Ed Asner: Conservatives Landing 'Mortal Blows' on American Society

The Washington Post's Weekend section on Friday included an interview with left-wing actor Ed Asner in advance of his appearance at nearby George Mason University playing William Jennings Bryan, "the infamous attacker of Darwinism and evolution." Or so says his Post interviewer, Michael O'Sullivan. Conservatives are killing America, Asner proclaimed:

"Our education has just gone into the toilet in this country," Asner says, before fulminating in a way that begins to sound a little bit like, well, a more liberal version of Bryan. "Having suffered, from the time of Reagan until now, with onslaughts against government daubing at improving the welfare of American citizens, and the education and health of American citizens, the anti-government forces have struck, perhaps, mortal blows to our society."

Much against the usual Washington Post pattern, O'Sullivan was pressed into the using word "liberal" to describe Asner, because that's the label he prefers. ("Socialist" would also fit, since he's a member of Democratic Socialists of America.) O'Sullivan began with a kid-because-we-love line:

Ed Asner is a flaming lefty. Who knew?

I kid. The 79-year-old actor has long been known for his outspoken advocacy of pacifism, labor rights, free speech and other progressive -- sorry, the actor says he prefers the less namby-pamby label liberal -- causes.

So what is he doing playing William Jennings Bryan, the infamous attacker of Darwinism and evolution, in "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial"? Isn't the villain of the play based on the 1925 Scopes trial Bryan, who famously locked horns with pro-evolution lawyer Clarence Darrow? And doesn't playing him go against all that Asner holds sacred, as a self-confessed liberal and "believer in the secrets that science unfolds, no matter where the chips may fall"?

"Oh, yeah," the actor said by phone from South Bend, Ind., while on tour with the play. Asner has been performing the role with L.A. Theatre Works across the country, off and on, since 2005. "But at the same time that I'm doing him," Asner continues, "I'm hoping to present a man who explains the reason why the people so adored him, why his body lay in state after his death, five days after the trial. To show a very good man gone astray."

Asner confessed that mostly liberals will be showing up for "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial," so he'll be preaching to the choir, if that fits a thoroughly secularist production. But he explained that art has an important propagandistic function:  

Yet as big a kick as the actor is getting out of portraying the creationist scenery-chewer, he has other, more urgent reasons for doing the show, and for doing it now, at a time when the country is, in Asner's words, "beset by the conflict between fundamentalism and science."

"Art must be the hammer," he says, bluntly paraphrasing [Marxist] playwright Bertolt Brecht, who once opined, "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."

[Photo from a Web site for "The Committee to Strengthen KPFK," a far-left (yet taxpayer-subsidized) Pacifica radio station in Los Angeles.]

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis