Special Report

Jon Voight’s Profile in Courage

Political acid tossed by New York Times -- another attempt to disfigure an American icon.

By 7.7.09

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"'There's a group being formed to deal with you,' the unidentified voice said. 'They're going to fix you so you won't ever act again.'" -- Ronald Reagan, writing in his autobiography Where's the Rest of Me of an anonymous phone call he received while fighting Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry in 1949. 

The threat was simple.

Either Ronald Reagan stopped speaking out on his views of Communists in the movie business -- or he would have acid tossed in his face, disfiguring him. His main asset as an actor thus destroyed, Reagan would never work again.

It didn't work, of course.

"I took it as a joke," Reagan later recalled of the phone call he had received while working on the film Night Unto Night. The movie, based on a Philip Wylie novel, co-starred Viveca Lindfors and Broderick Crawford. Reagan was filming a beach scene for the movie when he was called to a gas station nearby to take a call.

Warner Brothers, the studio where the film was being shot, was not amused. When he finished the scene and got back to the Warner's lot, "the police were waiting with a license [for Reagan] to carry a gun. I was fitted with a shoulder holster and a loaded .32 Smith and Wesson....What got me to put it on was the arrival that night of a policeman to guard our house. Somehow I didn't think the department tossed policemen around as a practical joke….One thing I do know," the future president mused, is that "the Communists hate."

This incident in Reagan's movie career comes to mind as what amount to veiled threats intended to politically disfigure Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight have made the news. Voight, in addressing the annual House-Senate GOP dinner in Washington in May, had used the phrase "Let's give thanks to them [various Obama critics] for staying on course to bring an end to this false prophet, Obama." With the certainty of the sun rising in the east, left-wing critics pounced.

As reported in the Washington Times, the reaction was as follows: 

"I don't want to equate what Jon Voight said as expressing a conservative opinion on politics. It went way beyond that. He made a threat against the president of the United States to a crowd at a GOP fundraiser and got a good response from the Senate minority leader and other powerful people. And that is scary," said Teresa Albano, editor of the publication. [People's Weekly World, a magazine once known as the Daily Worker and sympathetic to the Communist Party.]

Marsha Zakowski, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, was alarmed, too.

"Jon Voight is a celebrity. He can influence people. Voight has just been coming out with this ultraconservative point of view. It is deplorable," she told the magazine in a separate article.

Got that? For Voight to say thanks to those working "to bring an end to this false prophet, Obama." -- in a political speech to one of the most political dinners in Washington's yearly calendar of highly political dinners -- this is now considered not only hate speech but a threat to kill the president worthy of a Secret Service investigation. Surprise, surprise this comes from the philosophical descendants of those who tried to silence Reagan. 

Not to be outdone in all this were columnists Frank Rich and Paul Krugman of the New York Times Op-Ed page, a place where a raw hatred of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was carefully stewed to a rarefied putrid essence for a full eight years. This pair of journalistic Draco Malfoys spend their time hunched over laptops muttering incantations about those they consider to be cultural Mudbloods. Mudblood (the derogatory term for Muggle), of course, is the word Harry Potter's bullying nemesis Malfoy sneeringly applies to wizards who fail to meet the Malfoy wizard racial purity test -- the Pureblood.

"This kind of rhetoric, with its pseudo-Scriptural call to action, is toxic," Rich seethed of Voight, as if he himself had not spent the previous eight years enthusiastically greenlighting the idea of filling the political atmosphere with toxic rhetoric about the Bush White House. So too with his fellow supremacist Krugman , who has now officially designated Mudblood Voight as part of the "lunatic fringe."

What's really going on here is not hard to figure out. A perceived betrayal of the liberal political/cultural elite by anyone presumed for one reason or another to be a member of the group is dealt with severely. The sentinels of Pureblood supremacy will not tolerate the presence of those revealed as Mudbloods.

Political and cultural acid is being tossed at Jon Voight and his career, the latter not coincidentally one of the more distinguished acting careers in American film. This attack is precisely in the same mode as that long-ago phone call to actor Ronald Reagan. In Reagan's case the role of Rich, Krugman, and the rest was played by an anonymous voice on the phone threatening to physically disfigure Reagan "so you won't ever act again.'" Which is to say, the call was designed to shut Reagan up. In Voight's case the objective is the same, the method more sophisticated. This time the target is threatened with political and cultural, not physical, disfigurement. Voight is portrayed as a card-carrying member of an ominous sounding "lunatic fringe," which henceforth signals those in the film world who might wish to hire Mr. Voight that the New York Times is advising them they might want to think twice, if not half a dozen times, before doing so. After all, films must be reviewed by the Times, whether they have Jon Voight in the cast or not. The signal also goes out that it should be a very cold day in hell before Voight ever receives another professional award of any kind from his peers.

In the ultimate irony, in spite of contributing heavily to The Times massive losses -- to the point that the paper is heading perilously towards financial extinction -- the almost rabid insistence on alienating readers with bullying attacks like that on Voight continues. It's almost as if those in charge simply cannot restrain themselves, better judgment having fled entirely.

There is a reason for this kind of bullying vitriol, even if appalling. In the world of things liberal, not unlike the world inhabited by Harry Potter, Mudbloods can be very easily identified and separated out from the Pureblood pack. Those who inhabit various favored liberal categories -- actor, woman, black, Latino, Ivy League graduate to name a few -- are expected to behave politically and culturally in a certain approved fashion. Which is to say that of the Liberal Pureblood.

