The Clinton-Hollywood Co-Dependency


TIME – Spectator Column – June 7, 1993

The Clinton-Hollywood Co-Dependency

IS IT WRONG TO LAUGH AT people’s hurt feelings and sense of injustice? Even when those people are perpetually fussed over and paid millions a year? “What is all this about,” wonders Mike Medavoy, chairman of TriStar Pictures. He means all the carping about Bill Clinton’s fling with Hollywood. Medavoy is earnest and aggrieved, as are all the other wounded show-business Democrats. “What?” Medavoy asks rhetorically. “Bill Clinton shouldn’t be talking to stars?”

Medavoy’s White House friend does seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time with high-income constituents from L.A.’s west side. But Ronald Reagan was himself a movie actor (and appointed an actor Ambassador to Mexico). George Bush began his term shilling for a Dan Ayckroyd movie produced by an old buddy, let Arnold Schwarzenegger play his running mate last year, and had Dana Carvey in for a White House sleepover on one of his last nights as President. Why has permissible Republican good-sport glamour become an invidious symptom of Clinton’s slack, “What? Me worry?” presidency?

Well, for one thing, it’s the Clintons’ sheer, star-loving promiscuity. Making time during the first 125 days for Billy Crystal, Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone (twice), Richard Gere, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Quincy Jones, Sinbad, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Sam Waterston, Hammer, Lindsay Wagner and Judy Collins is a remarkable achievement. When Hillary Rodham Clinton, after seeing Liza Minnelli sing on TV, calls and asks her to stay overnight, it looks frivolous, a little unseemly.

Or at least it is easily portrayed as unseemly by a lazy-minded Washington press corps, whose members are doubly envious — of the show-business clique for supplanting them as the coolest people in town, and of the Clintonites for getting to hang out with Streisand & Co. Washington reporters’ lust for proximity to stars is at least as intense as the Clintons’ (it’s the journalists who shamelessly drag trophy stars to the White House correspondents’ dinner every spring), so naturally they are quick to detect a groupie instinct in Clinton, and to give a knee-jerk, pseudo-high-minded critique. But isn’t George Will a TV performer? And is Sam Donaldson more profound than Richard Dreyfuss?

The pundits say the problem is that salt-of-the-earth Clinton now looks hoity-toity, out of touch. In fact, as he wanders among his glammy new best friends, an invisible all-access backstage pass dangling from his neck, Bill Clinton is not squandering his populist image. Rather, he’s showing himself to be too much a man of the people, reverting to white-trash form, one more grinning geek queuing up at Graceland. “Back when I saw him at ((a fund raiser at producer)) Ted Field’s house,” says a politically active movie $ star, “with his mouth open, star struck, I said, ‘Oh, my God. Oh, Jesus.’ I think he likes people. And I think he genuinely likes famous people.”

And since Hollywood liberals have given generously to would-be Democratic Presidents for two decades, their first winner is obliged to take them on tours of Air Force One. The White House chief of staff would be crazy not to take calls from David Geffen, the producer; he donated $120,000 last year. (On the other hand, jokes the actor and activist Ron Silver, “Why anyone would want to talk to Mack McLarty is beyond me.”)

Some of the Californians glomming onto Clinton are silly (“A lot of these people,” says one of his Hollywood intimates, “have never been to Washington before”), yet unlike all other well-connected capital hangers-on, these visitors don’t come for a tax break, a contract or any venal purpose; they ask not what their country can do for them. Although Medavoy (like Streisand) works for the Japanese, he says that nudging Clinton on trade policy is “the last conversation I’d ever have with him. I don’t lobby the President.”

The stars are twits at worst. Clinton, however, should know better. When Jimmy Carter (cynically) quoted Bob Dylan, it made him seem with it; when Reagan had Candice Bergen and Andy Warhol to state dinners, the effect was a certain (cynical) black-tie inclusiveness. This President, however, is not being calculating enough; his omigosh pleasure at hanging around with celebrities is too palpable. It seems particularly dumb for Clinton, whose candidacy was almost wrecked by allegations of past adulteries, to consort regularly with the Sharon Stones of the world. The show people mean well, and Clinton is guilty mainly of excessive sociability. But it was well-meaning, intelligent Mike Medavoy who, one day a few years ago, took Gary Hart to the show-business party where he met Donna Rice.