What a difference four years makes. In early 2000 Ron Silver was out on the stump with Bill Bradley during the Democratic primaries. Fast-forward to New York 2004, and the avowed liberal actor is celebrity supporter du jour at the Republican convention for President Bush.
At the convention center's Radio Row, where dozens of radio hosts are squeezed into a tight circle of booths, Silver shuffles from one interview to another, patiently fielding accusations of hypocrisy and treason.
A passing Republican staffer grips him by the arm and looks him right in the eye. "You did us proud the other night," he says. "Excellent job. We loved you."
Silver admits the whole thing feels a little strange.
"Twelve years ago I was here for the Democratic convention. I was on the platform committee. Zell Miller was the keynote speaker. A lot's changed since then, I can tell you," he chuckles. "If you asked me on September 10, 2001, would I consider going to the Republican National Convention and speaking, I would have thought you were from another planet and didn't know who I was."
And therein lies the rub. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, marked a turning point in Silver's political evolution, one that brought him down on the side of Bush. In a brief but rousing endorsement of Bush, the Tony winner and star of films such as "Reversal of Fortune" and "Ali," told delegates why he was on their side.
"I think there are September 10 people and there are September 11 people. I'm one of the latter. Everything changed for me. Since then I see everything through the prism of what happened that day," he says. "For me this election is about one issue and that is the response to 9/11. In that sense I think the president is doing exactly the right thing. If 9/11 hadn't happened then I'd be firmly in the Democratic camp."
Such sentiments won over the opening-night crowd that thronged Madison Square Garden on Monday. But Silver's stance has left many Democrats scratching their heads. Silver's liberal credentials are impeccable. Aside from supporting Bradley in 2000, he was president of Actors Equity, the labor union, for much of the 1990s and helped Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon and Christopher Reeve, among others, establish the Creative Coalition, an organization that advocates First Amendment rights and public education. He is the first to acknowledge he is not a natural-born Republican, particularly when it comes to issues such as gay rights, health care and gun control.
"On many social issues, if this president wins -- and I hope he does and I will try to help him -- on November 3 I'll be on the other side of the barricades when it comes to stem cell research, gay rights and other social issues," he says.
So how does he square deeply held liberal values with his support for the Republican Party? By putting pragmatism before ideology, he counters.
It's not the first time Silver has played the hawk in dove's clothing. He cites his support of then-President Ronald Reagan's missile defense program, his backing for the deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe and his stance against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. "If people actually took the time to look back on this, they would find that when it comes to national security my views have been pretty consistent," he says.
Musing over what label he should use to describe himself: "progressive conservative," "revolutionary liberal," "a little to the left of the right of center," he eventually settles on the words of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping: "I don't care if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.
"I want problems to be solved in a fair way, and if I think there is a solution to a problem then I really don't care what label it falls under. If people choose to find it somewhat confusing or a little too nuanced for them, then that's not my problem."
He is equally unapologetic when it comes to airing such views in the company of Hollywood liberals. In a deftly delivered dig, Silver told whooping and cheering delegates Monday night, "I find it ironic that many human rights activists and outspoken members of my own entertainment community are often on the front lines to protest repression, for which I applaud them, but they're usually the first ones to oppose any use of force to take care of these horrors that they catalogue repeatedly."
Such pronouncements have not exactly endeared him to the Hollywood set, leading to distinctly frosty receptions at several dinner parties, Silver says. "I don't really feel like a pariah, but I know my opinion isn't appreciated by a large section of my own colleagues in the entertainment industry, although I trust we'll get over that," he says, smiling.
"People are dismissive. It's all 'Come on, Ron, you're too smart for that. Come on, Ron, you must be kidding.' There's no engagement. No one is willing to really discuss the issues."
Still a registered Democrat, Silver reserves much of his ire for the Democratic rank and file, many of whom he believes are too much in thrall to Michael Moore and his critique of the Bush administration.
"This demeaning caricature of the president they draw has always bothered me. The idea that he was an illegitimately installed right-wing nut that only wanted to do things for oil companies always bothered me because I thought it was unfair," he says. "I think the Democrats are demeaning and dismissing this guy at their own risk. They haven't engaged in a proper conversation about what's really happening. The party has lost its way."
And as for the election outcome? "Right now it seems neck and neck. The stakes are so high. But if I was to put money on it, I would bet on the president, real, real close."