The 2000 presidential election promises to be the biggest fiasco since 1920, when monied interests foisted Warren G. Harding off upon a distracted public. It seems unlikely that the campaign will rise above the level of Jay Leno jokes about George W. Bush’s 40-year-long misspent youth and Al Gore’s charisma deficit. Meanwhile the party of money (American money, Chinese money, tobacco money...who cares?) will laugh all the way to the Swiss bank.
In 1972, Nixon campaign representatives received suitcases of corporate cash under cover of darkness. And when the dust settled two years later, people went to jail as a result. Nobody will go to jail in the 2000 election. These days the six-figure corporate gifts are "soft money," delivered in broad daylight, by certified check. The two leading Republican candidates, Bush and Forbes, have decided to play outside of the Watergate-era campaign finance system. Gore has raised more money, from God knows where, than any Democrat in history. And all that cash will fuel a Coke vs. Pepsi TV-ad war in which sticky questions about real wages, trade deficits, or global warming will never arise.
All of this is why, in the broiling, brain-damaging heat of August, the idea of actor-filmmaker Warren Beatty running for president could seem like a good idea. The Beatty boomlet began as a rumor and inflated after an interview in The New York Times, in which the actor cleverly failed to rule anything out. In fact, he sounded like a rich, angry, old lefty with nothing to lose, on the brink of a wild fling. He talked about the crime of campaign financing and pointedly noted that he was no political novice, having been active in electoral politics, on behalf of other people, for more than 35 years. By the time you read this we’ll probably know what he decided.