Nevertheless, the new memoir by actor Alec Baldwin, is a wonderful read. It also raises a question: Is Alec Baldwin a conservative?
The surface answer, of course, is no. Baldwin is famously liberal. He satirizes President Trump on Saturday Night Live, and once sent out tweets calling Republicans “lying thieves.” Baldwin supports gay marriage and stricter gun control measures. He has attended fundraisers with Jane Fonda, and he adored President Obama.
And yet for much of Nevertheless, I felt like I was reading the words of a conservative. A kid from a poor Catholic family in Massapequa, Long Island, Baldwin went into acting not to make the world a better place, but for the money. The most touching parts of Nevertheless are the descriptions of the early years of Baldwin’s life, when he had to grapple with the anxiety of living in a house with an exhausted father and a mother who often relied on pills to get through the day.
Baldwin’s father Alexander was a high school teacher and coach who struggled financially. The family was always bouncing checks and their Long Island house was perpetually falling apart. This, along with what he describes as a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy, may have cemented in Baldwin’s mind the idea that the left, which promises everybody everything, is always on the side of the little guy. “Six kids and no help,” Baldwin used to repeat to himself in reference to his mother. “Acting was a way to ease, though never eliminate, the financial anxieties of a boy from South Shore Long island who remains inside me today,” Baldwin observes. “I’m writing [Nevertheless] because I was paid to do it.”
As well, Baldwin writes about God as a guiding force in his life – especially after he got sober in the early 1990s. Baldwin hates the press; he played played Jack Ryan, the hero of right-winger Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. Baldwin has always been a manly man who loves the ladies, many of whom are described in respectful and gentlemanly detail in Nevertheless.
It might seem that a person with such experiences would lean right. But like too many people on the left, Baldwin’s politics haven’t changed since he was ten years old. Baldwin writes that his father Alexander loved John F. Kennedy and even attended the funeral in Washington when Kennedy was killed in 1963. Young Alec was five when Kennedy died, and Kennedy’s death was the future actors’ first political memory. “By the time I was ten, my political consciousness was nearly concretized,” he writes. “I’m no different from people who are raised in a home that is for or anti any of the issues of the day: the NRA, immigration, gay marriage, abortion, or Obamacare. Politicization starts at home. My politics are my dad’s politics, based on the simple idea that, as the richest nation on Earth, America has a greater obligation to reach out and help those who have not realized even a modicum of what we take for granted here.”
While it’s true most people first form their political opinions at the feet of their parents, those with a mind as agile as Baldwin’s usually reassess their political beliefs when they get older. Like Baldwin, they stop partying, have children, and appreciate that social policies that contribute to human flourishing come from the right side of the aisle as often, or perhaps more often, as the left. For example, in one section of Nevertheless, Baldwin calls the New York of the 1970s, where he lived as a struggling young actor, “filthy and unlovable.” The city was turned around by the policies of Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who gets nothing but scorn from Baldwin.
The modern Democratic party so championed by Baldwin changed dramatically after Kennedy’s death. JFK’s tax cuts, pro-Americanism, and Catholicism became the party of abortion, identity politics, and high taxes. Baldwin’s father died in 1983, but he was exactly the kind of left-behind white man who might have voted for Trump in 2016.
Through hard work and focus, Alec Baldwin has lived the American dream, becoming rich, accomplished, happily married, and loved. Were he to reevaluate the political certainties of his childhood, perhaps he could add another line to his resumé in the future: President?