On Movies, Money & Politics
The Nation asked six politically active members of the entertainment community to comment on recent developments in the realms of politics and popular culture. Most of the participants agree that President Clinton has badly let down the liberals who supported him, although none think he should have been impeached. Most agree that there is little difference between the two parties, and all decry the influence of money on American politics, and on films as well. The participants are: Warren Beatty, Danny Glover, Norman Lear, Oliver Stone, Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin. (We regret that Susan Sarandon, who was scheduled to participate, could not do so because of illness.) Thanks to Carl Bromley and Jon Wiener for conducting the interviews.
Q: Has Clinton done damage to the liberal agenda?
He never really had a liberal agenda. He caved on military issues, tax issues. He could at least pardon Leonard Peltier before he leaves office. But I doubt it. He's the ultimate pragmatic man--Republican or Democrat; although I do think the impeachment humiliation may finally crack through his desire to please all and let loose the JFK-like man inside. Perhaps the last year and a half of his presidency will be surprising.
I wouldn't say we should entirely blame Clinton. He wasn't there alone. The Democrats aided and abetted him.
I've never been a Clinton supporter. Never appeared at anything for him, never went to the White House--have been invited, turned it down. My film Bob Roberts is about the subversion of a culture for one's own gain. Both parties are guilty of that. But Clinton, as time goes on, is becoming closer to Bob Roberts than Bush ever was.
I don't think I've ever really supported Clinton's presidency. He's just someone who has taken his personality and used it in a way to seduce people into believing that he is something that he's not, that he's someone who really fights for issues. When it came to really difficult decisions, he certainly didn't step to the plate.
I think it's an oversimplification to say that a lot of support for Clinton is based on a lesser-of-two-evils foundation. I don't consider Clinton a progressive, but I think some credit should be given to the fact that when he came into the White House, he did try a relatively progressive agenda in the work he was doing on healthcare and gays in the military, and he got smacked down pretty quickly for it. A lot of people are saying he then ran off and co-opted the Republicans' agenda. I don't think that's wholly true. Clinton is somebody who said, Listen, if I can't accomplish what I want to do, let's go and accomplish those things they want to do that I think are worthwhile.
And then, every once in a while, Clinton will step up and do something that reminds you that he does have some liberal stripes, that he's not been completely co-opted by their agenda. He'll give Orrin Hatch a heart attack by setting aside the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and wiping out all the mining and tourism. Or, the EPA made an announcement the other day about air quality emissions standards, which always gives Detroit a little bit of a chest pain. But it's certainly not enough for people on my side.
What did you think of the impeachment?
I've not looked at a stitch of television in reference to it, and part of that is just a reflection of just how absurd I think the mess is.
I rooted for him during the impeachment process, of course, because fanaticism and puritanism in any form are my enemies. On the other hand, I have very ambivalent feelings about the rest of his behavior. He reminds me so much of Nixon: The pathology. The need to lie. A President who says, I smoked but I didn't inhale. A President who refuses to be proud of, or even to acknowledge that he didn't go to Vietnam for reasons of principle, and makes it sound like he's running away from what he did. Total pandering to the right wing. Clinton and the teenager. Like an Elvis movie. The poor man couldn't even get laid well. He's so cautious. Was he into Tantric sex? I don't think so.
Why is the right so intent on destroying Clinton?
He was conciliatory toward them, but they viewed it as, "Oh, God! Clinton stole our playbook and he's quarterbacking their team with it." They didn't want him to get credit for their ideas, which is why I think they wanted to kill him.
A lot of these guys who are in there now cut their teeth on Watergate, and they've been carrying around the deep, deep shame that Republicans since then have pretty much been synonymous with. These guys--Lott and Gingrich and the archconservative leadership of the party--just can't seem to get out of the shadow of Nixon. They wanted Clinton to be our Nixon. They were on their knees praying to God at night for some kind of situation that would create an ethical parity between the two parties that would enable them finally to put Nixon to rest, where they could say, We're not the only party of rich white guys who want to keep women down.
This impeachment business is really about morality, or their version of morality, and also it's about abortion, and about--I think you have to understand why these people hate this man so much, and it can't be his policies because he's been a true Republican in his policies, economically. It's got to have something to do with this radical Christianity. It's got to have something to do with not only morality but white supremacy and the role of women in the world. It must really bug some of these people that he's appointed so many women, people of color, to his Administration. The good news is that generally the American public has not gone for it. But the scary thing is that radical Christians have a foothold.
Does Clinton's vindication, if you can call it that, indicate that the level of sexual hypocrisy in this country has diminished?
There's a very large issue, which emerged around the time of Gary Hart, that's come to a boil at the end of the century, and that is whether the sexual puritanism of the Massachusetts Bay Colony can long survive with our technology's effect on privacy, our speed of information, our advertising and our rising excitement about sexual matters. And the country seems to want to take the sacrificial lambs off the skewer before they're cooked to death. If the unintended consequence of this sexual McCarthyism is that the baby boom generation insists on a more realistic evaluation of sex--let's not call it sex, let's call it ethics, truthfulness, human frailties--then the religious right may have made a mistake bringing this subject to the table. Speaking of unintended consequences for the religious right, the US has the highest divorce rate on earth. We are also the most puritanical country. If our puritanism declines, maybe our rate of divorce will also. The religious right should be happy with that.
I think there will still be people who view sexual behavior as an effective way of derailing certain people's political fortunes. The extremist Republican leadership are destroyers, they're not builders. How can you come in and say that a welfare system, with as many warts as there were on that system, wasn't a valid attempt by a very intelligent and well-meaning group of people several decades ago to address a serious problem? They didn't wake up one day and say, "How can we burn and blow and waste billions of dollars over the next several decades giving away money to poor people?" The extremist Republicans would rather shut it down and have nothing, rather than repair it. And if we consign a generation of people to abject poverty and ignorance and poor health and illiteracy and so forth, then that's just too bad.
So in 2000, will candidates have to answer as many questions about their private lives?
Bob Roberts is thinking about running for President right now. Being that he's paralyzed from the waist down, he's kind of the perfect candidate. The slogan would be, No sex, just business.
Now people are saying, "Nobody who ever had sex in their life will be able to run for office." I think the antithesis may be true. The length of time it took to play this out--the amount of embarrassment, humiliation and degradation--has dramatized the triviality of the issue. It may cause the public to tire of the subject of what mischief Daddy's doing at the office all day, and cause them to think about the work he's doing.