Warren Beatty spurns media suitors

The actor says a campaign in 2000 would be "nutty," but won't rule out a future run.

By Anthony York

Published November 4, 1999 8:50PM (EST)

Admirers of political spectacle could be heard whimpering with disappointment last night when Warren Beatty confirmed the obvious -- that he is not running for president of the United States.

"For me to go into some kind of a campaign swing would be a little nutty, really," Beatty told students Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government Wednesday night. "I'm not doing that right now."

Of course it would have been nutty, but that was the point. Beatty, a longtime Democratic Party activist who has been involved in the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Gary Hart, enjoyed a bump of media attention when Arianna Huffington floated the idea of a Beatty run in her syndicated column. The column grew out of a dinner in Huffington's home with Beatty, television producer Norman Lear and others, where guests discussed the paucity of populist political candidates.

Beatty played along, following Huffington's column with one of his own, an Aug. 22 editorial on the op-ed pages of the Sunday New York Times. Beatty used that prime chunk of media real estate to blast the Democratic Party "for its failure to mold public opinion in resistance to big money." He cried out for universal health care, an end to poverty and a plea in capital letters for public financing of presidential campaigns. The article ended with an elliptic, "Stay tuned. We'll be back after this message."

While some stories are suggesting Beatty kept his options open for Campaign 2000, Huffington says she's known for some time he wasn't serious about making the race. "That's been out there for a while," she said.

In the process of throwing a ball of yarn to the media kitty-cat, Beatty, for a moment, shined a spotlight on this strange coalition of himself and Lear, long self-described liberal Democrats and Huffington, a once-loyal Republican, over the issues of poverty and campaign finance reform.

Huffington continues to hammer on the issues in her twice-weekly column, and said Thursday she hopes that Beatty will stay active in his efforts to fight for political reform. "I hope he continues to speak up, like the speech he gave last night," Huffington said. "Whatever you do, drum majorette, keep talking."

Beatty's exit marks the beginning of the end of the presidential sideshow that emerged as campaign 2000 got underway. In the wake of Beatty's editorial, the names Cybill Shepard and Oprah Winfrey were run through the political rumor mill as possible celebrity candidates for president.

Now, only Donald Trump remains. Trump, who recently announced his allegiance to the Reform Party, is still being bolstered by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, as a sort of last hope to stop the party's almost-inevitable nomination of Pat Buchanan for president.

"Trump is a joke candidate that is taken far too seriously by the media," Huffington said. "But Buchanan is a dangerous candidate. Unless there is a progressive, populist candidate who can capture some of the discontent that Buchanan taps into with his racism and all the rest, there's no stopping him from getting the nomination. "

Huffington blasted the current presidential candidates as "passionless, even when they mouth the words," with one exception -- Arizona Sen. John McCain. "You can't even ask McCain about the weather without it turning into a discussion of campaign finance reform," she said. "He's certainly the best of the declared candidates."

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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