Ben Affleck: "I hope Nader can still sleep"

The Oscar-winning actor, Tina Brown, Sigourney Weaver and others share the Election Night suspense with Salon.


Amy Reiter
November 8, 2000 6:54PM (UTC)

The president and Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton ultimately didn't show up at the Talk/Bloomberg/Miramax election party Tuesday night at Elaine's in New York. But just about everyone else did. Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman huddled with other young stars under one of at least eight large-screen TVs that somehow never delivered enough results to call the race. Sigourney Weaver, Anna Deavere Smith, Arianna Huffington, Tina Brown and others clustered around another. Salon's Nothing Personal columnist Amy Reiter caught up with a few of them.

BEN AFFLECK stars in the upcoming film "Bounce."

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I know that you've been campaigning for Gore, and I'm wondering what it is about him that appeals to you?

I've been a Democrat all my life. I grew up in a very strong union household, a politically active household. I don't believe in the deregulation of Social Security. I believe that that's the same kind of politics that got us in trouble with the savings and loans. I believe in a party of inclusiveness. I believe in a party that's going to work for working families, middle-income families and poor families, as opposed to one that cultivates a thinly veiled attempt to favor wealthy campaign contributors and friends.

I believe very strongly in a woman's right to choose. I believe very strongly in equal pay for women. I mean, I'm not a big environmentalist, but I also don't believe we ought to so gratuitously sell out our national reserves. I'm nervous this evening, but one of the things that's exciting to me is the amount of people who voted. No matter who wins, I think it's a healthy thing for our country that so many voters have come out and participated in the process. Either way, I think the most important number will be the turnout.

Are you worried about a Bush win?

No. I think you have to try to transcend the politics of partisanship and rancor. No matter who wins, I hope the country can find -- rather than the partisan bickering that has characterized the Republican Congress and the impeachment process -- a way to work together.

The essence of politics goes against the nature of those who consider themselves idealists. It's compromise. So whoever wins, the race being so close, I hope the winner will recognize and embrace that spirit of compromise and work toward embracing some elements of the agenda of the party that doesn't end up getting power in order to move the whole country forward.

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It's obvious the country is split in many ways, and I think the only healthy, productive way to move forward is to recognize that there's a strong sentiment on either side of the fence and try to build a coalition that can function and work. Partisanship, as [George] Washington warned, although he called it "factionalism" in his farewell address, is one of the greatest dangers to a democracy. You have people who are intractable.

Why do you think it's so close?

Because there was, like, a lack of interest, since contemporary politics means moving toward the center. So what happens is you have both parties scrambling for centrist voters. It turns into, unfortunately, kind of a prom-king personality contest. Both parties were less than effective in characterizing the difference between the two of them.

It's also close because there's a real division in this country in terms of what people feel like. It's not enough to build a national party, a national coalition. People have very different priorities in very different parts of the world. You have working Democratic union Catholics, like [those] where I grew up in Boston, who don't believe in abortion but who believe in unions. You have all kinds of different agendas. It's remarkable to me that the two-party system can maintain itself in such a heterogeneous country.

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What do you think of Ralph Nader?

I'm disappointed in Nader -- I really am. Ultimately, he chose the road of self-aggrandizement over trying to further the politics that he claimed to care about. I think he was disingenuous. I used to think of Nader as a man of integrity; I now think of him as a kind of a camera hog, a glory hound. It's upsetting, deeply upsetting. If I come away with one thing from this election, it'll be that Nader deliberately fragmented the vote in crucial states. If Roe vs. Wade, for example, is appealed, I hope he can still sleep. I hope that's what he wanted because he's too smart a man not to understand that that's the effect of his actions. And where I grew up, you take responsibility for your actions. I hope he's willing to accept responsibility for his.

TINA BROWN is the editor of Talk magazine.

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I know it's too early to call it, but I wonder if there's an issue that's particularly close to your heart in the presidential race.

Well, there are issues I care about very much, like guns and the right to choose. Those are very dear to me. But I've got to admit that I don't feel George W. Bush has got the intellectual equipment to be the president. I really feel it's a big mistake. I think America is going to wake up with a giant hangover tomorrow if they elect Bush.

What do you think is attracting people to him? How do you explain it?

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Unfortunately, I think that people are just less and less well informed, and the fact that they have an excess of media makes them tune out the media. And they're simply judging it on personality instead of on issues, because they don't really seem to have enough information. They just tune it out, which is really an amazing thing. I think maybe media overload is to blame for the lack of genuine grasp on the difference between these two candidates. I get very irritated by constantly reading that there was not much to choose between them, when there was a tremendous difference between these candidates. So people tend to think, erroneously, that there's not much to choose between.

Do you think the Nader campaign has a lot to do with that?

Nader has been a menace. I think it was very unfortunate that he was a wrecking ball in this situation.

What about the personality thing with Bush? Do you think he has a personality that's particularly appealing?

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No, I think his affability and [that he's] telegenic fit the very meretricious age. And I think that, unfortunately, Gore is lamentably unskilled in the area of telegenic, easy, photo-op kind of charm. He doesn't seem to have it. And, alas, it just happens to be the skill set that was necessary to get elected.

