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Iraq Holds Hollywood Attention at Gala

September 30, 2002|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

National Democratic leaders and their Hollywood allies gathered for a gala fund-raiser Sunday night to finance their party's efforts to take back the House of Representatives, an event that also highlighted consternation among Democrats about the Bush administration's push for a war against Iraq.

The reception and concert at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, which raised $6 million for key congressional races, was punctuated with references to the possibility of military action.

As donors milled around the ballroom of the Hollywood and Highland complex, many said they were not convinced that the United States should go to war.

"I'm afraid of Saddam Hussein. I think he's a very dangerous man," said actress Lesley Ann Warren. "And yet I am very concerned about our country initiating war in the face of a lot of the rest of the world not aligning with us."

The topic has fueled debate among Democrats in the last several weeks, with leaders expressing various degrees of caution about attacking Iraq.

Last week, former Vice President Al Gore opposed unilateral military action. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle accused President Bush of politicizing the debate.

The split among Democrats about how to respond to Bush's call for action against Hussein was on display at the gala, which featured House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt and a performance by Barbra Streisand.

Last week, Streisand sent Gephardt a memo urging the Democratic leadership to "go on the offensive" and to strongly question the Bush administration's motives for military action.

"I find bringing the country to the brink of war unilaterally five weeks before an election questionable and very frightening," Streisand said during a pause in a song, drawing wild applause from the audience of 3,500 people.

Gephardt, who spoke after her, called Streisand a "good citizen" and said he wished everyone was as "patriotic and well meaning."

Before the concert, Gephardt said Democratic leaders had been speaking out every day about Iraq, and would be increasingly vocal in coming weeks.

"I think it's been particularly destructive for the president to say that the Democrats are not interested in national security," he added. "That is dragging politics into security issues, and I think it's immoral."

Several present said they hoped Gephardt and other Democratic leaders would voice more opposition to a war.

Donor Janina Pawlowski said she believed Bush does not have the country's best interests at heart in advocating military action.

But many Democratic leaders fear to question the president's motives, she added. "Anyone who has, up to this point, has been viewed or criticized as being anti-American. So it's a tough period."

Some donors, however, said Hussein might be too great a threat to ignore.

"Just imagine," said scientist Marek Konopanicki, "what would have happened if somebody had the guts to stop Hitler before he became too strong."

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