At least that’s what the former actors, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff, suggested today as they appeared at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill to promote union-organizing legislation that is, for the time being, stalled in Congress despite an extremely high-pitched public relations battle on both sides.
And their remarks were particularly partisan. After joking that he couldn’t really be Mr. Emanuel because he wasn’t allowed to swear in his television roles, Mr. Whitford remembered that it would’ve been the 82nd birthday of Cesar Chavez, former head of the United Farm Workers. (And owner of the Si, Se Puede chant adopted by President Obama during his campaign, as the president noted in a statement today.)
“I promise you on the lives of my children we will never ever celebrate Grover Norquist day,” Mr. Whitford said, referring to the conservative Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. “It’s just not going to happen.”
The actors spent quite a bit of time promoting what’s known as the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would allow for easier organizing by workers. Strong opposition by business lobbies and Republicans has helped stall the issue, as the Senate and the House wade through other measures like the $787 billion stimulus package and the $3.6 trillion budget.
In his short talk today, Martin Sheen, the former President Bartlet on the TV show, alluded to the recent pronouncements by or ambivalence of several senators, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. He called her reluctance to support the legislation a “disappointment,” as well as the decision by Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, to oppose it. The waverings by other Democrats and moderate Republicans have effectively squelched the bill for now in the Senate, which does not have the votes to move forward.
The actor often quoted scripture in his TV role, and he invoked a little parable today about fighting hard enough to bear scars, and told the supporting audience, “This is by far not a lost cause.”
As for his own union credentials, Mr. Sheen said that he began life as a caddy at a golf club in Dayton, Ohio, where he and his fellow workers founded what he later learned was the first caddy union in the United States. It didn’t last very long, he added.
After the event today, Mr. Whitford, who is on the board of American Rights at Work, the organization sponsoring the event today, and Martin Sheen, the “acting president,” hopped off one of the trams that run between buildings and wended their way through the basement of the Senate side of the Capitol building. The two were also meeting with various members of Congress. (Video of the news conference here. )
Before the actors even began their advocacy this morning, the opposition (via the prolific fingers of Danny Diaz) emailed statements poking at the event.
“Today’s event on Capitol Hill with actors who played fictional political powerbrokers addressing a fictional problem is like a work of fiction that would be better suited for a comedy if their proposed ‘solution’ wasn’t so devastating to our nation’s economy,” said Katie Packer, executive director of the Workforce Fairness Institute. “Job creators don’t need policy prescriptions from out-of-touch, Hollywood elite who want to drive up costs and encourage a hostile takeover of American small businesses.”