The Republican War on Hollywood

How the GOP can turn the tide with Tinseltown.

This week, the Los Angeles Times ran a dismissive hit piece against Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Ryan, it turns out, stood against subsidies for Hollywood while serving in Congress by fighting, in 2007, against a Centers for Disease Control initiative designed to ladle health information into shows including Sesame Street and Grey’s Anatomy. The CDC had already shelled out big bucks to support the Hollywood Health & Society, a subsidiary of the Norman Lear Center at USC. The CDC was handing over nearly $200,000 in taxpayer cash to the program.

Ryan tried to slash the entire program from the CDC budget. He said it was “clearly an expense that should have been covered by the successful, for-profit television shows, not by our hard-earned tax dollars.”

Ryan, of course, was absolutely right. Hollywood is wealthy beyond belief, an industry that rakes in billions per year. Shows like Sesame Street and Grey’s Anatomy don’t need taxpayer subsidies any more than Kobe Bryant does.

But Ryan’s response was also indicative of a general coolness between the Republican Party and Hollywood. Republicans tend to oppose tax credits for Hollywood, even while they support tax credits for other industries. There’s a reason for that: Hollywood is a propaganda machine for the left. Why would the GOP support an industry that churns out pro-Obama agitprop like Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the Osama Bin Laden killing designed to hit the advertising market just before the election? Why would Republicans want to back an industry that seeks to paint conservatives as redneck rubes who might go psycho at any moment and slaughter entire families?

They wouldn’t. But a long time ago, they did.

Back in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, even Republicans were fans of Hollywood. Republicans thought that Hollywood was a uniquely American industry, and that production of film and television would do the country significant good on the world stage. Promoting film and TV with tax cuts was a signal goal of both parties.

All that changed over the course of the 1960s. While in the 1930s through the 1950s, the executives in charge of the movie and television industry were businessmen first – old schmatta salesmen like General Sarnoff and Leonard Goldberg – the new executives of the 1960s, the folks you see on Mad Men, were affected by the leftist ideas of that era. They let their creative juices flow. And often, that meant that their TV shows pushed the line, targeting traditional values. By the end of the 1960s, American television and movies were undergoing a sea change – so much so that during the 1968 election, they went all out for the anti-Nixon agenda.

Nixon responded by attacking Hollywood. In 1971, Nixon threatened to break apart the three major networks of the time (NBC, ABC, CBS). “If the threat of screwing them is going to help us more with their programming than doing it,” he said, “then keep the threat. As far as screwing them is concerned, I’m very glad to do it.” And no wonder. Television’s treatment of Nixon was brutal.

But it also spelled the end of Republican involvement in Hollywood. For the first time, liberals finally had an excuse to break relations with the GOP. The liberals who had been advocating such a break now saw their wishes fulfilled, and their cushy executive jobs entrenched. And that’s how things have remained ever since – even though Ronald Reagan went out of his way to help out Hollywood repeatedly with government programs as an old Hollywood guy.

So, is Ryan wrong? No. But Republicans ought to work on re-establishing ties with Hollywood. That means that they should make the economic case to the Hollywood establishment that they can help make the industry flourish. “Hollywood” is now fleeing to Vancouver, to Europe, to Asia. They’re looking for funding everywhere but America. All that can change if we have a thriving economy that encourages investment – even riskier investments like movies and television. The solution for Hollywood doesn’t lie in taxpayer dollars, but in being allowed to keep more of their own.

If conservatives embrace Hollywood again – if they infiltrate the ranks of the executives and make the case not only that there is an unfilled demand for conservative film and TV, but that conservative economic policies overall benefit the industry – Hollywood may finally see a reason to begin moderating. Then we’d get two benefits: a growing Hollywood, and a fairer Hollywood.

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