Mr. Selleck Goes To Washington

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On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard considers the new TNT original film Running Mates, starring Tom Selleck, and other Hollywood movies about politics.
Disregard previous rumors. This week on TNT, in a cable movie called Running Mates, the Democratic Party in Los Angeles will nominate Tom Selleck for president, minus his Magnum, P.I. mustache. And the mates who run with him refer not so much to Tom's choice for vice president as to the many attractive women in his life.

His wife, for instance, Nancy Travis. His campaign manager, Laura Linney. His Hollywood fund-raiser, Teri Hatcher. And his Lady Macbeth, Faye Dunaway. In the funniest scene in the film, all these women gather in one room to compare notes.

They'll vote for him, even though he fires Linney after cutting a backroom deal with the Daddy Warbucks crowd to torpedo campaign finance reform. But something surprising happens to Tom in the middle of his acceptance speech, a sort of heart attack of truth.

And I am the Shah of Iran. Actually, ever since Adlai Stevenson, I've been nobody. Well, maybe The Last Wobbly, after an ancient mariner on a California beach filled me in on anarchism, copper strikes, and one Big Rock Candy Union in the bygone 1920s. And The First Paranoid, buying the latest conspiracy theory. And a Registered Loser, wasting his vote on the quixotic likes of Ralph Nader or Jesse Jackson.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
I wish Martin Sheen were our real president. The West Wing is more compelling every week than this November's Harvard-Yale game. Or Michael Murphy, who ran on principle in the primaries in Tanner '88.

How come, ever since Henry Fonda in The Best Man, Hollywood's candidates for office have gone steadily downhill into demagoguery, sellout and jingles? Like Broderick Crawford as Huey Long in All the King's Men. And Andy Griffith as a hillbilly fascist in A Face in the Crowd? And Robert Redford as a can of no-cal glib in The Candidate. Or John Travolta as a doughnut-eating erotomaniac in Primary Colors. Or Tim Robbins as a rock star reactionary in Bob Roberts. Or arren Beatty, speaking Bulworth hip-hop.

Can it really be true, as Robert Altman told us in Nashville, that politics is one big Grand Ole Opry, with cool shades and maybe an assassin?

I'm too old to cry, Adlai Stevenson explained in 1952, quoting Abe Lincoln, "but it hurts too much to laugh." For once, in this corner, there will be no media scape-gloating. Hollywood never for a minute imagined either Dick Nixon or Bill Clinton. Network TV has been telling us for decades we should be nicer to women, children, minorities, poor people, sick people, old people and strangers.

Instead we go shopping. Tell it to the mall. But if America is really for sale, how come all those millions of dollars spent on campaign ads have made more and more consumer-citizens stay home and refuse to vote?