October 6, 2005
Ed Asner Speaks Out on the Far Right's Misuse of Power
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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Ed Asner is perhaps best known for playing the character of Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its spin-off, "Lou Grant." In addition to acting in countless television roles and films, Asner has been a producer, writer, and political activist.
Following a strike by actors and writers that delayed the 1980 – 1981 TV season, Ed Asner was elected president of the Screen Actor's Guild in 1981. In the 1980s, Asner became an outspoken critic of the Reagan administration's support of right-wing death squads in El Salvador, as well as many other causes. Asner admits that his political activism adversely affected his acting career.
"The First Amendment is most precious, and yet it's meaningless to people when they don't have the guts to practice it," said Asner, who has never stopped speaking his mind.
That's why BuzzFlash recommends Misuse of Power: How the Far Right Gained and Misuses Power by Ed Asner and Burt Hall, a former Group Director on matters of national security with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Misuse of Power offers a compelling and highly resourceful survey of American politics from 1992 to the present day and documents how the right wing has seized control of America.
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BuzzFlash: What are the most egregious examples of the Bush administration’s misuse of power in the last five years?
Ed Asner: I first want to say that I’m appalled with the limited press scrutiny that has occurred during the Bush administration's tenure, including the rigged election in 2000. This is an administration of promises made, promises broken. But it is the apathy of the public that I find so difficult to comprehend. One of the reasons I wrote the book with Burt Hall was to state the Bush administration's malfeasance in very simple terms and see if it serves as a wake up call for anybody -- because, clearly, the mainstream press won't do it.
BuzzFlash: I know it’s hard to pick one, but is there one action, or policy, or decision that epitomizes the Bush administration's misuse of power?
Ed Asner: You can't top the invasion of Iraq. We have seen in the Downing Street Memos, which exposed British complicity, that the reasons for invading Iraq were totally fabricated.
If you look at other instances where we've used brute military force, such as the invasion of Grenada, it was over immediately, so there was no time to really grasp what happened. In the buildup to the war in Iraq, however, there were millions of people on the streets throughout the world protesting the coming invasion. Despite the broad opposition, the Bush administration still proceeded accordingly.
The war has since proven to be a lie from the beginning to the end, with the final rationale that we freed Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. This rationale, however, doesn’t seem to have meant anything as far as the atrocities in Darfur where millions of people have been displaced, starved, and killed. These human rights abuses are more outrageous than what Saddam was doing to his people at the time of the invasion. We continue to refer to Uzbekistan as an ally, in spite of the raping of civil liberties and human rights that has gone on there. Despite egregious atrocities all over the world, freeing the people of Iraq became the final reason, when disarming Hussein proved to fall flat. And once again, public apathy, at least until we started losing this war, seemed to accept it as a good enough reason.
BuzzFlash: You speak of public apathy. Do you think the average American understands just how extreme the Bush administration and the current right wing really are?
Ed Asner: No, I don’t. I don’t at all. And I’ll confess to being a worrywart. And I also confess that, in the past, I have spoken out too righteously and expected everybody to collapse at the hearing of my precious words. But if anything proves the apathy of the American people or their unwillingness to even believe that we are capable of such perfidy, this is the occasion. This Iraq war is the event.
BuzzFlash: Bush is nothing more than a packaged image – all form and no substance. Let’s take Bush’s recent speech that was staged in front of Jackson Square in New Orleans that was reported by the media more as a performance – how he looked, how he sounded. It would be nice if the mainstream media critiqued Bush for what he does instead of how he plays President on TV. As an actor and a performer, what is it like for you to watch George W. Bush speak? And how do you critique what I would call his playing a President on TV?
Ed Asner: Well, that's the other confusing thing for me. To hear the man speak, you can tell how rarely he has original thoughts. His malapropisms, his fracturing of the language, and his horrendous delivery don't convey leadership, at least not to me. And remember just how little Bush is asked questions during press conferences, how he has been shielded and protected – it is truly amazing to me.
As an actor, I don’t buy this myth how telegenic Bush is on TV. It doesn’t work for me. I guess I’m out of step with the majority of Americans who voted for him. I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth. I don’t believe that there is a direct line from his mouth to his heart.
BuzzFlash: The right wing vilifies actors, artists, and celebrities who speak out on social and political issues. Yet, at the same time, Republicans are quick to rally around a conservative celebrity, especially if they’re running for office, such as Ronald Reagan did, or Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. As an actor and an activist, what’s your opinion on the right wing’s continual campaign to bash celebrities who speak out on social and political issues? You’ve been doing it for quite some time.
Ed Asner: It’s a given. It stands to reason that the majority of actors are of liberal persuasion. The right wing knows that rarely will they have the chance to support an actor who espouses their cause.
When you ask about the right-wing attacks on performers, these are old scripts. These have been readied for decades, prepared by the right wing, knowing that in the main, artists will not be in support of their programs and their ideas. So they are ready to attack. They are ready to vilify and they will resort to anything.
If you’re an actor and you make a remark that supports a liberal position, automatically an advertiser or producer will think you’re alienating 50% of potential customers. Advertisers will think twice before hiring you. There are actors who willingly identify themselves as conservative, but they are never affected in terms of unemployment.
BuzzFlash: You spoke out against the Reagan administration’s intervention and support of the oppressive regime in El Salvador that committed untold atrocities in the 1980s. You wrote how you were personally blacklisted after speaking out, even though your activism was more of a humanitarian stance than an overtly political one. What did you take away from that experience?
Ed Asner: I took away a great deal of experience and a great deal of knowledge. It doesn’t matter to the right wing whether you speak out for humanism and can prove that it was strictly a humanistic purpose for which you were speaking. Once the cry is taken up and you are called a communist, and it will reverberate and lodge into people's minds and the attacks will continue.
On the Bill Maher show the other day, I saw a guest – a libertarian I think – questioning the comedian George Carlin. I don’t know who this guy was. And this guest said that Carlin's ideas sounded like they were from some Marxian philosophy – a euphemism of course, but he basically called Carlin a communist. We have been so inundated with this dreck – so smeared, so constantly brainwashed – that even though the Cold War is supposedly over and there is no communist threat, any humanist perspective is still belittled. The right wing still rakes it up because they can’t call George Carlin a terrorist. He’s a white man, sitting there with a little beard.
BuzzFlash: What would you say to up-and-coming artists and celebrities who want to speak out against injustices they see?
Ed Asner: I appreciate if they go slowly in expressing their political views, as I did in my earlier years, having just squeaked through the McCarthy period. I can appreciate the young artists being wily and cagey. At the same time, the longer the actor or artist goes in life without committing to the ideals he or she truly believes in, the greater the personal anger and frustration will be inside themselves. Not speaking your mind will only make your ulcer get worse.
BuzzFlash: What advice do you have for progressives and political activists fighting this administration and hoping to reclaim America from the right wing?
Ed Asner: This administration is starting to totter. It needs all the voices and all of the articles, and all of the outcry possible to defang it even more by the 2006 elections. Hopefully, justice will be served, and the GOP cronies will receive the convictions that we are all desperately hoping for. But what we really need is for democrats to get off their backs and begin to articulate what the American people already feel, that it's time for change in our country.
BuzzFlash: Mr. Asner, thank you for your time.
Ed Asner: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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