I met Ron Silver the night that Rudy Giuliani was elected Mayor of New York. Silver was the big celebrity of the evening, the master of ceremonies, and I was, well, just the pollster.
I knew of Ron Silver, the actor, quite well from television and movies. What I didn't know was the Ron Silver that would appear years later at political functions knowing more than the guest of honor, the host, and the attendees -- combined. What I didn't realize until I sat and talked with him that night was how much he was the reluctant performer and how much more focused he was on the policies and politics of the day. That night, I was introduced to Ron Silver, the fierce independent that put his love of America above all else -- career, reputation, everything.
Ron had a habit of making people mad. He made Republicans mad because he ridiculed their social agenda and lack of charitable efforts towards the needy. He made Democrats mad because he challenged their commitment to national security and their unwillingness to support a muscular foreign and defense policy. But everyone who engaged in arguing with Ron couldn't walk away without a hug and without respect for this incredibly brilliant intellectual trapped within an actor's body.
I personally enjoy the nexus between Hollywood and Washington -- listening to performers who have learned the substance of the issues they champion, but who don't necessarily get the nuance. For their part, watching a Washington politician try to navigate the waters of the Left Coast is like watching the various swimmers in the movie Jaws. The outcome isn't going to be pretty.
Yet Ron was comfortable in both worlds. I heard a colleague refer to him as an actor's actor because he put so much of himself into his craft -- at least in the early years. But congressmen and senators were equally impressed with his command of the finer points of diplomacy. He was not only well-spoken. He was well-read.
But what stands out above all else, what I hope the world will appreciate and never forget about Ron, was his love for his children and for his country. His kids came first, but America was a close second.
It was a tough decision for him to address the Republican convention in New York in 2004 and therefore put aside decades of Democratic support in favor of an unpopular Republican president. He knew his career would suffer. More importantly -- since his acting was always a second priority -- he was still an outspoken advocate for gay rights, for civil rights, for civil justice, and all the social movements that made him popular in Democratic circles.
But he believed to the bottom of his soul that the solution to terrorism wasn't better negotiation or conversation. It was elimination. And so he took to the stage and delivered the most important lines of his life, lines he wrote himself. He lost a few friends that night, but when people talk about that rare individual who practices what they preach, who lives the courage of their convictions, they are talking about Ron Silver.
I sat next to Ron that night in 2004 as co-panelists on MSNBC. I joked on air that he would need security guards from then on. He laughed and said it was a small price to pay for the safety and security of America. Then he did to me what he did to everyone who tangled with him at cocktail parties or live on air. He gave me a hug.
Frank Luntz is a pollster and communications specialist.
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