jonah.

Or,should we, celebs or otherwise, be judged by the sins, real or otherwise, of our fathers?

Really ... we should?

Don, I think you're engaging in too much pop-psych speculation as to what Pitt or any other celebs are thinking when they offer their viewpoints on issues of the day to whoever happens to have a mike, pen, or camera in their vicinity.

You said:


"Pitt is free to rail on all he wants about the woes of this world, as are others such as Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. And we are free to look at them and ask, 'Why, exactly, should your opinion have any merit over anyone else's?'"

Right, everybody's free to talk, and free to question the speech of others. You should have stopped there, but you went on with:


"Too often the press, fawning over celebrity as they often do, present the opinion of these actors as something more than merely the opinion of 'just another man on the street.'"

Please do remember that Mrs. Ponzi introduced Mr. Pitt's remarks to this blog. I can honestly say I wouldn't have known about them had it not been for her passing them along! The press continues to produce such stories, especially in this internet age, because the stories get read, get forwarded, and get linked to, as Mrs. Ponzi did. If his opinion is no more important than anyone else's (and I agree, it isn't), then why are so many people apparently willing to read about it and pass it along to others?

But I don't understand your overall critique here. When celebs offer their opinions you think they're acting too big for their britches, but when they take the further step of running for office, that's a legitimate act? Since when is running for office the only legitimate way to participate in our society and the political process? Would you also think it inappropriately presumptuous for celebs to submit letters to the editor of newspapers and magazines? Or is it, more simply, that you just don't like liberal celebs and you have considerable tolerance, or even a fondness for, conservative celebs?

And Dale, you're quite right that we shouldn't be judged by the sins of our fathers (or, in Jonah G's case, mother), but in Jonah's case the fact that he happily rode his mother's sin, and his insider's perspective on that sin, straight into the limelight, and is more proud of her behavior than embarrassed or vicariously ashamed, means that he loses his free pass with that old nugget. I judge him on both his crass opportunism and his pretense to expertise on various subjects where he clearly has none. Are YOU ready to concede that Lucianne Goldberg behaved badly (by encouraging her friend to secretly record personal conversations with another, for political gain)?

Craig, I believe I explained myself earlier -- the issue is when celebrities act as if their opinion should be taken seriously simply because they're celebrities. That's not "pop psychology," that's simply stating what is obvious. It happens all the time.

You wrote: "But I don't understand your overall critique here. When celebs offer their opinions you think they're acting too big for their britches, but when they take the further step of running for office, that's a legitimate act?"

Again, you miss my point. I am not saying that celebrities are "acting too big for their britches" simply because they're offering an opinion. It's when they offer their opinion on subjects for which they have no particular expertise and expect that opinion to be treated seriously. That's why I pondered Pitt's view of what the "founding principles of America" really are. That would give us some hint whether he's speaking from some base of knowledge, or just employing celebrity catch-phrases.

With regard to running for office -- that subjects the celebrity to a far greater degree of scrutiny so that we may actually see what's behind their words. It's a less safe forum in which to express their views. It takes a degree of courage. It requires the celebrity to express and defend their views.

I'm not saying running for office is the only way a celebrity can be taken seriously. But I am saying it is a far more serious gesture than some angry spleen-venting at an awards show, buffered safely by an audience full of like minded celebrities.

Look, I'm perfectly willing to grant Brad Pitt or other celebrities some respect for opinions about acting or movie making ... that's their area of expertise. When they offer opinions on U.S. foreign policy, then the burden is on them to show why that opinion should be taken seriously. Almost none are willing to defend their positions in an open forum. A notable exception is Janeane Garofalo, who is about as left-wing as they come but who has in the past risked defending her position. That I can respect. I didn't agree with her, but I respected her willingness to try to explain her positions.

A striking contrast is Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. She expresses "embarrassment" to be associated by citizenship with President Bush, then claims "censorship" when fans boycott her concerts and albums. That is an example of a non-serious person; one who expected her opinion to be accepted without scrutiny or consequence. And I'm suggesting that expectation was based on her assumptions about celebrity and the authority she believed that offered.

