By Sherrie Li
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By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
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By Sherrie Li
Among his more recent projects is Living With Ed. Begley gives new meaning to the term “Mr. Right,” or rather, “Mr. Always Right,” and the show plays off the comic tensions his wife endures living with the eccentricities of a man who builds his opinions like a shrewd accountant and can demonstrate the rewards of 30-plus years of investing wisely — particularly in alternative energy — in order to save for the future. Begley’s philosophy is entirely counter-cultural (which explains the wrath of so many pundits), crashing into the prevailing post-WWII value system of conspicuous consumption and debt — personal and national. Living with Ed means living with a guy who speaks about his very eco-sensible notions in a profundo voice with arguments that are always on-point and a gentle, confident demeanor. And if you dare to challenge Mr. Right, you’re going to have to bear in mind that a team of Nobel Prize–winning scientists have just validated almost everything he’s ever stood for. It takes a particularly feisty partner to rise to that challenge, and Carson does so, not by bucking his politics but through her own assertive intelligence.
Still, what gives a celebrity such as Begley the right to make pronouncements on the economy or on ecology?
“Anybody, rich or poor, has a right to speak their mind,” he says, sitting in his own living room, pointing out the obvious. “But if you’re famous, you have this megaphone, and a great responsibility that comes with it. You must not cry fire in a crowded theater. When I realized that people were starting to listen to my opinions on environmental matters, I made sure that everything checked out. I stopped getting my source material from environmental Web sites. I would go to NASA, National Geographic, Princeton, the Scripps Institute. I would look at peer-review studies that address the matters that I found of interest. That’s when I learned that, for the most part, the environmental groups had it right; I also found it interesting that most of the right-wing talk-radio shows regularly get things wrong. I also got involved with the Union of Concerned Scientists, and found there was one incident where the environmentalists got it wrong. They said there were sheep down in Tierra del Fuego with cataracts from ozone depletion; that may or may not be true, but I never spoke about it at a microphone, because there was never a report written about it. I’m very cautious about what I say.”
Begley feels that much of the bad rap given to left-wing celebrity activists comes from a lack of fact-checking and from the damage he thinks some have caused trying to use the pulpit of the Academy Awards to make their points.
“There’s a time and a place to make a statement,” he says.
“I disagree,” interrupts Carson, as she enters from the kitchen. She is on the same page politically as Begley but is less cautious than him.
Begley twists in an upholstered wooden armchair. “I don’t think,” he reiterates, “that’s the place to make a political statement.”
“Well, there’s Hardball, Larry King and so on for that.”
“Not many people watch those shows.”
“But the Academy Awards .?.?. it’s an awards show, honey.”
“It’s an absurdity anyway. Why not say something meaningful there?”
Carson leaves and Begley readjusts himself, unflustered. This could easily have been a scene from the show.
“I want to clarify my position,” he says. “You can use that megaphone whenever it’s presented. But [with] the Oscars, somewhere along the line, it became overkill, that seizing of the moment to speak to so many millions of people. It became tiresome even to people who shared the politics being expressed. I’d rather have my message be heard and not tuned out. However, I don’t want to do a song and dance if the fire marshal taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Ed, please calmly evacuate the auditorium row by row.’ That fire marshal is the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“O’Reilly blamed me for shutting down power plants. I said name them. He said, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ It’s been seven years. I’m still waiting. In that time, while Enron and the energy companies were gaming the system, shutting down plants for ‘maintenance’ to create a shortage, it was Bill O’Reilly’s pals who shut down the power plants. I think the truth will come out eventually.
“The dog barks,” Begley says finally. “But the caravan moves on.”
LIVING WITH ED | HGTV | Sundays, 11:30 p.m. through Dec. Check www.hgtv.com for future air dates and www.livingwithed.net for more on Begley’s activities.
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