One of the awful things about the dog days of summer is that with the political class on vacation, the pundits have nothing to write about - and it shows. It's bad enough when they're analyzing hard news but it's far worse when there's no real news to talk about and they're left to their own devices. The Bush cocaine nonstop nothingness was one such venture, but the world finally tired, and the pundits had to move on.
But move on...where? To the two presidential frontrunners, quite possibly the two most boring candidates in the history of the republic? I mean, Al Gore and George W. make Dukakis v. Bush in '88 positively electrifying by comparison.
So the pundits wistfully looked for someone, anyone, to energize them. Someone liberal enough to capture their fancy (Bradley?) and charismatic enough to excite them. (Forget Bradley.) A celebrity, perhaps. One who wouldn't be a Reagan Democrat but a Democratic Reagan.
Aha! Warren Beatty!
Oh, how the pundits have sunk.
This nonsense started on August 10, when Arianna Huffington wrote in her syndicated column that "an unexpected name is being whispered" in terms of a presidential bid and quoted Gary Hart and Bill Moyers as arguing that a Beatty candidacy would raise Crucial (maybe even Vital) Issues. "It took an actor to dramatize for conservatives the ideas that changed politics in the early '80s," Moyers remarked. "Perhaps another actor can help all Americans see how private money is overwhelming public life."
As Moyers indicates, the widest plank in Beatty's platform would advocate "complete public financing of all federal campaigns" - the rumored candidate's own words, from his August 22 New York Times op-ed. (Never mind that if anyone proposed free-speech restrictions for the entertainment industry of the type Beatty would impose on political contributors, Beatty's protests would be among the loudest.) The liberal online magazine Salon jumped on the mini-bandwagon with an editorial that claimed Beatty's campaign finance reform declaration "has cut through the fog in this otherwise snooze-inducing political season."
And some of Beatty's Hollywood buddies had their say in the New Yorker. This piece understandably avoided political substance, since there is so little, dealing instead with personal gossip about Beatty - mostly his busy premarital sex life. Unsurprisingly, the most foolish-sounding celeb quoted was Oliver Stone, who, apropos of the George W. matter, said, "I don't think [Beatty] has ever done a drug in his life. Personally, I wish he had."
Now that we've had our fun, let's puncture this trial balloon before it floats any higher.
Both Huffington and Slate's David Plotz have pointed out that the 1998 movie "Bulworth," which Beatty directed, co-wrote, and starred in, offers clues as to the policies of a Beatty administration, but their opinions of the film are quite different. According to Huffington, it's "a scathing indictment of the bankruptcy of our political leadership," whereas Plotz finds it "a mess as political science...incoherent, condescending slop."
She's wrong and he's right. Beatty's character, Sen. Jay Bulworth (D-Calif.) goes on television and states that budget cuts and other governmental indifference force ghetto residents, some of them grade-school-aged, into selling drugs. Moreover, a dope-dealer character mouths the old, debunked allegation that crack was brought to the inner city by...the CIA. If Beatty does run, I hope the first question put to him is, "Do you, personally, believe what that drug dealer in 'Bulworth' said about crack and the CIA?'"
Beatty is not without political weaknesses, at least in Hollywood. He appears to be - horrors! - soft on that awful McCarthyite snitch Elia Kazan, joining in the standing ovation when Kazan was given a special Oscar in March. (Kazan directed Beatty in the latter's first major film, "Splendor in the Grass.")
Besides, Beatty isn't the only actor being advanced by the mortally bored press. George magazine chose actress Sarah Polley for their "If I Were President" feature in the September issue, and her comments warmed the hearts of everyone who's been depressed since the Sandinistas lost power.
Polley tells George she would "try to model myself on the late [Marxist] Chilean president Salvador Allende." She would "refus[e] to shake hands with right-wing politicians who stand for policies that favor the rich, attack the poor, and promote racism and division," forbid "non-union working environments," and nominate blame-America-alwayser Noam Chomsky for a Cabinet post.
Before the Oliver Stones start cutting their checks, a word of caution to them: Polley is twenty years old (fifteen years under the minimum legal age to run - and it shows). She's also Canadian.
And so the pundits' search for the liberal Reagan goes on. Problem is, they' ll never find him. What they will never concede, because they simply don't understand, is that it was Reagan's message, not his charisma, that won the day.