by | Oct 3, 1999 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

One of the great things about this country is that the guy at the end of the bar with his nose in his beer can decide to run for president. He can stand up, belch, maybe tuck in his shirt, and declare: “Attention! I am a candidate for the highest office in the land!”

And we can ignore him.

With the former in mind, I can understand why a lover-boy actor like Warren Beatty might enjoy the idea of running for president.

And with the latter in mind, I can’t understand why anyone is listening to him.

Last week, more than 150 reporters from around the world — around the world!
— came to hear Beatty deliver a political speech. That is far more media than have attended anything done by the other major candidates.

Of course, none of those candidates ever played Clyde to Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie.

None of those candidates ever made love to — in one movie — Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant and Carrie Fisher.

None of them ever played Dick Tracy with Madonna.

And apparently, those qualities are far more interesting to our media and our citizens than the actual ability to fix this country’s problems.

Maybe Al Gore should get a radio wristwatch.

On the surface, “Beatty for President” is laughable, an idea first suggested by syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, who is equally laughable. (Who is this woman? Where did she come from? What’s with the accent?)

But beneath the surface, we ought to be concerned. The fact is, the office of president has been so bruised, wilted, insulted and demystified that we now consider it fillable by the most hollow of professions: actors. People who get paid to pretend.

Warren Beatty?

The Hollywood treatment

At his speech last week — in that great epicenter of American normalcy, Beverly Hills — Beatty drew more than 700 supporters as he offered his take on campaign financing, health care, globalization and lumber fees.

What he knows about any of these things is beyond me. He could have read many books. Then again, given the way things are done in Hollywood, he might have had a 23-year-old read everything and hand him a one-page synopsis.

The point is, why do we care? I don’t know Warren Beatty. I don’t need to know him. I do know that I don’t want him — or any other actor, singer, MTV host
— running the country with absolutely no experience.

Isn’t that a simple concept? That to do the most complicated political job in the world you should have a teeny-weeny morsel of political know-how? Would you hire someone to fix your toilet who had never seen a pipe?

The idea is so sensible the media ignore it altogether. Skip right over it. Rush out to Beatty’s party never thinking about how stupid it looks.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for an actor to announce he was making a political speech — and have no media show up?

They wouldn’t come for the guy at the end of the bar.

The lure of celebrity

Yet they wouldn’t think of not gathering for Beatty. Why? Because we are addicted to celebrity, pure and simple. Nothing excites us as much as fame.

In the same week that Beatty was playing footsie with the presidency, Donald Trump was considering the Reform Party’s candidacy, Arnold Schwarzenegger said he might run for governor of California and Jesse Ventura was offering criticism of George W. Bush and Gore. This from a man who, five minutes ago, was wearing tights.

Actors. Wrestlers. The ridiculous is now the accepted. The less you know, the better. Substance bores, fame excites, and it is better to look good than to be good.

Which is why I don’t laugh at the Warren Beatty circus. I worry. And if you don’t think America now operates almost completely under Hollywood’s influence
— in everything from grooming to politics — then consider those who argue for a Beatty presidency. Here’s what they say:

Why can’t a guy come out of nowhere and take over the White House? Experience isn’t really necessary. All you need is to be good, kind and patriotic.

It’s a sweet idea.

And you know where it came from?

The movies.

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Listen to Mitch’s radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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