August 31, 2004,
New York, N.Y. It was called the "Big Tent Extravaganza," a gathering of musicians, actors, and comedians co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood and its affiliate, Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice. The event, held at the Beacon Theater Monday night, was billed as a celebration of unity between Democrats and Republicans who support abortion. But one featured performer, the comedian Lewis Black, had a message for GOP delegates who might hold other views.
"It is un-fu**ing-believable that since the time I was 15 we have been having to argue this sh**," Black said. "There comes a point where you say, f**k you, enough is enough. There is no argument. It's not your body, a**hole. Shut the f**k up."
Black's words summed up the uneasy division onstage at the Beacon. Every time a speaker at the "Big Tent Extravaganza" offered conciliatory words as when Sex in the City actress Cynthia Nixon said, "I am here today to applaud and thank and salute a brave and tenacious group of Republicans, Republicans for Choice" another speaker was considerably less welcoming. Shortly before Nixon spoke, for example, the lesbian comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer said of religious conservatives, "I support any religion that brings people up. Anything that brings people down, your ass is mine. That's f**king bullsh**." Westenhoefer also described her fundamentalist sister as "a whack-job Christian," and added that "Mormons are whack jobs, too." And she launched into an extended discussion of the actor Mel Gibson and his movie The Passion, saying, "He's a f**king a**hole."
In the audience Monday night was Connecticut Republican congressman Christopher Shays. Shays told National Review Online he recognizes the kind of hostility to Republicans and to President George W. Bush that was on display at the Beacon Theater. "I can understand it," Shays said. "I can understand a woman who believes that she should be able to control her reproductive rights, and particularly resents men telling her how to do that."
But Shays said the evening fell short of its "Big Tent" theme. "What helps their cause is when you reach out to both parties," he said. "That's not happening, and it's not helping their cause. If I had been able to address them tonight, I would have said that in the issue that matters most to them and me, you need to find and nurture those Republicans who are pro-choice, and you need to support them and help them."
But neither the performers nor the audience seemed terribly sympathetic to the GOP. "I couldn't respect George W. Bush more if he had been elected President of the United States," said the actor Michael McKean, who greeted the crowd with "Good evening, fellow traitors!" Singer Lou Reed, who played an elegiac song on the death of John F. Kennedy, wore a BUCK FUSH t-shirt. And the crowd wildly cheered criticism of the president and yelled out slogans like "Fox News sucks!" all standard fare at protest events this week.
The group Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice is separate from another group, the Republicans for Choice Political Action Committee, which is headed by GOP activist Ann Stone. A disclaimer on the Republicans for Choice PAC website says, "The Republicans for Choice committee is a political action group and is not a part of, or affiliated with, Planned Parenthood." Over the years the two organizations have shared the same agenda, but at other times have opposed each other, most recently on the federal appeals court nomination of Priscilla Owen (Stone's group supported it, while Planned Parenthood opposed it).
As with other anti-Republican events across the city this week, at the "Big Tent Extravaganza" there was almost no mention of the Democratic candidate for president, John Kerry. In fact, the only reference to Kerry came from the comedian Patrice O'Neal, who riffed on the subject of the candidate's wife. O'Neal talked about her reluctance to add "Kerry" to her name (something she did just in time for the presidential campaign), and said he could not stop thinking that Mrs. Kerry was far richer and more powerful than her husband. "You can't have the First Lady be a badder motherf**ker than you," O'Neal said.