God bless Richard Dreyfuss: He could have taken a much easier celebvocacy path. He could have gone with dolphins or starving children or electric cars or cancer. Something a little more. . . vivid. Instead, the actor’s cause is civics education.
“Everyone tells me ‘civics’ is the most boring word in the language,” he sighed.
No glittering galas for this one, no photo-op lobbying trips to the Capitol. In his crusade to promote rigorous instruction in how to be a good citizen in the U.S. democracy, the Oscar winner goes the bully-pulpit route, with a lot of speeches — like Tuesday night’s at the Library of Congress.
The auditorium was maybe one-quarter full for the lecture, and Dreyfuss joked about counting the empty seats: “They'll be sorry they’re not here!”
The boyish star of “American Graffiti” and “Jaws” is 64 now; penguin-shaped in a plain dark suit and silver moustache, he looked like a D.C. think-tank fellow — and, at first, sounded like one, too.
“What I consider to be the greatest idea for governance in the history of the human race” is at risk, he began. “We’re throwing it all away.”
And then he was off and running, for a little over an hour — talking about the age of Enlightenment and the end of the class system and the great American promise of freedom and democracy and mobility that lured so many immigrants to our shores. Here, the thespian was maybe a little more. . . vivid than those think-tank fellows.
“The rest of the world was darkness, and blood, and rape, and killing,” he said. “Imagine Hitler as normal — that’s where history was heading.”
For all his many discursions — money and politics and television and gun control — Dreyfuss’s message seemed to be: If we don’t teach our kids how to operate our democracy, we, too, could head that direction.
“There is one solution to all of our problems: Teaching our kids clarity of thought and political representation in democracy. That’s it.” That’s it? He took no questions.