Actor Martin Sheen, most famous for his roles as President Jed Bartlet on "The West Wing" and Captain Willard in "Apocalypse Now," spoke to a crowd of about 200 on Oct. 14 in Kagin Commons.He spoke behind a backdrop of Al Franken posters and the event was a Franken for Senate rally, but speaking as a personal friend of Franken who was unfamiliar with Minnesota politics, he neglected to mention the candidate specifically in his speech. However, when a blackout killed the lighting and sound systems shortly before he took the podium, Sheen took a sarcastic dig at Franken's opponent, Sen. Norm Coleman: "Norm, how could you?"
He started his speech with a scattered series of anecdotes and joke. He quoted Bobby Kennedy and Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet laureate; he warned of the electoral and physical danger that racism poses to Barack Obama; he poked fun at an autograph-seeker whom he overheard whispering to her friend, "No, he's not Emilio Estevez's brother, he's Charlie Sheen's son"; and he told a Sarah Palin joke with the punch line, "there's less of her than meets the eye."
Many students noted how his mannerisms and speech patterns mirrored those of the idealized Democratic politician he played on "The West Wing."
"Never in my lifetime," his voice boomed through the auditorium, "have we had the opportunity to send such an extraordinary passionate, intelligent man to the White House, and the only nation that doesn't seem to get it wholeheartedly is our own."
Sheen took umbrage at a summer television ad from John McCain's campaign, "Celebrity," that compared Obama's celebrity to that of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
"I've never seen a more racist commercial," Sheen said. "It was clear to all of us what they were gunning for, literally."
He commended Hilton for responding with a Web video where she is "sunbathing by the side of the pool" and announces her decision to run for President.
"It was the last time the McCain campaign messed with that little blond airhead," he said.
Sheen said he agreed to make a follow-up video with Hilton because, "I wanted to thank this young lady for standing up to the horrible kind of racism."
Alex Rosselli '10, the MacDems co-chair and former Franken campaign intern who helped organize the event, downplayed the fact that Sheen didn't mention Franken by name during the speech.
"I think he did a very good job of talking about the importance of the election," Rosselli said. "He was here for Franken, but he was also here to rile the crowd up."
The Franken campaign required attendees to write down their contact information on a volunteer form, and Rosselli said that the campaign received commitments on the sheets for 164 volunteer shifts.
After his speech, a crowd of students seeking handshakes, autographs and photos swarmed Sheen. His handlers in the Franken campaign persisted in trying to hurry Sheen away but he resisted, telling them, "I'm not running for office." He had a politician's ease with his fans, asking them how to spell their names and cracking jokes, but he seemed genuinely to enjoy the attention more than the average politician would.
Beth Miller '10 describes herself as a "major 'West Wing' fan."
"I never thought I would see President Bartlet in person," she said. "[Sheen] seemed very intelligent and very informed-just like his character on the show."
Arjay Velasco '10 said he never watched "The West Wing," but that he is a Martin Sheen fan from his other work.
"I was really confused because he wasn't talking about Franken," Velasco said. "He just talked about Obama.
"I was going to vote for Franken anyway, but if I was an outsider [Sheen] probably wouldn't have changed my mind."
In between the handshakes, Sheen let The Mac Weekly ask several questions, addressing his answers as much to the crowd as to the tape recorder. He repeated that he believes Building 7 of the World Trade Center was purposefully demolished and said citizens should be asking questions. He explained that he appeared in a television ad against physician-assisted suicide because, "I just don't want to give my life to anybody to destroy it." He also acknowledged that he has not seen the final form of the television ad.
The following is a transcription of the interview:
The Mac Weekly: I noticed in your speech that you said [the Republicans] are "gunning for Obama, literally." Do you mean that there is a plot to incite assassination?