Is there one thing that you're particularly worried about should Bush get into office?

I'm worried about the Supreme Court -- that's what worries me the most. And I'm worried about his responses in a really complex crisis, because I don't go along with the idea that his "advisors" will save the day, because you're often in a situation as a chief executive where all your advisors disagree. So I'm worried about him in a situation like the Middle East, which is all about nuance. I don't think he's a very nuanced kind of opinion maker or opinion holder.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER is an Oscar-nominated actress.

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Is there an issue in this campaign that is particularly dear to you?

I'm very committed to gun control and protecting a woman's right to choose, and I'm worried about the Supreme Court, very worried. I'm also deeply concerned about the environment and what will happen to stem-cell research if Bush wins; I think that could be the end of it. I'm worried about what I'll find at 6 a.m. when I wake up with my daughter. What will I tell her?

ANNA DEAVERE SMITH is a playwright, author and actress.

What do you think it is about Bush that appeals to people?

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Well, I only get into characters by finding a combination of content with what is external. If anything, a disappointment would be that for a long time in this campaign, we spent a lot of time looking at and examining only the externals of these men, and we failed to illuminate the content. As an actress, my job is not to just call attention to external things, someone making a mistake with what they have to say or walking or sighing or whatever they wear or what they look like, but to illuminate the words -- that's where the most amount of work comes. And as a matter of fact, if you illuminate the words well enough, then the physical mannerisms begin to make sense. But we didn't do that. We did it the other way, which was to be distracted by external things. And I think it's potentially our loss as a nation.

STANLEY CROUCH is an essayist, poet and jazz critic.

So what do you think about the fact that we could have a Bush win right now?

If Gore loses, it won't be because he's not the smarter of the two candidates. It won't be because he's not more familiar in great detail with the issues. It will be because since July he's been about eight different Al Gores. And what I would say is, if a woman were to imagine (or a man were to imagine) meeting someone who purported to be interested in him (or in her) once a week for eight weeks, and every time the person was a completely different person, one might not feel too comfortable going out with that person.

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You think it comes down to that?

I don't think the electorate has thought about that, but you know, you had three different Al Gores in the debates. The most recent Al Gore has been kind of a Bible-thumping kind of guy -- and that makes it very hard for people to believe in you. Bush was a less well-informed man, stumbling, mispronouncing names, etc. But he was always the same guy. So if Bush wins, I think it might have more to do with that than anything else.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON is the author of "How to Overthrow the Government."

We still don't know the results, but what do you think of a potential Bush win?

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We still don't know, but this cliffhanger symbolizes how uninspiring both candidates were. Neither candidate really provoked any enthusiasm, even among most people who voted for them. So the result is just very interesting as a metaphor of where we were in this campaign. The voters' indifference to both candidates -- it's sort of like a national shrug.

Where do you think we go from here? Whichever candidate is put in office, do you think there's any hope of reigniting public interest in politics?

I think the only way is by reigniting the issues that were left out of the campaign. Ironically, two newsweeklies are addressing on their covers this week major crises: Newsweek has the prison industrial complex and what it's doing to whole communities around the country, especially minorities. And Time has the foster care crisis and how the number of foster children went way up under the Clinton-Gore administration. That's again another manifestation of the neglect of children in this country.

Why didn't these comments come out in the middle of the campaign? And why didn't journalists asks the candidates about them? Why did we lock ourselves into the issues that they wanted to talk about?

So you think the media really played a role in the problems of the campaign?

Well, obviously, the candidates are to blame first, but I think the media did not challenge the candidates. For example, I know one issue that Salon and I keep addressing is the Colombia drug war.

I did a Lexis-Nexis search -- and do you know that when the president signed the agreement to give over $1 billion to Colombia, nobody, not a single reporter traveling with either Gore or Bush, asked them about it? I mean, that's something with foreign policy implications that whoever gets to live in the White House will have to deal with. But nobody asked them.

Why do you think that is?

Well, I think there's this just this weird kind of groupthink that journalists are all addressing the same issues -- Medicare, Social Security -- and everything else does not exist.

If instead of just having one moderator [in the presidential debates], Jim Lehrer, you had a series of journalists -- out of their own self-interests, just because they want to make news -- we would be much more likely to get some challenging questions.

I want to see some young journalists, like you, who don't feel they just have to play it safe. And it's partly getting the older journalists to see that major issues and crises are being neglected and to do their jobs more responsibly as watchdogs.

JESSE KORNBLUTH is editorial director of America Online, and his wife, KAREN COLLINS, is with New York venture firm BG Media.

What are you most concerned about in this election?

Collins: The Supreme Court, because the president is directly involved with appointments to the court, and major family issues are at stake. That frightens me -- I don't want anyone to dictate my ability to have a family. And I don't mean only the issue of abortion and Roe vs. Wade. The right-to-lifers would also limit in vitro fertilization. They believe that every embryo you create is a life -- and if they prevail, laws will dictate how many embryos I can create in my effort to have a baby. I don't want the government involved in my ability and right to have a family.

Kornbluth: The irony is that Bush claimed to be the pro-family candidate, but he could get in the way of a lot of people's efforts to have a family.


Amy Reiter

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