Let us now consider the peculiar politics of Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie producer. Today Weinstein is in the headlines for an astonishing array of alleged sexual harassment and assaults, but once upon a time he was renowned for something quite different: his generous patronage of liberal politicians and progressive causes.
This leading impresario of awful was an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He was a strong critic of racism, sexism and censorship. He hosted sumptuous parties to raise money for the fight against Aids.
In 2004 he was a prominent supporter of a women’s group called “Mothers Opposing Bush”. And in the aftermath of the terrorist attack against the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, he stood up boldly for freedom of the press. Taking to the pages of Variety, Weinstein announced that “No one can ever defeat the ability of great artists to show us our world.”
To call this man a hypocrite is to state the obvious. This champion of women is now accused of sexual harassment on an epic scale. This defender of the press was excellent at manipulating it and on one memorable occasion is said to have physically roughed up a reporter asking tough questions.
Perhaps Weinstein’s liberalism was a put-on all along. It certainly wasn’t consistent or thorough. He strongly disapproved of Bernie Sanders, for example. And on election night in November 2008, Weinstein could be found celebrating Barack Obama’s impending victory on the peculiar grounds that “stock market averages will go up around the world.”
The mogul’s liberalism could also be starkly militaristic. On the release of his work of bold war propaganda, Seal Team Six, he opined to CNN as follows:
“Colin Powell, the best military genius of our time, supports the president – supports President Obama. And the military love him. I made this movie. I know the military. They respect this man for what he’s done. He’s killed more terrorists in his short watch than George Bush did in eight years. He’s the true hawk.”
In Weinstein’s world, politics often correlated with conspicuous displays of luxury goods – it was something you did on Martha’s Vineyard, or on the Riviera, or in the Hamptons, toasting the candidate or raising money for the good cause. Here is a glimpse of a Weinstein event for Aids research held in Cannes in 2000, as described by Roger Ebert:
“The private auction and the fashion show were followed by dinner and a public auction masterminded by Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein, who this year not only offered a massage by Heidi Klum, but persuaded [actors Kenneth] Branagh and [James] Caan to take off their shirts and act as subjects for a demonstration of her skills. The massage went for $ 33,000. ‘Karl Marx is dead,’ observed the director James Gray.”
There are sleazebags in every party, as Donald Trump frequently reminds us. But even so, Harvey Weinstein was unusual: a militant and vocal backer of a faith he appears to have violated in the starkest way.
This strain of liberalism attracts hypocrites like Harvey Weinstein
What explains Weinstein’s identification with progressive causes? Perhaps it was all about cozying up to power, the thrill of being a friend of Bill Clinton.
Perhaps it was all about moral absolution, in the same way that lists of corporations-that-care always turn out to be led by outfits like Walmart, Goldman Sachs and Exxon-Mobil. In the world of the wealthy, liberalism is something you do to offset your rapacious behavior in other spheres. It’s no coincidence that, in Weinstein’s desperate first response to the accusations against him, he thought to promise war against the National Rifle Association and to support scholarships for women.
But it’s also something deeper than that. Most people on the left think of themselves as resisters of authority, but for certain of their leaders, modern-day liberalism is a way of rationalizing and exercising class power. Specifically, the power of what some like to call the “creative class”, by which they mean well-heeled executives in industries like Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood.
Worshiping these very special people is the doctrine that has allowed Democrats to pull even with Republicans in fundraising and that has buoyed the party’s fortunes in every wealthy suburb in America.
That this strain of liberalism also attracts hypocrites like Harvey Weinstein, with his superlative fundraising powers and his reverence for “great artists”, should probably not surprise us. Remember, too, that Weinstein is the man who once wrote an essay demanding leniency for Roman Polanski, partially on the grounds that he too was a “great artist”.
Harvey Weinstein seemed to fit right in. This is a form of liberalism that routinely blends self-righteousness with upper-class entitlement. That makes its great pronouncements from Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons. That routinely understands the relationship between the common people and showbiz celebrities to be one of trust and intimacy.
Countless people who should have known better are proclaiming their surprise at Harvey Weinstein’s alleged abuses. But in truth, their blindness is even more sweeping than that. They are lost these days in a hall of moral mirrors, weeping tears of admiration for their own virtue and good taste.
- Thomas Frank is a Guardian columnist