A Right-Left consensus building on Polanski
posted at 11:36 am on October 1, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Every once in a while, an issue comes along that has such clear-cut implications that it rearranges the usual political alignments — perhaps especially so when the issue has little to do with electoral politics. Such is the case with Roman Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland on the basis of a 32-year-old arrest warrant for jumping bail and fleeing the US after admitting to statutory rape — and committing rape and sodomy on a 13-year-old girl he’d first drugged. After an initial blast of outrage from the Hollywood Left, those cultural elites find themselves further and further marginalized as the vast majority of people from across the political spectrum vent their own outrage over the shabby and despicable excuses offered for Polanski’s actions.
First, the Washington Post editors offer their measured offense at Polanski defenders, and calls the fugitive a coward:
Roman Polanski’s apologists — as typified by the comments of Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film and TV celebrity Whoopi Goldberg — don’t let basic facts, or even simple decency for that matter, get in the way of their defense of this notorious director. Ever since Mr. Polanski’s arrest Saturday in Switzerland on a fugitive warrant in a case involving sex with a 13-year-old girl, a number of Hollywood luminaries — Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, David Lynch, to name but a few — are demanding his release. This follows the equally misguided defense of Mr. Polanski by European political and cultural authorities. Thankfully, a backlash is developing, fueled by the public getting a clear understanding of Mr. Polanski’s sordid crime and his cowardice in evading justice.
What matters is not that Mr. Polanski is 76 or that he has a talent for filmmaking or that his own life has been filled with unspeakable horrors or that the case is decades old. It doesn’t even matter that his underage victim, now grown up, forgives him. What matters is that this man admitted to having sex with a 13-year-old whose undisputed testimony details how he gave her champagne and Quaaludes, got her naked in a hot tub and wouldn’t listen as she — terrified — said no. He was originally charged with sodomy and rape but agreed to plead to a lesser offense. He jumped bail and fled the country out of fear the judge would give him more prison time than the paltry 42 days supposedly promised by prosecutors. He has been living with impunity and in luxury ever since.
One wonders whether these same editors will eventually address columnist Anne Applebaum’s serial misrepresentations of the facts of the case, as well as her conflict of interest in it. One doesn’t need courage for that task — just simple editorial competence.
Susan Estrich, not exactly a conservative stalwart, blasts Polanski and his defenders at Rasmussen in her column, “Roman the Rapist”:
Roman Polanski was on his way to a film festival in which he was to be honored for his life’s work when he was arrested last weekend. Some 100 European big shots have released a statement in protest: “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.”
I’ve got news for the big shots: International cultural events are not safe havens for criminals, nor is there any reason they should be. A criminal is a criminal, even if he is “one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers.” There’s nothing “inadmissible” about it, guys. …
When reality intervened and it became clear that a judge might well sentence him to time in prison, Polanski did not seek to withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial. He did not await the sentence and then appeal it. Free on bail pending sentencing, he decided to thumb his nose at the American justice system and flee the country. Fleeing from justice violates the “most elementary” principles of our legal system, to quote the misinformed Mr. Temime. It’s every bit as serious as raping a 13-year-old.
For the past 30 years, Roman Polanski has been not just a convicted rapist but a fugitive from justice. … The fact that he got away with it this long is not a reason to declare him innocent. He is a guilty man who fled from justice. It is time, past time, that he was returned.
Estrich makes an important point about the wishes of the victim in this matter. In two ways, it’s irrelevant. First, Polanski committed a crime against the judicial system by fleeing, an offense that must be corrected regardless of the underlying case, and for which Polanski must pay some price. Otherwise, bail means nothing, especially to the rich.
Second, the state assumes the role of complainant in criminal cases at trial for a reason. As part of the social contract, we agree to forgo personal and/or clan blood atonement for crimes against us in place of a rational adjudication of crimes, which is not the universal condition, as we discovered somewhat belatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we want to support the rule of law rather than vendettas, then we need to pursue Polanski and everyone else who runs out on sentencing after a conviction.
No major blog has as large a contingent of Hollywood elites as the Huffington Post, but even there, lines have been drawn. While some of HuffPo’s bloggers have demanded Polanski’s release, the commenters there have mainly savaged Polanski’s supporters. Nina Burleigh, writing from Italy, wonders why the cultural elite want to champion a sex offender, and draws a comparison to treatment of war criminals in an explicit attempt to goad Polanski apologists (via Howard Kurtz):
To these artists and other supporters of the arrested director, the incarceration of the director is the end of a witch-hunt, the persecution of a genius by low-level, un-imaginative legal drones, who wear un-cool suits and wouldn’t know a semiotic deconstruction if it smacked them in the face. If Polanski did anything wrong, and some, I think, would even say he did not, he should be forgiven for a single folly, committed way back in the ‘lude’ and hot-tub heyday of 1970s Hollywood debauchery. The rape of a 13-year old was hardly the worst offense committed at Jack Nicholson’s pad.
By this way of thinking, to arrest Polanski now is like arresting a woman for riding a bicycle in public because it was illegal in the 19th Century. But, to arrest Polanski now is also like apprehending a war criminal many years after the fact. The war criminal may be living in South America, tending his garden and making sheep’s cheese, and his victims blissfully reaching the age of non compos mentis, but it means something to the world that justice be served.
Comparing a Hollywood child rape to war criminal behavior will inspire outrage, guffaws, ridicule. Bring it on.
[Movie Mogul Harvey] Weinstein said that people generally misunderstand what happened to Polanski at sentencing. He’s not convinced public opinion is running against the filmmaker and dismisses the categorization of Hollywood as amoral. “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion,” Weinstein said.
Hollywood has the “best moral compass”? Not even its most ardent fans are going to buy that. And it’s certainly good to have compassion, but apparently that compassion is limited to powerful film directors. For that matter, it’s even more limited to politically correct film directors. It’s certainly not given to the children that get victimized by the casting couch, as this incident clearly shows.
The danger for Hollywood in its knee-jerk support for a child rapist is in the divide it shows from its usual allies on the Left. This, perhaps more than any recent issue or event, shows just how radical and fringe the entertainment industry has become, and how badly it has divorced itself from its consumers. That lesson will not shock many on the Right, but perhaps it will serve as a Road to Damascus moment for others.