Everyone, I'm sure, has their favorite Baldwin brother. Some people prefer Stephen, won over by his goofy smile and his scintillating performance alongside Pauly Shore in 1996's Bio-Dome. Others pick Billy, the soulful middle child, whose star wattage has dimmed somewhat since his heyday in films like Sliver and Backdraft. And some, I imagine, plump for Adam, the oft-forgotten Baldwin boy whose work, for some reason, tends to scurry straight to video.
But for my money, the crme de la crme of this Hollywood clan--the Baldwin of Baldwins, if you will--is the eldest and most famous of the lot. This is Alec Baldwin, of course, whose fame as a thespian often leads us to forget that he is, first and foremost, a political philosopher. I came to this realization during the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio, when he told a bemused Conan O'Brien '85 that "if we were in other countries, we would all go down to Washington and we would stone Henry Hyde to death! We would stone him to death! . . . We would stone Henry Hyde to death, and we would go to their homes and we'd kill their wives and their children!"
At the time, Conan did not ask him which "other countries" he meant, but this election season Mr. Baldwin provided us with a possible answer, when he declared that if George W. Bush becomes President, he--accompanied, one assumes, by his wife, the lissome Kim Basinger--would pack his bags and move to France.
Alas, the Baldwin of Baldwins has since backtracked, apparently alarmed by the news that they speak French in France. But his despair over the prospect of a Republican president seems to be shared by many of my Harvard acquaintances, most of whom are prone to declare, with exaggerated horror, that if Bush wins in November I'm going to move to Canada.
In my opinion, Mr. Baldwin's destination of choice is a much classier place--although the Canadians do have that neat new territory just below the Arctic Circle, Nunavut, where the license plates are shaped like polar bears and the capital city has about 66 inhabitants. But whether they are bound for the Champs-Elysees or the Great White North, liberal Harvardians and the Baldwin of Baldwins seem to have one thing in common: they are, deep in their progressive little souls, terrified of Republicans.
While vaguely absurd, this overpowering fear is a natural consequence of a mindset which treats Progress, with a capital "P," as the chief end and highest good to which a society can aspire. If Progress is Good, it follows that those who stand in the way of said Progress must be Bad, Wicked, and a dozen other capitalized synonyms for Absolute Evil. And while most of my fellow Harvardians would doubtless shy away from Alec Baldwin's scheme for the stoning of prominent conservatives, they sympathize with the spirit that animated his remarks, which was summed up admirably when one of my roommates suggested humorously that "Dick Cheney is Satan."
As one of Harvard's 14 or so registered members of the GOP, I find the whole business rather entertaining--and as Machiavelli noted wisely, it is a far better thing to be feared than loved. Nevertheless, my heart goes out to my fearful fellow students, with their Mondale-Ferraro memories and their yearning glances at socialist Canada--and so I try, without much success, to point out that a Bush victory in November might not be all that bad.
Granted, the Republican presidential candidate is no intellectual superstar. One of his favorite books is the children's classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, while Al Gore opts for The Red and the Black, a 19th century page-turner by the French author Henri Stendhal. But let's be honest here--who reads Stendhal, really? (Aside from the Paris-bound Alec Baldwin, perhaps.) The fact is, people of average intelligence often make excellent presidents (Truman, Reagan, even FDR) while brilliant chief executives like Hoover, Nixon, Carter and Clinton tend to trip over their own feet. Intellectual snobbery is all well and good, but it shouldn't be carried into the voting booth.