Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

In Defense of Sean Penn

(or the post you never thought a conservative hawk would write.)

Sean Penn has been inserting himself into the national debate, again, by way of his ill-fated rescue efforts in New Orleans. The juggernauts of the right side of the blogosphere have been quick to mock - see John Hinderaker at Power Line, Michelle Malkin and Glen Reynolds of Instapundit. Mr. Penn's own words place his political views firmly in the camp of the actors of Team America's Film Actor's Guild, and yet his actions set him apart. Many of those around him rail against uncaring Republicans while sipping merlot on their multi-million dollar "ranches," claiming that it would be easy to save everyone, if W. would just make the effort. We can question his intelligence for buying into the sneering wisdom of his peers, but to his great credit, Sean Penn's first instinct is to jump in and do something.

Those who don't try
Never look foolish.
--from the musical, Wicked

Granted, Mr. Penn looks rather foolish, bailing out his boat with a red plastic mug. Sure, he brought a photographer. Sure his attempt to help was incredibly ill-conceived, ill-planned and poorly carried out... but it's still a thousand percent better than sitting on his couch b*tching about how other people are bungling the relief effort.

And who knows, perhaps he'll get back to his Hollywood mansion with a bit more respect for how well the rescue workers on the ground are actually doing in incredibly difficult circumstances.

* * *

Mr. Penn's trip to Iraq before the War received a great deal of attention, as did the New York Times ad he took out, in which to express his opposition to the War. His second visit to Iraq, a year later, deserves a closer look. Here's what he wrote about it for the San Francisco Chronicle. He does manage to credulously recycle nearly every canard of the anti-war left (depleted Uranium, troops targeting journalists and blood for oil) and yet, he writes things that most anti-war activists would recoil from in horror.

While others on the left pay lip-service to supporting the troops, while taunting them at their hospital beds, Penn seems to genuinely like them.
we spot U.S. soldiers guarding a sewage pumping station under repair. We approach on foot as a nearby school opens its doors for a lunch break and hundreds of children come out to engage the soldiers.

The commander of the unit is Lt. Col. Mark Coats. Coats' demeanor is confident and alert. He is accommodating of my request to photograph his soldiers and their interaction with the children. There is no question of politics here, and the warmth of these soldiers toward the children is genuine. I get the impression that such events occur daily here, and not only when journalists are present.

The sharp contrast between his imported view of the big picture and his first-hand experience of the small details is clear:
While many of the engagement policies and raid tactics of coalition forces are incendiary to the local population, the rank-and-file soldiers I meet behave with dignity and grace in their daily interactions with Iraqi people.

He visits a project compiling a list of Saddam's victims and writes:
It's a reminder that it wasn't only the Americans and coalition forces that "liberated" the country. There were tens of thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives opposing the regime as well.

Most tellingly, comparing his two visits, he writes:
They're used to war; they're used to gunshots. What's new is this tiny seed and taste of freedom. It is a compelling experience to have been in Baghdad just one year ago, where not a single Iraqi expressed to me opinions outside Baathist party lines, and just one year later, when so many express their opinions and so many opinions compete for attention. Where the debate is similar to that in the United States is over the way in which the business of war will administer the opportunity for peace and freedom, and the reasonable expectation of Iraqi self-rule.

Certainly Sean Penn is far to the left of mainstream America, but remember the examples of Bob Geldof and Bono. Because they actually devoted themselves to a real cause (rather than a superficial sentiment) -- and got directly involved with it, we now see them working together with President Bush on ameliorating African poverty, and discussing intelligent ways to deal with the problem without just throwing money at it. The difference between these two and the rest of the artists of Band Aid and We Are The World is not to be found in what they believed or even (at least, not in every case) in their relative intelligence -- but in what they were willing to do: to show up, see for themselves, and lend a hand.

Sean Penn may not be the brightest bulb, but his willingness to actually show up, see for himself, and lend a hand make it clear, he's really a Grey-tribe sheepdog at heart. Perhaps now we finally know what Madonna saw in him, all those years ago.


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