NPR’s Diane Rehm Show on Wednesday featured an hour with two liberal Hollywood activists – TV producer Norman Lear and actress Kathleen Turner, both in Washington for a People For The American Way event. Guest host Terence Smith (formerly a correspondent with CBS and PBS) honored them both by offering softball questions and opportunities for them to bash Mitt Romney, his adviser Robert Bork, and pro-life advocates.
Smith ran several clips of old Lear sitcoms from the Seventies, including the seminal abortion episode of "Maude," including the actress Adrienne Barbeau lecturing her mother (the title character) that abortion is no longer a dirty word and it’s as easy as going to the dentist:
CAROL TRAYNOR: Mother, it's ridiculous. My saying this to you, we're free. We finally have the right to decide what we can do with our own body...You’re just scared...You are and it's as simple as going to the dentist....Mother, listen to me. It's a simple operation now. But when you were growing up, it was illegal and it was dangerous and it was sinister. And you've never gotten over that....When you were young, abortion was a dirty word. It's not anymore. Now you think about that.
All Smith said after running the clip was "Norman Lear, that debate in this country is far from over." He didn’t say "Isn’t it a little insensitive to compare having your unborn baby ripped from your body limb by limb to getting a fluoride treatment?" NPR thinks of this episode as a great social advance:
LEAR: You know, on that show people don't remember -- and this was a suggestion of the network 'cause we had great fights about this, obviously they didn't want it on at all -- but a lovely man, William Tankersley was the head of program practices then. And there -- Maude had a friend, we hadn't seen her before or since, who had five children and was pregnant and would no more think -- and was poor, but -- you know, broke. She could not afford this sixth child, but she could no more think of ending that pregnancy than, you know, anything.
And she went on and had the preg-- but understood her friend, who at age 50 and under her circumstances and so forth, knew the child she might birth would not have a reasonable life. And they both understood each other, which I thought was the heart and is today the heart of understanding.
TURNER: Yeah, I'm chairman of the board of Advocates for Planned Parenthood USA Federation of America. And so much of what we're fighting today is really more an issue of women's health care than simply abortion. I mean, we certainly must hold on to a woman's right to choose whatever medical procedure she wants for her body. But most of the attacks nowadays are aimed not just at abortion but truly at women's health care and, our, you know, our overall health system for women.
Terry Smith moved from that right into how "remarkable" that leftist Molly Ivins was:
SMITH: You are now on the stage or have been and will be again playing a remarkable woman...
TURNER: A wonderful woman.
SMITH: ...a late woman Molly Ivins in a play called "Red Hot Patriot," the kickass humor of Molly Ivins.
SMITH: You're bringing it, I believe, to Washington, is that correct?
TURNER: I'm bringing it to the Arena Stage. I think we open August 28 and run through October 28. It is – you know, she was so politically savvy and so practical and so funny that I want to introduce this common sense liberalism, yes, um, to anyone I can before the elections, so there.
SMITH: There was another outspoken Texas woman portrayed on the stage here at the Kennedy Center not too long ago in the play...
TURNER: One of my best friends, Holland Taylor.
SMITH: Right. And she wrote and performed Ann, the story of Ann Richards. And so there's something of a little trend here to Texas women, strong Texas women.
TURNER: Well, it seems so. I know. I didn't know she was doing that and she didn't know I was working on Molly. It just sort of happened at the same time.
Earlier, Smith asked for an assessment on the state of liberalism:
SMITH: I wonder, you both are active in what can broadly be called the progressive movement. What do you think of the state of that movement right now in American politics? We're obviously in an election year. Kathleen Turner?
TURNER: All right. I'll go first. I think in many ways it is as solid as it ever has been. One of the problems with being more liberal, more progressive is we don't organize as well. We're not as rigid as say a tea party group that tells its group, its people what it will think and what it will do. We don't react very well to that sort of thing, so it makes us seem a little less organized, but our hearts are true.
SMITH: And so message discipline is not the strength of the movement, Norman Lear?
LEAR: I would say the movement is in certain regards quite timid. Years ago we ceded the best conversation going. What's it all about, Alfie? We ceded God, we ceded values, we ceded moral values, we ceded family values, we ceded all of that stuff to the right as if it doesn't belong to us also. Not belongs to us, but belongs to us also. And we have for too long ignored that best conversation going. And they own it.
Lear also protested that "the man who Governor Romney has chosen to advise him on judicial appointments is Robert Bork who has said of the Civil Rights Act that it was unsurpassed ugliness and has said of the First Amendment that it does not protect music, art." Turner added: "Or literature." Again, all Smith could add was more liberalism: "And the government of course has been, has been, what's the right word, chary in its support of the arts. And I think that is only more prevalent now in this Congress."
Older conservatives will easily recall that Lear’s People For The American Way was instrumental in ripping apart the Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, including a vicious TV ad with Gregory Peck -- unheard of before in a Supreme Court nomination.