Bulworth at the Beverly Hilton: President Beatty Will See You Now

Matt Welch reports from Beverly Hills, Calif.
Sept. 30, 1999

Nothing like a "grassroots" campaign that starts off with a mini-parade of liberals driving up -- literally -- in their limousines, with the "most important" of them shepherded toward the Full Gauntlet of papparazzi/teevee cameramen, shouting out "Jeffrey! Jeffrey!" to a twerpy little 5'4" fruit who is apparently Jeffrey Katzenberg.

It was Wednesday night in Beverly Hills, and Warren Beatty would be accepting some Liberal award and maybe announcing his plans to sodomize the Democratic Party with his own boiling-blood populist-socialist presidential campaign.

The media gauntlet star-power ranked more or less like this: Beatty/Benning, Larry Flynt, Katzenberg, Norman Lear (!), Courtney Love and then the rest. Benning is surprisingly beautiful (as opposed to that hack Penny Marshall, who looks like a hunchbacked Linda Tripp), and Beatty being a very handsome actor posing as president -- not unlike old Bobby Redford in "The Candidate," which George McGovern never really liked.

My old golfing buddy Bob Scheer joked with some 5'6" ham-faced guy about area-code overlays or something, then turned to me and said, "Do you know who that was? Mike Ovitz," and then walked to his table.

After the entrances I meandered toward the main ballroom, and ended up in a weird foursome with Dan Balz of the Washington Post, George Stephanopolous (5'7", exact same height as Dustin Hoffman) and a guy named Marty Kaplan who used to be deputy chair of the Mondale campaign and is now associate dean of Annenberg School of Communications -- which occasionally pays me for my ill-tempered Marxism.

Kaplan was funny, sardonic, a bit too liberal ... not unlike half the people there (the other half weren't very funny or sardonic).

Balz was pretty smart; we talked a bit throughout the evening. It was Balz or Stephanopolous who said something about the "hopeless" nature of the whole endeavor, and I countered with a slightly slurring bit about how the New York Times/Washington Post totally wrote off Jerry Brown from Day One in 1991-92, dismissing his campaign-finance reform platform as the rantings of a crank and something that Joe Sixpack wouldn't ever care about, and that they were all proven wrong when he was the last one left standing besides Fat Boy Clinton. Stephanopolous broke in, shaking his head and smiling.

"He was totally hopeless!" Stephanopolous yapped. "He never had a chance! He was never a serious candidate!"

Balz agreed. I went to the bar.

Ran into Pat Caddell, a wide-eyed lunatic, back ends of his hair sweating way too much, gesticulating wildly. Introduced myself as the guy who knew him way back when, had wrote him an e-mail recently, etc., and he shook my hand reluctantly, said something like "Ya, how you doing?" -- with his eyes already wandering on the "you" part, and then he was gone into some other conversation.

They had a bunch of posters in the foyer, mostly Robbie Canal stuff and caricatures of George Bush and Daryl Gates in basketball clothes, with the caption "White people can't run the system." Much equating of Bush Sr. to the Nazis (which, what, makes him almost as bad as those German politicians who crack down on Scientology?), and the odd stirring caricature of McGovern waving a peace flag proudly while Nixon scrunches with a dollar-sign flag, and the great McGovern quote, "What is right has always been called radical by those with a stake in things that are wrong."

This wisdom balanced with the Weathermen-type Malcolm X bullshit of "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." I almost don't need to write the rest, do I?

There was an opening speaker, talking with gushing pride about leading a "Kosovo Teach-in," and then more about how "NATO is an agency of aggression, not peace!" to great applause. Later, when they showed clips of famous Hollywood people saying nice things about Warren, they would show bits from Warren's movies, and the anti-capitalism rants of "Reds" provoked the most cheers.

There was a long dinner break before that video-clip fest, so I got drunker, and harassed Balz some more. "So, do you think that a popular, famous candidate who is less likely to talk about 'teach-ins' would have a chance running on a single-issue -- or double-triple-issue --campaign, hammering it home?"

"No," he said, not for publication. "It could be interesting, but it's just not big enough for people to base their votes solely on that issue."

The video clip deal was pretty funny, and depressing. It was a celebrity roast, with most everyone's tongue firmly in cheek about the whole concept. Rob Reiner nominated himself for vice president, the very gay David Geffen wanted to be "Minister of Social Affairs," Mike Ovitz wore Bulworth cap and glasses and made "Ishtar" jokes, Tom Hayden got the biggest applause, and gruff old Uncle Scheer got the biggest laugh when he kvetched: "You know, I've always said basically that he is a good-looking Stanley Sheinbaum."

