Stars Raise Voices Against Bush

A New York concert pulls in $7.5 million for Kerry and Edwards, with cheers for them mixed with harsh words targeting the president.

By Matea Gold

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

July 9, 2004

NEW YORK — An array of Hollywood royalty and music stars paid tribute Thursday night to the new Democratic presidential ticket in a $7.5-million fundraising concert dominated by harsh and occasionally off-color denunciations of the Bush administration.

More than 6,000 donors packed Radio City Music Hall as such entertainers as Paul Newman, Mary J. Blige, the Dave Matthews Band, Whoopi Goldberg, Wyclef Jean and Jon Bon Jovi offered songs and testimonials on behalf of Sens. John F. Kerry and John Edwards. Tickets ranged from $250 to $25,000.

"This year, a vote for John Kerry and John Edwards is a real patriot act," said Sarah Jessica Parker.

But praise for the two running mates was overshadowed by angry and mocking comments directed at President Bush. The tone was jarringly dissonant from the sunny message Kerry and Edwards have emphasized on their first few days together on the campaign trail.

Jessica Lange denounced the current occupants of the White House as "a self-serving regime of deceit, hypocrisy and belligerence," accusing Bush of violating international law.

Chevy Chase accused the president of invading Iraq "just so he could be called a wartime president" and quipped that the most recent book Bush had read was "Leader of the Free World for Dummies."

In a song called "Texas Bandido," John Mellencamp sang, "He's just another cheap thug that sacrifices our young … You're going to get us killed with your little white lies." And Meryl Streep bemoaned Bush's frequent invocation of religion, saying, "I wondered to myself through the shock and awe, I wondered which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad."

Goldberg, who repeatedly referred to Edwards as "Kid" throughout the night, delivered the most inflammatory performance of the show in a comedy bit that involved a sexual pun playing off the president's name.

As the audience roared with embarrassed and horrified laughter, she retorted: "C'mon, you knew this was coming. It's what I'm trying to explain to people: Why you asking me to come if you don't want me to be me?"

The Bush campaign condemned Thursday's concert fundraiser, which was produced by Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt noted that Kerry told CNN's Larry King earlier in the day that he had not had time to get briefed about reports of possible new terrorist threats.

Yet, Schmidt said, "he found time to attend a Hollywood fundraiser, filled with enough hate and vitriol to make Michael Moore blush."

Kerry spokesman David Wade said the two Democratic candidates did not agree with all the sentiments expressed.

"Performers speak for performers, and John Kerry and John Edwards speak for their vision for our country," Wade said. "To borrow from a great anchor of 'Saturday Night Live's' Weekend Update, he's Chevy Chase and John Kerry's not."

Kerry's campaign and the Democratic National Committee will share the proceeds raised Thursday night. A similar concert in Los Angeles two weeks ago raised $5 million.

The night was a sharp contrast to the tone the candidates have struck during a four-day campaign swing.

At an airport tarmac rally in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday morning, Edwards proclaimed that the campaign would be "a celebration of American values."

"The American people are going to reject this tired, old, hateful, negative politics of the past," the North Carolina senator told hundreds of cheering supporters. "Instead, they will reflect the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible, because this is America, where everything is possible.

"John Kerry is hope for you, for me, for my children, for your children, for the American people," he said.

At the end of the concert, when the two candidates took the stage with their wives, neither made reference to the more inflammatory remarks. Edwards repeated the same campaign speech, and Kerry thanked the performers, saying they conveyed "the heart and soul of our country." The closest Kerry came to criticizing anyone was when he chastised Goldberg for referring to Edwards as "Kid," noting that he was a man.

Earlier in the day, Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, sat with CNN's King, the couple's first joint interview since the announcement of the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

Kerry dismissed doubts about Edwards' foreign policy expertise, and said he never made Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) an offer to be his running mate.

Times staff writer Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.