Copyrighted material

"Keep that spirit. Keep talking"

by Warren Beatty

Eleanor Roosevelt Annual Awards Dinner, Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, September 29, 1999
Thank you, Norman [Lear], not only for your kind words about me, but for your contribution to political discourse with People for the American Way and for your unique work in film and television, all of which have won you the President's National Medal of the Arts Award earlier today at the White House. So thank you for jumping on a plane and whipping back to Los Angeles to present this award to me.

Lila, I want to thank you and the Americans for Democratic Action for honoring me.

Of your founders, I've already been greatly honored with the friendship of Hubert Humphrey and Arthur Schlessinger, Jr. I've revered the late Walter Reuther as I do Mr. Galbraith. But the woman, other than my mother, I always admired most in my childhood, Eleanor Roosevelt, I never got to meet. Although had I been a little less wary one day in New York in 1961, it's possible I would have.

My first movie had just come out, I was walking up Fifth Avenue, a boy from Virginia unused to being recognized, when out of nowhere there burst a rather frazzled, hyperactive, overly intense man in his 20s who yanked me by the arm, and with what seemed to me a crazy glint in his eye, whispered, "Mrs. Roosevelt wants me to talk to you. I'm going over to see her now. Come on, you want to see Mrs. Roosevelt..."

I said, "Oh sure, thank you, thank you, I'd love to see Mrs. Roosevelt but I'm a little late for a... I have a; uh; a thing."

Now he grabs both of my sleeves, sweat streaming down his face, and said, "No, no, Mrs. Roosevelt is a friend of mine. She says you should do my book. She's a friend of mine."

I said, "Well, I think that it's very nice that Mrs. Roosevelt is a friend of yours. Say hello for me. But if you don't mind, would you let go of my sleeves?"

And as I pulled away from him, he shoved a book in my hands and said, "Read it. Read it."

As soon as I got a safe distance up Fifth Avenue from him, I slowed down and opened the book. It was called "Brutal Mandate" and sure enough there was a blurb on the inside cover by Mrs. Roosevelt.

The guy who had stopped me was the late Al Lowenstein, later to become a Congressman and the president of your organization and a good friend of mine. You remember him well, I know, and with great affection. Al had the ability to lead. He was the person most responsible for beginning the movement protesting President Johnson's policy in Vietnam. There was no more effective organizer of dissent than Al.

For those of us who shared in that activism, there is a lot to be proud of. Insofar as it changed our policy in Vietnam, it was a success.

What we didn't succeed in doing, sadly, was to get a fair shake for the domestic policies of Lyndon Johnson because the country couldn't afford to pay for those good programs and that bad war at the same time.

The cost of the war in Vietnam brought into question the cost of food stamps at home.

I believe in the value of social programs, a safety net, regulation, and an active government
You could say it was the cost of that war that causes most present day liberal politicians to identify themselves as progressives. But my faith in the basic aspirations of the domestic programs of Lyndon Johnson, and before him Kennedy, Stevenson, Truman and Roosevelt, just won't permit me to accept your Eleanor Roosevelt Award as anything other than an old time, unrepentant, unreconstructed, tax-and-spend, bleeding heart, die-hard liberal Democrat.

I believe in the value of social programs, a safety net, regulation, and an active government.

I have no problem professing this because I love my day job -- making movies. I want to keep making them. I have the great luxury of not having a career as a politician and I can still say what I want to say.

As an old friend of mine once said to me, "The greatest gift God can give a man is to enjoy the sound of his own voice. And the second greatest gift is to get somebody to listen to it." And for that tonight I humbly thank you.

So my happily calling myself a liberal and dissenting from the centrist approach of the current candidates for the Democratic nomination for President requires no particular bravery. I have so much less to lose.

I have no campaign consultant. No pollsters. I have no reason to placate the DLC (sometimes called the Democratic Leisure Class, sometimes the Defense Lobby Corporation) or the DNC or any source of campaign money that so dominates the lives of career public servants today. I happen to be married to the most breathtaking woman on the planet, have three kids and a fourth on the way, and I can continue what one right-wing columnist suggested: "The improbable pursuit of acting in movies with leading ladies half my age."

Speaking of improbability, six weeks ago, several of the grand mentioners of the media began to mention me as what most people of sound mind would call a "highly improbable candidate for the Democratic nomination for President." I responded only that "that seemed extremely unlikely. It's not that I don't have things to say, but there must be somebody better than me." Having said nothing publicly since (I've been on a listening tour of my house for those six weeks), tonight seems not a moment too soon to speak up.

