Enraged Hollywood celebrities, many of them close friends of President Clinton, raised their voices today against the ongoing impeachment process in Washington, likening it to a coup d'etat.
"With a true abuse of power, the current congressional leadership is determined to force the removal of a twice-elected president from office," thundered an angry Barbra Streisand at a sparsely attended midday rally in Westwood.
Several hundred protesters, including many Hollywood liberals and union members, carried signs that read, "Move On!," "Honk for Sanity" and "Sex Is No Crime." One read, "Dr. Jekyll-Chairman Hyde -- No Coup." They passed around petitions urging Congress to come up with a compromise solution to the crisis that has engulfed the Clinton presidency and that is preoccupying Congress.
Hollywood's impact on House Republicans has been too small to detect in Washington, but that is not because the rhetoric has been ambiguous. Said Streisand, a close friend of the president: "No matter how many times they have been told, the Republicans simply will not listen. . . . Who could have imagined that we would be living in a time when those we elected to office would turn their backs on the public?"
Actor Ted Danson implored the few undecided Republican members of the House to vote against impeachment. "It's not an easy choice. We're looking for heroes," he said.
His wife, actress Mary Steenburgen, was more direct. Challenging Republicans, she said, "You will not burn him at the stake and use the U.S. Constitution as kindling. We are watching, and we will remember."
Said producer Norman Lear, one of Hollywood's staunchest liberals: "It feels like another country, another century. Doesn't this have the feeling, the making of an old-fashioned palace coup?"
Others at the rally and interviewed by telephone were equally incensed. Director Rob Reiner, reached at the set of his new film, "The Story of Us," said he had been transfixed by the impeachment proceedings and horrified at their apparent momentum.
"It's just insane," he marveled. "The whole thing is like we're living in a nightmare. It's like a moment of national insanity. We're going to look back on it in 20 or 30 years and say the country was held hostage by a very small group of rabid, right-wing Republicans. That's clearly what's happening here."
Reiner said he was most disturbed to see Republicans announce in favor of impeachment without citing exactly what Clinton had said that amounted to perjury. "If you're going to claim perjury, you better know what perjury is," he said.
Actor Alec Baldwin, who has been making the rounds of television talk shows in opposition to impeachment, said, "Washington lives in a different universe. . . . The issue now, as far as I'm concerned, is what this will do to the country. Under the best of circumstances this government only uses a fraction of its ability to solve the problems it needs to solve. So right when you think it can't get any worse, now we'll have a trial for six months and talk about cigars when there are so many important things to do."
Baldwin, who has been among the shrillest critics of Congress, had to eat crow for an outburst he made Friday on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."
Baldwin wrote a letter of apology to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) for a bit in which he shouted, "We would stone Henry Hyde to death and we would go to their homes and we'd kill their wives and their children!" Baldwin said the exchange was a parody mocking the sanctimony of representatives on the Judiciary Committee, and that he was sorry Hyde took it badly. "In the current supercharged climate there's no room for this kind of glibness," he said.
NBC has promised not to rerun the show, ever. "The skit was obviously a joke and meant to be taken as such," the network said via a spokesman for the show. "However, in retrospect, there are sensitivities, given the climate in Washington, and we won't re-air it," he said. NBC has refused to give out audio- or videotapes of Baldwin's appearance.
The episode provoked a sharp rebuke from Gary L. Bauer, president of the Family Research Council. "The liberal elites are spewing hateful speech from a new song sheet," he said. "Actor Alec Baldwin spoke words that, if uttered by a conservative, would have destroyed him. . . . Where are the outcries from the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, People for the American Way . . . ? The silence is frightening and telling."
Most of the actors speaking out against impeachment have been longtime Democrats, but not all are close allies of Clinton. One, actor Robert De Niro, has been lobbying members of Congress in an attempt to sway them to vote against impeachment. Actor Daniel Benzali, who appeared in the TV series "Murder One," came to the rally because, he said, the impeachment process was part of a far-reaching right-wing attempt to reverse Democratic policies.
"I really think it's much more than Clinton. It's a culture war -- this is already being whispered on CNN," he said. "The far right wing, under the guise of morality, is trying to turn back the clock. The far right is trying to send a message that they don't like the advances we've made in the area of social issues. As we head into the 21st century they want us to go back to the 16th century."
Actor Jack Nicholson defended Clinton as "a compassionate, passionate man," but said he was more concerned that the country was not paying attention to important issues.
"I don't like the spinning of things left, right and center. The entire government is stopped in its tracks," he said. ". . . What Clinton said in public has got him hurt. They say he's a cad. But we don't want to run the government based on who is a cad."
Said Reiner: "This sets a terrible, terrible precedent, that you can go and start impeaching a president for anything." CAPTION: Barbra Streisand, a close friend of the president: "No matter how many times they have been told, the Republicans simply will not listen." ec CAPTION: Clinton defender Jack Nicholson: "They say he's a cad. But we don't want to run the government based on who is a cad." ec CAPTION: Protesters passed around petitions urging Congress to come up with a compromise solution to the crisis. ec