As much as presidential hopeful Al Gore tries to distance himself from the incumbent, the buzz at the Democratic National Convention is all about Bill — and not just his “tallywacker.”
On Monday, when President Clinton made his much-anticipated speech on the first night of the four-day confab at the Staples Center, he was accompanied by a trademark prop — a film tribute by longtime friends and TV producers Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason.
Clinton has received more money from the entertainment industry than any other president in history. He has also been rumored as a possible candidate for a top Hollywood studio job or other entertainment-related post when he leaves the White House.
Even the fickle press has of late waxed lyrical over Clinton, lamenting that neither Bush nor Gore can match the hold of this president on his audience. He is a consummate performer.
Clinton’s charisma, however, is a double-edged sword for Gore, who appears intent on showing voters that he wants to continue many of the policies of his boss but in no way condones the man’s sexual foibles.
Bill Maher, the irreverent host of ABC’s latenight talkshow “Politically Incorrect,” told a lunchtime panel Monday that the choice of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as Gore’s running mate is the most obvious attempt on the part of the vice president “to inoculate” himself against, well, Clinton’s penis.
“This election is still about Clinton’s tallywacker,” Maher said. He spoke at a Time magazine-sponsored panel, “Hollywood vs. Washington,” in Santa Monica.
Most of the panelists — including MPAA chairman Jack Valenti, producer Norman Lear and Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell — concurred that Hollywood should not be the target of so much political ire and that both parties should simply get on with the business of campaigning on the issues.
If the pols are looking for villains in Hollywood, Lear said, there simply aren’t any.
Valenti pointed out that there’s really no one in Hollywood at which criticism can be effectively leveled. There’s no one company or studio head who makes all the decisions or sets the agenda for the town or the movies and programming that it turns outs. “No one can say you can’t make that picture,” Valenti said. “The ultimate arbiter is the audience. If you don’t like a movie, don’t go see it.”
Neither Valenti nor Lear seemed overly concerned that Lieberman would carry on his crusade against the entertainment industry if elected vice president; Lieberman seems to be back-pedaling on the Hollywood issue.
On news talkshows over the weekend, the senator said he has no intention of censoring content. He said he would cease to be a part of the “Silver Sewer” awards if elected veep. He founded the award with conservative Bill Bennett to chastise crudeness and vulgarity in the entertainment industry.
Lieberman is expected to attend a fund-raiser tonight at the home of Hollywood producer and Democratic player David Salzman. The event is for the New Democrat Network, a political action committee Lieberman helped found in 1996 to advance pro-business Democrats.
Lieberman may now be at pains to modify his anti-Hollywood rhetoric, but as recently as April he introduced a bill with Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.) calling for the labeling of violent content.
The bill would require the Federal Trade Commission to rate movies, TV, videogames and music for violence. While the industries in question would have input in how such a system should be developed, the FTC would have final say on the ratings.
Until now, such oversight has remained within the industries in question, with the MPAA, for example, administering the movie rating system.
One member of the Gore/Lieberman camp said it’s not a certainty that Lieberman will abandon his anti-Hollywood crusade. He said a long-awaited FTC report on the marketing of violent content will be used by Lieberman in the campaign when it is released in September.
At the same time, McCain is expected to call special congressional hearings in September on the issue of violence in the media. In the past, Lieberman has taken an active role in such hearings.
When Clinton called for the FTC study last summer, it was one of the few times that he openly criticized the entertainment industries.
At the panel, Caddell said Hollywood is still a huge source of money for the Democrats, and thus it is unlikely that the party would do anything drastic to undermine Hollywood interests, Lieberman or no Lieberman.
“You buy protection,” said Caddell, who is also a consultant on the ABC series “The West Wing.”
John Dean, former counsel to Richard Nixon and a figure in the Watergate scandal, and Margaret Carlson, senior Time writer, were also on the panel. Time managing editor Walter Isaacson moderated.