Forget all the jokes, Warren Beatty is seriously weighing up role of President


It Began as a kind of joke but now more and more people are talking about 1970s' heartthrob Warren Beatty for President. A poll in California gives him 11 per cent support without him lifting a finger. There have been editorials about the film actor in several prestigious newspapers.

"Not another womaniser in the White House," Americans cry as they recall the long list of Mr Beatty's conquests of beautiful women. But then it is pointed out that unlike President Clinton's exploits, those of Mr Beatty took place when he was single and a film star, not a married politician.

Now Mr Beatty is happily married to actress Annette Bening and they have three children. Former girl-friends are joking about the jobs they might get in the Beatty White House. The publicist for Joan Collins says she could be called the First ExFiancee, as she still has the engagement ring from their romance.

Michelle Phillip, a singer and actress who dated Beatty in the 1970s, jokes that she might become an ambassador or a "drugs czarina". Other former women in his life include Madonna, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Natalie Wood, Julie Christie, and Vivien Leigh. He was once nicknamed the "Priapic Prince".

Mr Beatty, a long-time Democratic activist who campaigned for Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, is not damping down the speculation that he may run against Vice-President Al Gore and former senator, Bill Bradley, for the Democratic nomination. "It's not something I floated," he told the Washing- ton Post last week, "but it is something I'm thinking about. That's all I'm doing - thinking about it."

The Post followed up with an editorial saying that the movie actor-producer is "not everyone's idea of a political saviour", but "people talk about a Beatty presidential candidacy because they are desperate for someone - anyone - to shake up the political system".

Mr Beatty's denunciation of the stranglehold of money over politics and his record of espousing liberal causes appeals to many who have become disillusioned with the money chase for the next election.

Also, the Democrats are increasingly worried about their candidates, Gore and Bradley, looking "boring" as George Bush jnr rakes in millions of dollars and excites Americans prepared to forgive the mysterious youthful "mistakes".

Soon after the idea of Beatty as presidential candidate was floated by conservative columnist Ariana Huffington, the New York Times offered him a prestigious slot on the editorial page to present his views.

He let fly at the centrist posture of the present Democrats. "When a Roosevelt-Truman-Stevenson-Kennedy Democrat, comfortably continuing a career of writing and directing movies, accepts the megaphone tossed to him, it will be to challenge the present party to admit its timidity in protecting those who need help most and to acknowledge the undeniable," Beatty wrote.

"It will be possible for a President to arrest our slide from democracy to plutocracy only if he can free himself from fundraising, disregard polling, spend his popularity and mould public opinion rather than follow it."

Could that President be Beatty himself? All he says at the end of the article is "Stay tuned. We'll be back after this message".

Now the pundits are analysing Beatty's most recent film, Bulworth, about a senator who seeks re-election with disastrous results. The film, which Beatty co-wrote, directed and starred in, flopped at the box-office.

It shows Bulworth as a politician with liberal views who has been corrupted by the money chase and has a breakdown. He takes out a murder contract on himself and then realises that personal and political salvation lies through black rap music.

If everyone has sex with everyone else, the film's message goes, then a new generation will emerge no longer divided by race and ethnic prejudice. Then Bulworth gets assassinated.

Beatty is consulting the media adviser of a man who turned conventional politics on its head last year to become Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura. The former professional wrestler routed his Democratic and Republican opponents by appealing to normally indifferent young voters through buffoonery and a populist message. Ventura also got the backing of Ross Perot's Reform Party and there is speculation that Beatty may yet seek that party's support and its millions of dollars in federal funding if he is spurned by the Democrats.

Humourist Art Buchwald writes that "the country needs at least one presidential candidate who will keep the voters from going to sleep". Beatty's fans will always remember him for Bonnie and Clyde.

But political columnist Walter Shapiro sees Beatty as a spoiler who could split the Democratic vote. "That's why Democrats should be urging Beatty to stay where he belongs - on the movie screen improbably romancing actresses half his age."