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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What was Alec Baldwin doing at the Kennedy School?

I put my name in a lottery to win a free ticket to a "Conversation with Alec Baldwin" at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. A total of 1500 student names went into the hat, and 750 won the draw. I was among them.
So I made my way to the Institute of Politics event tonight to see Hollywood and US politics interact. I squeezed into a  seat on a back bench on the second floor. I realised the view of the distant stage (picture above right) would be better from the TV screen in front of me (picture left).  As we waited for the show to start, speculation was rife about Baldwin’s motivation to talk to Kennedy school students: was the actor trying to boost his reputation and profile to enter politics a la some of his acting fellows who sit on the other side of the political fence in the two-party American  system?
Wearing a black suit, black shoes and black tie and a faintly striped white shirt, Baldwin – who still hasn’t fully shed that boep that he showed off in his recent film, It’s Complicated - was dressed for the part when he walked on to the stage  at the multi-layered John F Kennedy Jr Forum, the political hub of the school.
Adding a light touch to formal surroundings, he glanced wide-eyed and curiously around the brightly-lit, high-tech, multi-layered, weirdly shaped forum venue:
“Do they teach a class in here,” he asked incredulously.
He took his seat next to moderator Rick Berke, national editor of the New York Times, also dressed formally for the occasion.
Getting down to serious business, Berke – who had stayed up till 1am watching It’s Complicated - kicked off by  revealing that Harvard had put up Baldwin in the dorm room that President John F Kennedy stayed in and which had been recently renovated.
Baldwin talked about his passion for politics and the influence that the Kennedy family had on him. He has been involved in Democratic campaigns since being introduced to the royal family of US politics after attending a Democratic Convention in Atlanta in 1988.
Baldwin said he was grateful that he had been able to “plug into politics” from time to time.
Baldwin, who drew a lot of laughs from the audience during his talk,  has always flirted with politics. He studied politics at George Washington University and planned a career in law, but he landed up auditioning for the New York University Undergraduate Drama progamme - and so his career in acting began.
It became clear during the conversation that after more than 30 years, Baldwin was rather tired of acting, and was looking for change.
“At the best of time, in acting you get to do something really beautiful and thoughtful.  The downside is that you do some jobs just to make a living.”
Switching to the politics of his state, New York, since Hillary Clinton's departure from the Senate to take up the position of Secretary of State, Berke asked if Baldwin had political aspirations. “Your body language reveals that you would love to be the Senator for New York”, said Berke.
Baldwin replied: “Exactly.”
Berke said if the New York Senate seat was not an option, would he settle for a House seat, Baldwin quipped: “You make the House seat sound so sexy.”
A few snippets from the conversation:
On whether he would date a Republican ("I know this is not a New York Times question," said Berke). Baldwin's response: “I have dated a libertarian, but not a Republican.”
On sexual scandals among politicians: “Americans are pretty uptight  about sex in that arena.”
“If you betray someone, you lose the public’s trust. People think – if you lie to your partner, how can I be expected to trust you.”
On US presidents: “All presidents need something to take the edge off. Finding people to do this job is tough. All presidents bring something ... Obama ... he smokes."
On Obama: “He has been successful and prevailed and won with health care reform. I also deeply admire his cool and disposition. He doesn’t take the bait from the seething hissing animals who are …. throwing tomatoes at him. We have never lived in a time that more inelegant … full of maniacs.”
On the priorities for the US: “I am glad that Obama won on health care reform, but I believe that energy policy ... oil ... is far more important. It is the lynch pin.”


  1. I enjoyed reading this Janet. Thanks.
    So far removed from East London where I went to a public debate on housing delivery in the Eastern Cape last nite. It was depressing to say the least! Lize.

  2. John F Kennedy Jun. forum? Jun? IE:To honour JFK's son who died in that air crash? Or was it named after JFK himself?