- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

In movies, a big star is insulated by protocol and precedence. Your big-time silver-screen colossus might get killed in a film, but not by the hands of some nondescript extra who casually shoots him with nary a thought.

Alas, democratic politics aren’t half so respectful of status: Last week Arnold Schwarzenegger got sand kicked in his face by millions of nondescript extras — the California voters who rejected all four of the propositions he had backed. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan says “with each day a star is in politics he loses some of his star-glow, and if he doesn’t gain, each day, an equal amount of leader-glow he begins to experience a steady diminution of personal power.” Arnold can’t respond to Tuesday’s defeats by going on TV and saying yet again “Ah’ll be back” — it’s a cute line but not when you’re being kicked down the hallway by the masses.

So now he’s being stalked by Warren Beatty. In the run-up to Election Day, Mr. Beatty showed up everywhere Arnold did, as if he were the Actors’ Equity-designated understudy for the role. If they’re remaking “42nd Street,” Arnold is Bebe Daniels, Warren’s got the Ruby Keeler role as the plucky kid from the chorus who gets sent on stage with the stirring words, “You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star.” Or in Warren’s case: “You’re going out there a wrinkly woozy semi-has-been but you’ve got to come back a star.”

Will he do it? “I don’t want to run for governor,” he said the other day, making it sound like he’s interested in the role but won’t audition. He’s certainly in the right party: the Democrats have already taken on most of the characteristics of a bad Hollywood project — no ideas, script full of ancient cliches, but if you can get the right star to commit to it we just might make this thing fly. And, though he never ran for office before, Mr. Beatty has the crucial ingredient: name recognition. All over California, women are saying: “Warren Beatty? Oh, yeah, right, now I remember. That guy I had sex with in the late ‘60s.”

The “will Warren run?” story crops up every other election cycle. Last time it was back in 2000, when Al Gore was felt by some (about 300 million or so) to lack charisma and there was talk of Mr. Beatty throwing his hat into the presidential ring.

He wanted to run because he believed American politics was turning into a plutocracy in which the highest office in the land was put up for sale to a handful of privileged sons of wealthy men, like Al Gore and George W Bush. Mr. Beatty, by contrast, has come up the hard way, working his way through the long hard daily grind of Natalie Wood, Leslie Caron, Brigitte Bardot, Cher, Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Isabelle Adjani. … He can sympathize with the underclass: he knows how it feels to hit rock bottom — apparently, it was Madonna’s in “Dick Tracy.”

He understands what it’s like trying to make ends meet. Crucially for California, he’s sensitive to immigrants’ needs: He appreciates the difficulties European art-house actresses face finding bankable Hollywood stars prepared to bed them.

In 2003, you’ll recall, The Los Angeles Times assigned a special team to look into Arnold’s sexual background. If they do Warren in the same way, it’ll be the biggest hiring bonanza in U.S. journalism for a century.

Usually, when his magnificent track record of famous conquests is brought up, Mr. Beatty indignantly points out he’s had sex with a lot of very obscure women, too. This is true. He has dallied not just with Natalie Wood, but also with her less celebrated sister, Lana Wood.

Lana, who played Plenty O’Toole in the James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever,” subsequently fell on hard times and found herself with little money and no work. Warren was touched by her predicament and considerately invited her to share his bed. As Miss Wood wrote in her memoirs: “Whatever his motives were, he gave me shelter and my self-esteem back — and for that I was grateful.”

It is doubtful this hands-on approach to problems of the unemployed can be applied statewide. No governor can have sex with every struggling woman in California. Of course, Mr. Beatty has the advantage of an impressive head start.

OK, enough about the sex, what about the issues? Well, Warren’s a famous activist. He’s made explicitly political films — like, er, his last one, “Bulworth,” about a right-wing senator who learns to overcome his prejudice and racism by dating Halle Berry. Now that’s what I call affirmative action. And speaking as an extreme right-wing bigot myself I would certainly be willing to volunteer for the test program.

I have nothing against celebrity politicians. Celebrities are citizens, too, and a celebrity who takes a couple of years off to serve as mayor or governor is much truer to the spirit of a republic of citizen legislators than the lifelong political hacks on six-figure salaries who infest Sacramento.

But, if you’re going to run on resume, Arnold’s at least says: In America, work hard and anything is possible. Warren’s is that of a dilettante — which is why I don’t think he’ll bite. Mr. Beatty is like “Hamlet” with nude scenes: To run or not to run, that is the question — and he’s happy to agonize over it for another decade or three. Even the Los Angeles Times doesn’t seem impressed by this latest manifestation of Arianna Huffington-style trickle-down populism: Show how much you care for the little man by going to a lot of swank parties with other A-listers and discussing his problems almost as if you’ve met him.

Dominique de Villepin, the third-rate poet who is now the fourth-rate prime minister of France, gave a speech this year on how to solve his country’s problems: “In a modern democracy, the debate is not between the liberal and the social, it is between immobilism and action. Solidarity and initiative, protection and daring: That is the French genius.”

Mr. de Villepin may never have set foot in Sacramento, but he evidently knows the turf. Mr. Schwarzenegger, the last action hero, is now yet another immobilized schlub. Mr. Beatty, who has made immobilism his defining characteristic in everything but his sexual exploits, now figures that next to Arnold he looks like a man of action. In both cases, that’s almost laughable casting against type. But California politics will do that to you.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Mark Steyn, 2005

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