I am not all that certain that George Cloney wouldn't make an admirable president. I am also not sure that what Brad Pitt says isn't true. He is advocating a sort of universalism. Saying that basically human beings are not all that different. We all have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. Our common interests should outweight and be given preference over that which distinguishes us. Muslim, christian, hindu, black, white, asian...The focus of our political understanding should be on the Universal aspect of inallienable rights. ok...Since Don's reasonable critique really rests in questions of expertise...staying in your lane...maintaning your sector of fire...excetera...the question I would ask is why or in what way being an expert could somehow be pertinent to a discussion of what we all share in common? Brad Pitt is in effect saying: "We hold these truths to be self-evident"...one need not be a brain surgeon...these are truths readily available to all by virtue of being human.

Brad Pitt says: "I am a member of the Human race" wow...that is pretty deep in what it implies. It implies that by virtue of being human we share commonalities...that before the experts get to us and break us down further into a billion sub-categories/cultures and distinctions...we are humans. In a sense Brad Pitt is saying: forget the experts, forget the distinctions, forget the labels that draw us into ineffable contortions and classifications...one need not be an expert to participate in the discussion...one need only be human.

Also Julie is pretty much lying about the context of Brad Pitt's comments. He was clearly jokeing about George Cloney or Ben Affleck. Interestingly enough I would say that one reason Brad and so many others can get away with these sort of half-serious jokes is that politicans are so demonized that it is hard to immagine a random person doing much worse. This is really the old conservative argument about random numbers in a phone book vs. Harvard Faculty...what counts as an expert and what are the conditions for something counting as an argument...somewhat inseperable questions. As someone who is unconvinced that George Bush is actually that bad of a president...or that Hillary Clinton would be anethma I tend to think that we suffer from too many chiefs and not enough indians...ultimately because: Why be an indian if the chiefs are incompetent?

In all honesty our hollywood friends are pretty smart and brilliant people...the reality is that they are constantly surrounded by a gaggle of media not unlike presidential candidates, everything they say is subject to scrutiny and distortion and everyone is always trying to raise doubts about questions of sincerity and motive. It is possible that within this context Brad Pitt might suggest Ben Affleck or George Cloney as president not on the basis that they have anything terribly important or substantial to add to the conversation...but rather from the fact that they are good at dealing with the tabloid machine.

Indeed my challenge to Don is to explain why the environment in which actors must live doesn't demand of them skill sets that are more vital to reaching the presidency than anything resembling a "principled/thoughtfull/philosophic" stand on issues might.

John Lewis wrote: Brad Pitt says: "I am a member of the Human race" wow...that is pretty deep in what it implies.

I'll be honest, I can't tell if you're being serious or facetious. To my eye there's little "deep" in that statement. But, that said, I would like to hear Pitt elaborate on that. In particular, I would like to hear Pitt explain -- in practical terms, void of empty platitudes -- how this acknowledgment of the obvious might have a real effect in our very dangerous world. Would, for instance, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be moved by this line of argument? If so, why?

If you look back through the archives of No Left Turns, you'll see plenty of posts by me. But you will not see a single one where I weigh in on any aspect of Hayek, or Hobbes, or Burke or Socrates or Plato or any other philosopher. That's because I have absolutely no expertise in that area. If I were to step into a discussion and say, "Hayek was fundamentally wrong about X!" I'd fairly quickly be asked to explain the basis for my assertion. It would be an assessment of my qualification to offer such an opinion. That's a perfectly reasonable thing to expect of someone who offers an opinion. It's not elitism; it's simply a matter of discerning how much weight to give another's view.

You asked me to "explain why the environment in which actors must live doesn't demand of them skill sets that are more vital to reaching the presidency than anything resembling a "principled/thoughtful/philosophic" stand on issues might." In response to that, I am trying to ponder what skills you might be referring to, if they are exclusive of any principled, thoughtful or philosophic stand on issues. I can think of no skill any actor possesses that would take the place of thoughtful, reasoned and principled thinking.

But I doubt you meant it in that way. I suspect your point was that possessing merely a principled, thoughtful and philosophic stand on issues is not enough. To that I would agree. A brilliant academic who is all thought and theory would fail miserably in the real world of leadership and politics. There's no doubt in my mind that some skills possessed by actors are in fact very useful in the realm of politics and leadership. Reagan illustrated that quite well.

But Reagan was a thoughtful and principled thinking as well as being an actor. Brad Pitt may be as well. So too might Clooney and Afleck for all I know. All I ask -- and I've made this point several times now -- is that if the Hollywood celebrities are going to ask for due respect for their views, that they be prepared to more fully articulate those views, and be prepared to defend those views in the court of public opinion. Their celebrity gives them the podium, but it does not grant their statements the right to acceptance without review.

Good reply Don. The true context of Brad Pitt's claim was in response to people questioning his sincerity or commitment to humanitarian efforts. It was implied that he was simply playing along to make angelina happy...or perhaps to make himself look good...but he says that he is doing it because he is motivated by the situation in Dafur, as a human being.

I think Brad Pitt is probably sick and tired of the court of public opinion...he probably wonders why he has to justify his actions and answer a thousand different cynical reporters a day.

My point was that for Brad Pitt the issue wasn't how much weight to give his views but why his views required any weight at all.

Immagine if you walked outside and saw a toddler playing in the middle of a busy road. Would you head back inside to fetch a video camera to do an exclusive for your Youtube page on incompetent parents and social decay? I should hope not. I should hope that you would act to bring the child to safety first and then seek to contact his parents. Likewise Brad Pitt is saying that he doesn't need an argument or justification for doing what he does.

What Brad Pitt is actually saying: keep me off your podium, and out of your tabloids...go bother Afleck or Clooney...they are more interested in dealing with questions of motive/arguments/politics.

John -- I see the point you're making. Pitt, more than many celebrities, backs up his talk of humanitarianism with action, so to that extent I have regard for what he has to say on that topic. Ditto Bono of U2 fame ... he articulates a position on third world debt relief and is willing to discuss and defend it. Not always persuasively, but at least he's willing to try.

I struggle to have much respect for the Hollywood dandy who, sipping champaign at a $5000/plate fundraiser (from which perhaps only a small fraction of the proceeds actually goes to the cause being championed, the rest used to pay Wolfgang Puck for catering and Vera Wang for the gowns), sallies forth with some boilerplate criticism of Bush, then shrieks when others have the presumption to question their comments.

To the extent the cynical reporters are asking Pitt to justify his humanitarian actions, then I agree that his is justified in resisting that.

However, I hope you see my broader point, which is best made by example. Imagine that Pitt expanded his notion of humanitarian action to involving the U.S. Government in Darfur. Imagine further that part of his commentary consisted of criticism of current U.S. policy. Were that the case, then I think we would be justified in asking Pitt to express his views on alternative policy options, and then to be willing to defend his suggestions as part of the normal process of give and take. Darfur is a complicated mess, with ramifications well beyond simply hoping the killing would stop.

In last Sunday's USA Today Magazine (10/7/07), there is an article on Brad Pitt. He does not speak of the founders, but one can get a sense of how he understands their principles from what he says there. He prefers second generation "jacksonian" thinkers to the founders. In fact, it seems that he is a follower of John C. Calhoun.

Why? Well, in the article Pitt claims that anyone who thinks human beings are equal is an idiot. He doesn't actually argue for slavery, but in saying this he is surely claiming to have a superior undestanding of human nature than that espoused by the Declaration. I suppose Pitt is following Marx regarding class inequality and class conflict and thereby arguing that capitalism establishes the conditions of economic exploitation and political oppression. Perhaps Pitt sees himself (as well as his pal George Clooney, his lover Angelina Jolie, et al.) as one who will deliver us from such inequality (mere "formal" equality) by establsihing some sort sort of true equality in the future.

Clooney in '08!

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