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Hollywood's right reluctant to join Iraq debate

Only a handful of celebrities have voiced support

Actor Fred Thompson, former U.S. senator from Tennessee.
Actor Fred Thompson, former U.S. senator from Tennessee.

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- Where is Arnold Schwarzenegger when President Bush needs him?

The movie action hero and committed Republican is so far absent in the "star wars" debate over an impending war against Iraq, reflecting what celebrity pundits say is a curious silence on the part of many Hollywood conservatives.

While Tinseltown liberals have come out in force to denounce any war against Iraq, only a handful of household names have so far spoken up in support of President Bush's Iraq policy.

Hollywood publicist Michael Levine, who last month launched a French wine boycott on behalf of a number of big stars -- but declined to name them -- said he was disappointed but not surprised at the silence.

"Hollywood is a very liberal town. Declaring yourself a conservative in Hollywood would be like declaring yourself a meat eater at a vegetarian convention," Levine told Reuters.

Leading the conservative cavalry is "Law and Order" actor Fred Thompson, a former Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee, fronting a 30-second TV commercial backing Bush which aired for the first time in Washington and New York this week.

"Thank goodness we have a president with the courage to protect our country," he says in the ad, paid for by the group Citizens United.

Bruce Willis, 47, promoting a new war movie this month in which he plays a Navy special operations commander, told reporters he had thought about signing up for the real action, but friends told him he was too old.

Singer Kid Rock mouthed some characteristic expletives about "slitting the throat" of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and action film hero Jean Claude van Damme damned the anti-war Hollywood crowd as "part of the axis of ignorance."

But "Terminator" star Schwarzenegger, who has toyed with running for California governor as a Republican, has taken no part in the celebrity debate over Iraq that has infuriated middle Americans and prompted talk of boycotts and blacklists.

"We have been asked by several people, but we don't have any official comment. There is no official statement," Schwarzenegger's publicist said.

Clint Eastwood, a former mayor of the California seaside city of Carmel, has also been reluctant to publicly side with Bush.

Harrison Ford this week dissociated himself from media reports that he was backing Bush, saying he was "appalled by the idea" that anyone might think he supports war.

Tom Cruise appeared to support Bush's Iraq policy six months ago but has said nothing since. And director Steven Spielberg has said nothing since a remark in September that expressed tentative confidence in Bush's stance.

"Steven has never been that kind of activist. He really keeps to his business, and that is filmmaking," Spielberg's spokesman said.

Public response

Citizens United president David Bossie said there had been an overwhelming public response to his campaign and the ad fronted by Thompson.

Thompson, a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was chosen specifically to counter an anti-war coalition's ad by Martin Sheen, who plays the fictional TV president Josiah Bartlet in the popular "West Wing" series.

"Fred Thompson is not just some guy who plays parts on television. Fred Thompson was a U.S. senator for eight years who also happens to be an actor," Bossie said.

"If other actors or celebrities or sports figures wanted to shoot a message to the American people, we would welcome it and encourage it," he said. Bossie said he had been contacted by other Hollywood figures but added; "I'm not going to name names."

Los Angeles-based political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said it was curious why the likes of Schwarzenegger and Eastwood were not gracing the studios of Larry King or other political talk shows.

"Maybe they don't have to be on the talk shows because you have Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney making the case and commanding media attention -- far more, quite frankly, than most Republican 'celebrities' would command," she said.

"Also the culture of Hollywood, particularly the creative community, does tend to be more liberal. I think some of the more conservative Hollywood actors are afraid of a level of nonacceptance professionally if they were to be too vocal in support of President Bush."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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