Brooke Shields, Kelo, and Left-Wing Chauvinism

This was going to be a relatively quick post about the good news, as announced by the Castle Coalition in a Tuesday press release after being teased a few days earlier by "Little Pink House" author Jeff Benedict, that a Lifetime Channel movie is going to be made about the Kelo vs. New London eminent domain drama.

Then along came "culture blogger" Alyssa Rosenberg over at the hard-left ThinkProgress


In a narrow sense, this Connecticut standoff culminated in a disgraceful 2005 Supreme Court ruling that governments can use their powers of eminent domain to take property from citizens for a "public purpose," which includes conveying it to someone else for private redevelopment, instead of for a "public use" (roads, bridges, government buildings, etc.), which is the clear meaning of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment.

In a much broader sense, of course, the case has never really ended, because the "carefully formulated ... economic development plan" the Court's majority thought it recognized never materialized, and because the land upon which perfectly good homes once stood remains a vacant, media-ignored eyesore more than six years after the decision. As I noted earlier this month, New London's Fort Trumbull area was recently used as a collection point for storm debris from Hurricane Irene-related winds and rain.

Ms. Rosenberg at ThinkProgress couldn't resist taking a shot at the celebrity who is taking on the project not only as its lead actress but also, apparently unbeknownst to her (or at least unsaid in her post), as its executive producer, and at the channel on which the movie will appear. In the process, she also displayed complete ignorance of what the Kelo case was all about while predictably posing as a know-it-all (internal link is in original; bolds are mine throughout):

Brooke Shields Goes Anti-Eminent Domain For Lifetime

I’d had the vague sense that Brooke Shields’ career wasn’t in the best place (as Entourage tells me, if she’s involved in a project with Johnny Drama, that’s not a good sign), but I’m sort of depressed, both because of what it means for her talent and what it means for her politics, that she’s starring in an anti-eminent domain movie on Lifetime about the Kelo case. Speaking out about postpartum depression and the idea that seeking treatment for it isn’t shameful is really useful and important. Sparking fears that the government’s going to take your property is a lot less useful.

Is it even worth pointing out to Ms. Rosenberg that those of us who believe the Constitution's original intent should be followed are not "anti-eminent domain," but that we are instead against the use of eminent domain to force people to give up their property when a true "public use" is not involved? Oh well, I guess I just did.

Over at Forbes, E.D. Kain hit back (italics are in original):

Now, Lifetime movies are probably not a good sign for any actor’s career, but I think it’s great that a movie is being made about Kelo. Remember, this case was not just about the government taking property to expand much-needed infrastructure, or confiscating condemned, dilapidated property in order to fix it up or turn it into a library. This was about government allowing one private developer to confiscate land from another private party. The government wasn’t taking property for public use (a power granted in the Constitution) but for private development, in what some called a reverse Robin Hood move – robbing from the poor to give to the rich.

Progressives should be deeply bothered by a case like this, and should celebrate the fact that at least a television movie is being made about Kelo. Government should not be in the business of cronyism and theft, and liberals should be up in arms when government enriches private corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.

With all due respect to Mr. Kain, I don't believe he fully grasps the strictly opportunistic, utilitarian viewpoint of so-called "progressives," or their frequent ignorance of what's really at issue in eminent domain disputes. In separate updates, Ms. Rosenberg demonstrated that viewpoint, as well as her ignorance:

Update: Apparently, this post has given people the impression that I think the Kelo ruling was good. I don’t think it’s good that corporations can manipulate eminent domain for their own benefit. But I don’t think a Lifetime movie is going to differentiate between Kelo and eminent domain as it ought to function. Instead, I think it is likely to take a conservative, totally anti-eminent domain tack that will not further the conversation. I should have made the connection between those two points stronger.

Update: So, looks like this post has become a thing! Look, the original, which appears below, was not well-written or well thought-out, and I regret writing it. That said, I don’t think it’s exceptionally controversial to say that a company with a record of making deeply cheesy and unsubtle movies is perhaps not well-positioned to make a movie about an issue where the issue isn’t keep or ban but reform.

Kelo isn't about "corporations" manipulating eminent domain; it's about governments manipulating eminent domain. It isn't about "ban or reform"; it's about banning the practice only when a "public use" under the Fifth Amendment is not involved. As to "how it ought to function," that's simple: If the government wants the property for something that doesn't qualify as a "public use," it should not be able to compel the property owner to sell -- at any price. Attempting to pierce Ms. Rosenberg's cliched incoherence, it appears that what she wants is really smart people with "the public interest" at heart to be able to use eminent domain when it involves causes she likes, and to prohibit the practice when it doesn't. For her, the Constitution doesn't even seem to be in the picture. Under such a purely political arrangement, fears that "the government's going to take your property" aren't paranoid. They're legitimate; there's nothing to stop them if your property happens to be in the way of (often urban, often Democrat-dominated) governments' urban-renewal pipe dreams.

As to Ms. Rosenberg's (and unfortunately, even Mr. Kain's) cheap shots, let's start with where the movie will appear. Lifetime's ranking as the #16 cable network in 2010 isn't stellar. But to consider Ms. Shields's involvement as some kind of indication that she is in the twilight of her career verges on the ridiculous. Her latest career move -- starring as Morticia in the Broadway musical "The Addams Family" -- has received strong reviews, and has her booked until the end of the year. "Her talent" appears to be just fine, Ms. Rosenberg.

The fact that Ms. Shields is taking on the executive producer's role in addition to starring as Susette Kelo would seem to indicate that this is a project she believes in, i.e., a movie she feels needs to be made regardless of the size of the dollar signs involved. Alyssa Rosenberg clearly has a problem with what Ms. Shields is doing because of what it says about "her politics." I'll bet that she never once criticized actresses like Reese Witherspoon or Meryl Streep when they starred in the anti-Bush "Rendition," even though it failed to break even on production costs alone (i.e., marketing and distribution sent it deep into the red) and nobody ever thought it would make money. I'll also bet that we never heard a peep from her when Brian DePalma dumped an estimated $5 million into "Redacted," which grossed less than $800,000 worldwide. (I searched for evidence of either and found none. Ms. Rosenberg is free to let me know if I'm wrong.)

In the eyes of "progressives," when Streep, Witherspoon, DePalma, and others dove into doomed-from-the-start antiwar, anti-Bush projects, they were dedicated idealists (I'll leave the discussions about where their respective careers are going to others). But when Brooke Shields wants to make a film about how an authoritarian government which clearly didn't know what it was doing was able to eject people from their homes, and about how those who are supposed to make sure our Constitution is followed utterly failed to carry out their constitutional duty to protect citizens against unlawful state encroachment, well, she's an over-the-hill actress who's engaging in an activity that's "a lot less useful." The double standard could hardly be more obvious.

I look forward to seeing the product of the efforts of Ms. Shields and others involved, and hope that it serves to get around the near-total establishment press blackout on post-Kelo developments during the past six years.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.