Switching Sides — A Speech
For example, I am still more or less a social liberal, especially on marriage which is to me a civil rights issue, and likely to remain so. I have changed mostly in the economic and foreign policy areas. Many are like me. Be glad we’re here. We’ll try to accept you too, if you’re socially conservative.
Most of all, do not gloat — on the inside or on the outside. Generations of therapists have warned us of the perils of our “need to be right” (not politically but personally) tripping us up. The therapists were correct in their admonition. Remember, the goal here is the political change of others, not to be victorious ourselves.
But speaking of the personal meeting the political, let me contradict myself to a small degree and tell you a little of what I understand of my own evolution.
Although I have a vacation home on Bainbridge Island, which some day I wouldn’t mind making a permanent home, and not just to avoid those confiscatory state taxes in California, but because I like the place, I am a city boy through and through, having grown up on that other island the same physical size, but not population size, as Bainbridge – Manhattan.
My parents were typical Jewish liberal Democrats of their generation, my father having served in World War II as a flight surgeon. They did well in the New York of the fifties, living the American dream and eventually moving to the suburbs.
Like many of my generation, I rebelled. My parents’ Jack Kennedy-style liberalism was too bourgeois for me. Although a privileged graduate of Dartmouth and Yale Drama School, I went left… New Left, as we said in those days. I hung with all of them, the names you know -- Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, virtually all the Chicago Seven, plus Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton.
That’s right, the Black Panthers. When I first came to Hollywood in my early twenties — phenomenally lucky as you could be in those days when they threw inordinate amounts of cash at clueless young screenwriters — I felt class guilt… white skin privilege, as it was called… and became one those sponsoring the Black Panther Breakfast Program for kids, although I never knew whether my donations were going for eggs, bacon or AK-47s.
It took me a long time to get out of that, decades really, because my leftism was well rewarded in the entertainment industry. It was cool. And the movie moguls loved it because they wanted to be cool by osmosis.
Meanwhile, I had invented the pot-smoking private eye Moses Wine, made into a film with Richard Dreyfuss, The Big Fix, and couldn’t conceive of being another way. For a time I even lived in a working class district of Los Angeles, Echo Park, to fit my image.
But, in retrospect, it may have been this largely phony left-wing reputation… most of such reputations are largely phony… that caused the beginnings of my change. For a book I was writing, I was able to wrangle an invitation to the People’s Republic of China in 1979, the days when they were still all in Mao suits. The trip was, of course, fascinating. It was China, after all, and at that point there were no more than a couple of dozen lucky tourists in that entire huge country, but something about it disturbed me even then. I had a feeling I was in a giant jail with undercover agents watching my every move. In fact, that was true.
Later, on subsequent cultural exchanges to the Soviet Union in the eighties, I learned just how true as KGB agents followed us everywhere, including the bathroom. An attempt was even made, at hotel in Yalta, to draft me into Soviet intelligence by a female reporter from Soviet Screen magazine. Not only was I not tempted, I was terrified. Maybe I wouldn’t be allowed back home, I thought — what a disaster. And in any case, the only secrets I knew could be written on the back of a bubble gum pack. (Only lately, have I begun to understand what it was they wanted. More of that in a moment).
My disaffection with Communist China and the Soviet Union was probably step one in my political evolution. Step two was, of all things, the OJ trial. The mega-circus took over my home city of Los Angeles back in 1994-1995. In fact it dominated the country’s media and in the process changed the face of media as we know it. I wanted to attend the trial myself. It was the hottest ticket in the city and every writer I new wanted to be there.