“It’s the job of the press to question and to keep questioning.”
Ask Rob Reiner a question, and you will get a lengthy and passionate answer. The ninth episode of “Cape Up” is an impromptu conversation with the actor, director and activist, who just happened to be in the District last month scouting locations for his movie “Shock and Awe.” He said the forthcoming film is about the run-up to the Iraq War and the Knight-Ridder journalists who “got everything right.”
Reiner’s admonition to the press was part of a lengthy criticism of the media’s role in the Iraq War effort. “The mainstream media had bought into the administration’s line,” he said, “and everybody drank the Kool-Aid.”
What was more fascinating was how his critique of the actions of the press then applies to the current presidential campaign. “I don’t care what you ask him — he isn’t going to have the answer,” Reiner said about Donald Trump. “We’re talking about the presidency of the United States. It’s important that you guys hold his feet to the fire no matter how difficult it is.” Another parallel is how art is imitating life.
Back in the 1970s, Reiner gained fame on the television show “All in the Family” as Michael Stivic, the liberal son-in-law of the decidedly bigoted Archie Bunker. He told me that people are always asking him whether a show like that could be done today. What does he tell them? “We are doing it! We’re doing it every day with Donald Trump running for president! He’s Archie Bunker,” Reiner said. “They’re both from Queens. … They both have these misogynistic, racist points of view. And they spout them.” Does that mean all of Trump’s supporters are racist? “Of course, they’re not all racist,” Reiner said. “That’s ridiculous. … But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a big strain of racism … in his constituency, and he knows it.”
Reiner isn’t an armchair activist. He was the chair of a California state commission on early childhood education. He and his wife, Michele, helped found the American Foundation for Equal Rights in 2009 that succeeded in legally overturning Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage approved by California voters in 2008.
Reiner even entertained running for governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, but that didn’t go anywhere. “I polled 40 percent in my own family,” Reiner said. “I basically couldn’t carry my family, so I figure maybe it’s not such a good idea.” Reiner’s wife, Michele, who was in the studio during the recording, told me, “A big thumbs down.”
Reiner is so immersed in politics it was easy to forget that he directed “The Princess Bride,” wrote and directed “This Is Spinal Tap,” has appeared in countless films and television shows and is the son of the great actor Carl Reiner. Did he ever feel pressure growing up to be great like his dad? “It’s not a pressure to be great,” Reiner told me. “It’s a pressure to just succeed and survive and find your own way in the world.”
I couldn’t resist more Hollywood talk. Is it as liberal as we are led to believe? Does he have any Republican friends? What word did he learn from Charlton Heston that became his favorite curse? But our conversation was mostly political, such as when he offered a great observation of our political parties that he shared with President Clinton in 1993. “You have to understand the basic difference between Republicans and Democrats,” he said he told the then-president when he was being roasted for that tarmac haircut. “Republicans know they’re right. Democrats entertain the possibility that they might be wrong.”
You should hear him talk about the dream he had that featured House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). And you must listen to the podcast to find out whether he would work for a “President Hillary.” The answer might not surprise you. What he would want to do will. Listen to the podcast to find out what it is, and subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj