September 15, 2005,
I have a pretty low opinion of Rob Reiner, who’s always struck me as the very model of a modern major hypocrite. In all his political projects, Reiner comes across as a privileged meddler whose cluelessness about the problems of ordinary working people is rivaled only by Sean Penn’s.
Like Penn, Reiner was raised in the lap of Hollywood luxury; he’s never had to worry about affording decent child care or how to get his kids into a good school a day in his life. Unlike Penn, however, Reiner doesn’t just set off on absurd rescue missions in a leaky boat. He stumps around California trying to get his notions turned into law, and so far he’s been pretty successful.
In 1998, Reiner sponsored Prop. 10, a popular measure that raised taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents per package to help fund pre-school. It passed easily. This was bad enough, because what do smokers have to do with early childhood education? Reiner just picked a group everybody hates as an easy target for transferring resources to a group everybody likes demagoguery at its most basic.
Now he’s trying to get an initiative on the June 2006 ballot that would guarantee, through a new tax on the rich, free voluntary pre-school for all four-year-olds. Even though I am, as I said, no fan of Reiner, I considered supporting this idea, because I know that finding affordable daycare is a real problem for working parents.
Since the new tax would affect only those like Reiner himself (via a 1.7 percent increase on individuals making more than $400,000 per year and couples making more than $800,000), and since soaring California real estate prices mean these people aren’t exactly hurting these days, I thought, why not? Let those self-congratulatory Kerry-voters and Huffington-posters put their money where their bleeding hearts are.
Except, as even a Los Angeles Times editorial pointed out this summer, “an estimated 70% of all the four-year-olds in the state” are already in some kind of preschool, and “the universal preschool crowd hopes to raise that to 80%. So to get an additional 10% enrolled, taxes would pick up the bill for the other 70% as well.” Besides, Head Start programs are already in place in low-income areas. My own daughter, for instance, attended free preschool at our local elementary school when we lived in the blue collar/bohemian neighborhood of Echo Park.
Reiner also wants these new preschool teachers to be paid as much as high-school math and science teachers, which is just ridiculous. Obviously, teaching small children how to spell “cat” takes less training than teaching teenagers algebra. Rob Reiner’s good intentions don’t necessarily make good public policy.
One thing about Hollywood hypocrisy, though it’s a great resource for good comedy. And that’s the idea behind The Showbiz Show with David Spade, which premieres on Comedy Central tonight [Sept. 15]. They didn’t have clips at the press conference, nor have I seen an advance screener, but the show sounds fun kind of like an expanded version of that snarky “Hollywood Minute” feature Spade used to do on Saturday Night Live.
One typical target, said Spade and his longtime writing partner Hugh Fink, might be the Writers Guild’s claim that reality show writers work under sweatshop conditions. “So we would send a camera crew to a sweatshop in Mexico and ask them how their work compares to one of the producers at Beauty and the Geek,” said Fink.
“Right,” added Spade, “because sweatshops don’t always take place in a bungalow at Universal.”
“We’ll also have celebrity neurosis birthdays,” said Spade. “Who’s older Carol Channing or Phyllis Diller? Carol Channing is one million years old, Phyllis Diller one million billion.”
You do wonder sometimes how all this inside Hollywood stuff will play in Peoria. But, as Spade pointed out, “at this point, when even my mom knows that Martin Lawrence has had a couple bad movies in a row, then I think it’s kind of seeped into America.”
I asked if the show would get into Hollywood’s political hypocrisy. “Sure,” said Fink, adding that he wished they’d been on the air a few months ago, when “there was a great fundraiser for incest survivors. But they held it at Victoria’s Secret. I thought, we’d probably have covered that.” Meanwhile, as long as Sean Penn and Rob Reiner are on the move, Spade’s Showbiz Show will have plenty of raw material.
Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy's World. She is an NRO contributor.