The present Administration deserves a lot of sympathy for having to cope with ruthless Republican Congresses. But in what Paul Wellstone calls the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, when we hear the record of the political bargains of the past 7 years cosmeticized and spun back to the public as "progress," we have to object.

On Gore, Bradley, and Democrats
After Theodore Roosevelt, progress in this century has always been made by Democrats -- but by Democrats who were fighting to the end for what they believed in, not settling for what they could get. By changing public opinion polls, not following them. By spending popularity, not hoarding it.

The big advances -- Social Security, the welfare safety net, the minimum wage, the Marshall Plan, Civil Rights, voting rights, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, federal aid to education, the war on poverty, Head Start, job training -- have all been made by Democrats who wouldn't give up the fight.

Surely, the admirable, honest, centrist Vice President knows that if the objective in the present Administration has been to honor the historic mission of his party, it hasn't been really fought for let alone achieved. But he is a loyal friend. Clearly, there are very few people of such high character or loyalty as the Vice President. Having a Gore Administration would give him the opportunity to show that loyalty to the more than 100 million Americans left behind in the economic expansion.

Bill Bradley, a man of equally high character, also by his voting record a centrist, is the only announced challenger. But if we imagine his Administration, what is this insurgency of a centrist against a centrist all about? If this is about differences in personality, is it justified? If it's about real differences on issues, we haven't heard them yet. Or are we left to decipher the slight differences in the middle of the road voting records of their mutual pasts or continue to wait and do nothing and hope the contest will be settled on grounds more substantial than a macarena contest or a game of one-on-one?

Although I think ethanol subsidies are goofy, and playing around with vouchers is dangerous for public education, and of course we ought to recognize Cuba; none of which he thinks -- in the past few weeks Bill Bradley has made some statements which, while not bursting with specificity, hint at progressive sentiments and I hope that whatever it is that's motivating those hints will encourage other Progressives to speak up and move him more specifically in a liberal direction.

An unequal prosperity
But how can we not have heard from either Democratic candidate a serious objection to the hypocrisy of the Democratic party proudly advertising our economic expansion as a "boom of unparalleled prosperity for the nation" when 60 percent of our people are doing no better in 1999 than they were doing in 1989?

How can we gloat about prosperity when the poverty level hasn't changed at all?

Or when child poverty is four times that of Western Europe?

And extreme child poverty has gone up 26 percent in the past year?

And in the richest city in the country, outside the doors of this hotel, one out of three children lives in poverty, and homicide is still the largest single cause of death for children under 18?

And according to the officials of 30 other major cities, "The strong economy has had very little positive impact on hunger and homelessness"?

And the poorest fifth of families headed by a single woman lost $577 a year in income and benefits between '95 and '97?

And there were 56 percent more layoffs in '98 than in the year before?

A study of 4 Northwestern states shows half of the available jobs don't pay a livable wage, while the pay of the average corporate chief executive officer has gone from 42 times to 419 times as much as the worker?

The disparity of wealth between the rich and the poor is higher than ever, and the poorest fifth of Americans have less than they had in 1977 and the richest have 43 percent more?

The richest 2,700,000 Americans have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 100 million?

Do we have a party that quietly shoves this stuff under the rug and says -- quote -- "most things are going right for America" -- unquote?

Or is this still the party that your founder Hubert Humphrey said has as its mission "to take care of those in the dawn of life and in the shadows of life and in the twilight of life?" What would Hubert Humphrey say today? Is there no protest anymore?

Have we come to the point where the Democratic Party needs to have a Republican President before it finds its voice again? "A rising tide" isn't "lifting all boats." If the Democratic Party doesn't raise its voice about it, who will?

The media loses interest. In the fall of '88, the New York Times ran 50 stories on the homeless, 5 of them on the front page. In '98, with no fewer homeless, it ran 10 pieces in the same period, none of them on the front page. Without hearing liberal Democrats, you won't hear about these unrepresented people. You'll hear about the unprecedented prosperity of globalization.

Why? Because these unrepresented people make no campaign contributions. 96 percent of the people in America make no campaign contributions. Every penny of financing for the selection of every candidate for every public office in America from dog catcher to President is supplied by 4 percent of the people. They're mainly rich and they are represented. The $50,000,000.00 raised so far to select Governor Bush as the Republican nominee has come from three-one-hundredths of 1 percent of the people.