For those who are in these categories yet have demonstrated other than the approved politics and cultural behavior, well, its Mudblood city. The culture of liberalism cannot be dissented from without cost.

This explains why actors Reagan and Voight -- threats to each delivered sixty years apart -- have drawn some variation of exactly the same reaction. Both men walked off the liberal intellectual plantation where all Hollywood actors were and are expected to dwell. In Reagan's case, walking away meant a threat of acid in the face. In Voight's, speaking out has resulted in attempts to toss not actual acid on his person but cultural and political acid on his career. Both men, Reagan as the recipient of a menacing unidentified phone call and Voight as the quite public target of vitriolic liberal columnists and activists, were perceived by their attackers as political Mudbloods. They certainly haven't been alone, either. The "Mudblood Club" includes others like the female soon-to-be ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (the Hermoine Granger of the GOP), the black Justice Clarence Thomas, filibustered Latino appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada, and, not to be left out, Yale and Harvard's own East Coast scion George W. Bush.

In Reagan's words, the critics of these and other political/cultural Mudbloods really do "hate." They appear to others, although surely not to themselves, as psychologically incapable of serious discussion, irrational to the point of mania. (Just the other day Krugman, giving ironic life to historian Richard Hofstadter's thoughts on the paranoid style in American politics, foamed that anyone who disagrees with global warming is guilty of "treason." Ahhhh…. Okkkkk. Roger that Draco 2. Do they keep nets or straitjackets in the Times newsroom for moments like this? Just asking. If so, who takes theirs off to put on the other guy's?)

In terms of political rhetoric, Voight's language is as politically common as yet another Obama flip-flop. If Teresa Albano's "alert the Secret Service" standard were the rule, Guantanamo would be hosting Keith Olbermann and the entire cast of the Daily Kos, if not Ms. Albano herself. Instead of sitting in the U.S. Senate, Al Franken, he the venomous ex-Air America host, would be the resident comic of a Supermax prison entertaining fellow inmates with names like Rich and Krugman.

Yet there is a reason for this kind of insanity. There is a reason why the Malfoy Twins at the Times foam over Voight's remark applauding those who say we must "bring an end to this false prophet, Obama."

That reason was perhaps best fingered by John Dos Passos, the great American novelist of the Lost Generation who himself walked the path of actors Reagan and Voight, earning the same disdain from his one-time political soul mates on the left. Of the "liberal mentality" Dos Passos said it was nothing more than "the ideological camouflage of the will to power" of a "new ruling class." While he died in 1970, he may already have heard of Jon Voight (who won his fame along with his Oscar in 1969.) One suspects were he here now Dos Passos and Voight, not to mention Reagan, would have much to discuss.

The objective of the acid throwers of today, the Malfoy Twins at the Times and the others, is to do one thing: forcibly exile Jon Voight from the American mainstream and do damage to his career. Why? Because with his credentials (an Oscar for the acclaimed Midnight Cowboy, iconic films of the day like Deliverance or Coming Home -- the latter with Jane Fonda, no less -- and a seamless transfer today to character roles like Tom Cruise's villainous boss in the popular Mission Impossible, to name but a few) Voight…like a Palin, Thomas, Estrada, Bush (or a Reagan of yore)…is well placed to inflict real damage to the "new ruling class" of liberalism. Each in their own way has serious credibility with the American public.

Recall the quote from the activist of the left-wing group quoted above: "Jon Voight is a celebrity. He can influence people. Voight has just been coming out with this ultraconservative point of view. It is deplorable." In other words, it's bad enough that anyone would have Voight's views (say, half the country who voted against Obama) -- but precisely because Voight was esteemed "a celebrity" who "can influence people" he is suddenly -- with these views -- "deplorable." Were he possessed of an "ultraliberal point of view" and said precisely the same words except for the substitution of "Bush" for "Obama," these critics would have no idea there was suddenly a problem with Jon Voight.

The credibility of a Voight or Palin or Thomas as actor/woman/black man in turn makes it the self-assigned job of the haters "to deal with" (in the words of Reagan's caller) whoever is the latest to wear the bull's-eye that identifies a cultural and political Mudblood. Now targeted, understanding his demonization is underway, Jon Voight to his vast credit soldiers on, seemingly unfazed.

Once upon a time, Jon Voight thought of himself as a liberal. Doubtless he assigned certain values -- tolerance, for one -- to this political faith and now realizes like Reagan and a host of ex-liberals his belief was misplaced. Right around the time he won his Oscar and burst into the American consciousness, America was filled with political references to the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. (In a harbinger of things to come on 9/11, RFK was assassinated by a Palestinian Arab who hated Kennedy because of his support for Israel. Yet commentators of the day tried to lay the blame on, yes indeed, American conservatives.) Perhaps somewhere along the way in those days Voight heard this much quoted remark of RFK's:

"Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change."

Make no mistake. Jon Voight is exhibiting precisely those qualities of which Bobby Kennedy once spoke -- and which liberals of the day claimed to admire. In today's world, instead of respect there is a move to ostracize Voight for his moral courage, to punish him, to threaten him, to abruptly smear his image and re-create him as someone far outside the American mainstream. To throw political and cultural acid on a good and courageous American in an attempt to disfigure his life and damage his ability to work, ironically turning Voight into precisely the kind of American both RFK and Ronald Reagan celebrated.

Which, of course, makes the rest of us understand that the spotlight is revealing something quite special in current American political debate. A something Bobby Kennedy's brother JFK once wrote about, a something that certainly describes Jon Voight in a fashion rarely associated with Hollywood.

A profile in courage.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.