Martin Sheen: You know, it's very serious. The Secret Service has the largest, most continual detail on Obama and his family since the campaign began. It is the biggest ever for anyone and the reason is because of the death threats; they are constant. There were two guys arrested right here-you hear about these two lunatics from the alien nation people who had guns and mags, and masks, and so forth. It's very serious. This past week Congressman [John] Lewis, [D-Ga.], who was forged in the civil rights campaign, urged the McCain campaign, the Republicans, to tone it down because they were stoking the fires of hatred, and it was reminiscent of Gov. [George] Wallace. I remember that, and I remember the violence of Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and so much of the South and the North as well. Racism is very much alive, unfortunately, in our country. There are enough lunatics and fringe people who can be bought or sold or encouraged to do brainless, stupid acts of violence. We've seen it in my lifetime, here in this country-you guys are too young to remember any of this. In one year, we lost Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy within a span of eight weeks. We've never been able to replace those people; now we have an opportunity with Barack Obama. What wouldn't make you think the stakes wouldn't be that much higher or the risk that much higher. So I'm urging people to be aware of what's going down and to confront violence and confront this kind of crazy behavior-you know, off with his head, you know, kill him-that you're hearing in the crowds. You saw Senator McCain pull the microphone away from the lady who called Obama an Arab. It's a racist statement, and they have to be confronted and you young people have to do that with your classmates and your parents and your teachers and whoever is preaching violence. Racism-it has to be confronted. Your future is at stake and we're not going to get a better chance than Barack Obama right now, so he deserves to be protected and defended.
There's a popular YouTube video that shows you expressing support for the theory that Building 7 of the World Trade Center was purposefully demolished. Do you still believe that?
It was purposefully demolished. Of course it was demolished.
So who do you think demolished the building?
If I knew, I'd tell you-if I knew, I'd tell you. The reason I brought up the question and you have reiterated is because more people have to say, "Explain Building 7, explain it." There's no viable explanation how were they able to just bring it down [inaudible] because that's what they did.
I'm from Washington state, where you recently appeared in TV and radio ads opposing I-1000, the initiative that legalizes physician-assisted suicide for patients with less than six months to live. What was your motivation for opposing the initiative?
I oppose this just on a human level. I love life so much even when it's difficult. I think life is supposed to be difficult. If it's not, it's not life.
It's Catholic organizations that have been big sponsors of the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide.
Is that right, I didn't know that. You know, I'm Catholic but I didn't know that.
Is [your opposition on] religious grounds?
I would say moral grounds. I don't think we have a right to terminate anyone's life. What we've tried to get into the ad, if you've seen it, is that people suffer from depression-that's suffering and that [should not] qualify for their life being [ended].
I think the [initiative states] that two doctors have to agree that [the patient has] less than six months to live for them to have that choice.
And when is the last time that a doctor's ever made a mistake. . You know what I'm saying. Doctor, Schmocter, I don't care. There is a force to life that is about the individual. You chose a lot of your own quality of life by the way you think and act and feel. . So that's my take on that. I just don't want to give my life to anybody to destroy it. I think that you have to accept the responsibility for your own life. I say, the only times that I've ever grown is when it hurt-when something really hurt. It's when you really face the truth about yourself or someone in your family, and you have to love someone enough to risk their wrath by telling them the truth, but it has to start with you. And that's one of the most painful things about life-is the journey of truth, and it's really the journey of freedom, isn't it. So I wouldn't give that up, I wouldn't care how much pain I was in. . I just think that life is so precious, it is so powerful, it is so meaningful. I can't imagine life without it. I'm so silly.
In that ad you have a presidential soundtrack in the background.
What is it? I've never seen the ad.
I don't know the song-a take off of Hail to the Chief.
It seems like a lot of times when you are introduced, you are introduced as "the acting president." I was wondering how much your personality has changed from getting that respect as if you were the president and how that influences your political activism?
Oh gosh, I'm just an old actor. I was an activist long before "The West Wing." I always accept the responsibility of celebrity. Just coming here, there are people who take exception: "Why should your voice be heard just because you are a celebrity." Well it's not just because I'm a celebrity. I was an activist at 13. I was a caddy at a very exclusive country club in Dayton, Ohio. . I started a union and we went out on strike, and they threw me off the property. I caddied there from the time I was 9, and suddenly I'm 13 and they're showing me out. And they say you're on private property; they'd never mentioned private property before.
What's your favorite scene from "The West Wing"?
Ah, you really want to know? ... It's where I went to free the Turkey. [He whistles.] Thanksgiving. I'm serious. I had more fun ... the turkeys were actually in the office and Allison [Janney] was terrified of them. It was such fun. I told that goofy kid that brought them, I said, "What's the matter with you? You're in college, you're an idiot." Remember when I said, "I can't free a turkey"? Remember?