That's why less than half of the people vote. They feel they have nothing to do with the process of selecting the candidates, and they're right.

The candidates who are elected for public service aren't financed by public money. They're selected by private money. From people who usually want some kind of return on their investment.

The primary cancer in this sick system, the big money in politics, has so metastasized into every area of government that we can't afford any longer to ignore that the life of the patient -- American Democracy -- is in mortal danger of dying on the table.

Why aren't the Democratic candidates addressing these issues?
Getting the money to win makes decent politicians do indecent things. But in fact, billion dollar subsidies and tax breaks, the pork barrel and corporate welfare, are only the smaller tumors. There are bigger ones.

Our taxpayers are bailing out thieves in Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and other countries and at the same time bailing out major American financial houses who refuse to face the consequences of their bad investments overseas. Our government is reacting to this crisis by crisis when we should be helping to construct a new set of international ground rules to curb speculation and financial abuse. But our major financial houses want the freedom to move their money anywhere they please and to be as free of rules and risk as they can.

The genius of America is the successful harnessing of the dynamic creativity of the private sector for the public good. No sensible person wants to dampen that.

But our government is susceptible to a corporate economic globalization that is not free trade but corporate managed trade. And the global economy is not working yet for most people. But Pat Buchanan is wrong. We can't build a wall or turn our back on it. We have to work with it.

The problem in this new economy is the undue influence these institutions and corporations have over government actions. They set the rules. Others aren't invited to the table. What we are in danger of experiencing is a slow motion coup d'etat of big money's interests over the public interest. So the global rules, written into trade agreements like NAFTA and enforced by institutions like the World Trade Organization, protect things like patents and intellectual property rights but not labor rights, profits but not people, investments but not the environment. We know the results -- growth, increasing trade, some development, some people making lots of money.

But 475 billionaires have as much wealth as half the people on earth. We have the sweatshop again. Child labor. Slave labor. Destruction of forests, fish, water and air. And so far we haven't heard a word of requirements on labor and environment and product safety in the agreement being negotiated over Chinese admission to the World Trade Organization.

Of course our stocks have gone up. But we're making the world safe for globalization rather than making globalization safe for the world.

If we don't act to do something about this and make the world economy work for everybody, we're going to see a reaction that will make Pat Buchanan look like a choir boy. Which I'm told he once was.

Why aren't the Democratic candidates addressing this? They offer their devotion to globalization as if these markets were made by God rather than investors.

Why? Could it possibly be the leading candidates in both parties are, by definition, those who have raised the most money from these same sources? We don't need a third party. We need a second party.

And what has happened to the labor movement? What would Walter Reuther say today? Is there no protest anymore?

Health care is a basic human right
We have another tumor:

Health care is a basic human right.

And it's the responsibility of the federal government to guarantee that human right for everybody. The only two governments in the developed world that don't guarantee it are the government of South Africa and the government of the United States.

I think the best way ever proposed for accomplishing health care in this country was the Health Security Act S3 -- drawn up by Walter Reuther and Ted Kennedy, among others. It was a single payer system that gave everyone access to care and had quality standards for the practice of medicine. And because it had only one payer, it made it cost less. That bill was buried over and over again in the 70's by the insurance industry, the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry. They spent whatever it took to keep it from coming out of Committee.

Although the same group had opposed Medicare in the past, old people study the issues and get out and vote. So Medicare passed. Poor people, minorities and children don't vote. So the big money was able to kill the Health Security Act and every other proposal ever made to guarantee this basic human right.

Now does anybody in either party advocate the repeal of Medicare? Of course not. It's a single payer system. It costs the government much much less to do the same thing as the insurance companies do. And it works.

A little while ago we heard the Vice President make some incremental proposals regarding child health care that were good. And yesterday, Bill Bradley offered a thoughtful plan for universal health care that the insurance industry should be very happy with.

But the next President of the United States should call a special session of Congress and, no matter how much the insurance and pharmaceutical industries spend to make him unpopular, do everything he can to not let that Congress go home until every American has health care.

Campaign financing
Does anyone doubt the role of campaign contributors in keeping the defense budget as high as it is? Or trying to privatize Social Security? Or stifling gun control? Or hampering environmental protection?

