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Jewish World ReviewSept. 3, 1999 /22 Elul, 5759

David Corn

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Beatty Power -- “Celebrity politics has arrived. You might even call it ‘trash celebrity politics.’” That was historian Alan Lichtman on the possible presidential candidacy of Warren Beatty. His comment is unfair.

Celebrity politics, true. But trash? As I wrote last week, Beatty is pondering a bid in order to promote pet issues. Where’s the filth in that? In fact, in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Beatty praised Al Gore and Bill Bradley for having “unselfishly devoted much of their lives to public service when they could so easily have enriched themselves in the private sector, as I have.”

Beatty’s agenda is twofold. A lifelong liberal Democrat activist, he fears the Democratic Party has moved too far right and has little to offer those Americans not enjoying the high-flying economy. (After all, what has the Clinton-led party done for the 43 million Americans who go without health care coverage?) Beatty also claims that the Democrats and Republicans have become little more than the handmaidens of their corporate contributors. Lichtman may not agree with Beatty, but the actor is a man who represents a view not often seen in the narrow political debate covered by C-SPAN and CNN; his desire to expand the civic conversation is admirable.

Beatty’s idea is working, at least minimally. He’s attracted press notice. Last week, his two-part message was the subject of a Crossfire I cohosted. On that show, former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, an old pal of Beatty, seconded Beatty’s argument. Hart chided his party for abandoning the themes of “social conscience and social justice” and noted that its candidates have become too dependent on contributions from corporate special interests. “The big bucks have run Washington,” Hart maintained. On the other side was Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a self-professed centrist Democrat from California and one of the leading fundraisers for the party. She defended her party’s acceptance of corporate contributions, but refused to answer the question I like to pose to elected officials: Why is it wrong to assume that when a corporation, a millionaire or a union gives mega-donations to candidates that such donations affect the actions of the people who receive the money? In response, her mouth produced these words: “Americans can support politically any political candidate.”

At the same time, however, Tauscher went on about how the Democrats are in favor of campaign finance reform. Well, if the system works fine as is, as she suggests, then why reform it? As for the Democrats and the less fortunate, Tauscher argued that her party had not abandoned anyone. What about the 43 million without health insurance? A “strong economy” is the best remedy, she said. But during the recent economic boom—for which Clinton and Tauscher claim credit—the number of the uninsured has risen from about 39 million to 43 million. “Well, I don’t know about those numbers,” Tauscher said. Sen. Bulworth would have throttled her.

This being shouting-head tv, nothing was resolved, but the subjects of money-and-politics and social justice did receive a dose of national airtime. Let’s thank Beatty for that and hope his presidential tease so moves other producers, bookers and journalists.

JWR contributor David Corn, Washington Editor of The Nation, writes the "Loyal Opposition" column for The New York Press.

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