Which is hilarious at an Americans for Democratic Action meeting at the Beverly Hilton, and utterly useless almost anywhere else. Sheinbaum was one of those generous liberals who helped fund my newspaper in Prague 10 years ago (indeed, I think there were at least five Prognosis investors in the room), and he might have even put some money into "A Critique of America," though I could be confusing bloodlines. He's a great man, an ACLU godfather, scion of the Christopher Commission, etc. And he's the exact old Jewish Hollywood guy (along with Lear, Lew Wasserman, and many others in Wednesday night's crowd) who Sen. Bulworth lampooned in his Hollywood-Jew speech (at least, as far as I've heard).

Beatty's speech was ... pretty great. All the awkward intellectualism/aloofness that makes him such an unsatisfying interview (and even paparazzi subject) disappeared, now that he was on a stage of his own making, reading his own sharp remarks. The speech might well go down as the only time anybody listens to a damn thing he has to say politically, and as such it will stand the test of time, 90 percent of it at least.

He was electrifying, animal, resorting to quiet whisper builds, Gregory Hines-like shuffles in tempo, breathless climbs over brutal poverty-statistics ending in crescendos of obvious and thrilling truthful insults aimed at Gore and Bradley. At one point it was so good that I completely lost track of my tape recorder, missing about five minutes of pure, intelligent groove, like a really good John Coltrane track.

But: He expressed none of the built-in irony of speaking to a self-satisfied, industry-insider Limousine Liberal crowd (who, to give you an idea, broke into applause when he read grim poverty statistics -- not, mind you, when he criticized someone for not caring about the poverty, or when he proposed some great radical solution, but when he actually described something horrible). These people reminded me of nothing so much as the lame liberal-fucks I saw at the Berkeley conference about Cuba, but those people were hopeless Berkeley washouts, while these people run the liberal wing of the entertainment industry as we know it. In fact, Beatty's idiot line about "one of the first things is to recognize CUBA!" got one of the biggest cheers of the night.

He was coy about announcing the candidacy, managing to be humorous and tedious.

But here's the deal -- if he rolls into some kind of effort to "bring up issues" and to spur Bradley into embracing "the liberal wing of the Democratic Party," then this night and others like it will be a critical failure, an exaggerated Pacifica Radio wank-fest designed to convince the same 11,000 fiftysomething liberal-heads that Fidel Castro is a sex-God. Where is the acknowledgement that, just maybe, they were wrong about a thing or two during the Cold War? Example: There was a poster of "The World According to Ronald Reagan." It had an America dominated by the half called "California," and Europe swollen red with an oversized Soviet Union, which had the description "Godless, communists, liars and spies." Well, John Reed-lovers, the U.S.S.R. really was filled with godless commie liar-spies and worse, even if Reagan was a dangerous dingbat with a head full of Alzheimer's drugs. If those descriptions were exaggerated, were they any more exaggerated than this crowd's warm-crotch embrace of Che Guevara, or their continued insistence that John Reed was "the first American journalist to tell the truth?"

Beyond my narrow Cold War hangups, the basic problem is that Beatty seems happy to let crazy-pants Buchanan walk off with the Reform Party (though his critiques of Bad Pat were terrific), and instead be Mr. Liberal guy.

Instead of a Bulworth-style attack on the comfy glass-house exaggerations of the Hollywood elite, I saw a gifted and kinky orator whip up a damn good speech on the few issues I care about, but in the process pander to an audience whose careers would be ruined if that damned "globalization" was rolled back as much they crave. Peoria, which/tabloidnewsservi">AMAZON.COM

e Santa Ana's finally came, because this summer's really been the pits," she said, looking through the palm trees over the elongated Beverly Hilton pool. "You know, all it takes is one crazy, and POOF! We live way up in a canyon, so we're really far away from the fire station...."

I went back inside, thinking I'd thank Arianna Huffington for setting me up with the invite, but she was surrounded by horny admirers, and I'd had enough human contact for one night. Caddell was jabbering at some poor bastard about how Beatty's Total Public Financing of Campaigns was "Revolution, not reform! That's what you media people should be stressing!"

I came in thinking that I might get a gram of hope about the next Political Massacre, and what I left with is the sinking feeling that everything wrong about the Che Geuvara generation will gladly sink whatever is truly radical and promising about Beatty into their familiar pit of self-fulfilling despair.

"I just don't think he could win," the pained blonde said. "The country would have to become much more liberal."

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