Does anyone doubt that campaign contributions help buy subsidies for nuclear, coal and oil while solar and wind energy go pretty much unattended or that campaign contributions set ridiculously underpriced fees for private grazing, mining and lumbering on public lands, or cause the 70 to 80 billion dollar digital spectrum to be given away to the broadcasters for nothing in the telecommunications bill that both Democratic candidates supported?

Broadcasters are not only among the biggest campaign contributors, they have the power to decide the candidates you see and for how long you see them.

It's a rare man in public office who's got the guts to go up against the broadcasters. (And it's a rare man in Hollywood who's got the guts to go up against the broadcasters.)

A democracy becomes a plutocracy under these conditions. A state in which the wealthy class rules.

As Mr. Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers:

Quote -- "Who are to be the elected leaders of the Federal representatives? Not the rich more than the poor; not the learned more than the ignorant, nor the haughty heirs of distinguished names more than the humble sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States." unquote.

If the complete campaign costs, including primaries, of the last two cycles of all federal campaigns in '96 and '98 are combined, it comes to $3,600,000,000.00 for the four years.

With complete public financing, that would cost the public about $3.50 per person per year. What a small price for the people to pay for knowing their elected representatives don't owe anything to anybody but the public and will spend their tax dollars honestly.

It's estimated that $1,000 per taxpayer per year is spent on corporate welfare and pork barrel legislation. Three and a half bucks is not a lot to help to get rid of it.

Almost all former members of the Senate and the House are in favor of public financing of federal campaigns. But this is in sharp contrast to the immediate interests of the incumbents.

Incumbents can raise more money. They have something to sell in that system. And they have learned how to deal in that system so they don't want a change in that system. In the last election, 98 percent of House and Senate incumbents were re-elected. Senate incumbents raised more than twice as much as their challengers and House incumbents raised nearly five times as much.

Neither Democratic candidate has advocated complete public financing, including the primaries, of all federal campaigns. Bill Bradley would not include the primaries. What's the point without the primaries? But the public will never have Democracy until it's willing to pay the bill for it. Aren't we willing to spend three and a half dollars a year to get our government back?

We're told by the Republican Senator Mitch McConnell that the public is bored by this subject. In fact, if the public ever focuses on what's really happening, nothing will agitate them more.

Let me quote you something from a letter by another Republican; Abraham Lincoln:

"The money power preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy. More insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. I see in the near future, a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned. An era of corruption will follow and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the republic is destroyed." End of quote.

What I would say to Eleanor Roosevelt
If somehow I could reach back in time and bring them into the present, and Al Lowenstein could take me over to meet Eleanor Roosevelt today, we could say to her, "Mrs. Roosevelt, the party's drifting. It's enslaved by big money. It's lost its purpose. You stand for the principles that will return it to its mission. The people trust your spirit. Please run for President."

I think by now, if she'd experienced the past 20 years, she might say, "Well, I was beginning to think you'd never ask."

But sadly, only the spirit of Mrs. Roosevelt is alive today. Hubert Humphrey is gone. Walter Reuther is gone. So is Al Lowenstein.

But their spirit is here.

And I can see some hope for that spirit in Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

But if an unexpected person showed that he or she had that spirit and the ability to lead, and said to me there was no liberal running for President, no Wellstone, no Jackson, no Kennedy, no Mario Cuomo, and that serious people of good judgment were talking to that person about running, if I didn't think they were nuts, it would make no difference to me whether that person had become well-known as a basketball player, or a businessman, an actor, a wrestler, a grocery clerk or a drum majorette.

I'd say to that person:

"Look, Drum Majorette, there's no harm in thinking about it, however unlikely it might be. But whatever you do, go ahead and speak up. Speak up for the people nobody speaks for.

And if you speak up well, maybe you'll influence some people and the party and the candidates that are running. And who knows what else?

And remember, Drum Majorette, don't delude yourself into thinking it's got an awful lot to do with you. It doesn't. It's the time you're living in. And a temporary vacuum that allows you the privilege of being heard.

And one more thing, Drum Majorette:

When those plutocrats start with you; when you start hearing those moneyed honeyed voices of ridicule and reaction;

Let them call you coy.

Let them call you flirtatious.

But keep talking. Keep that spirit.

Keep talking.

You've got to keep the spirit."

Thank you, A.D.A., for keeping the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Keep the spirit.

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Albion Monitor October 2, 1999 (

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