Roseanne for pres: A chicken in every bucket, a pie in every face
In a review last year of Roseanne Barr's new reality TV series "Roseanne's Nuts," Times TV critic Mary McNamara noted that the show sometimes played like a satire of "Sarah Palin's Alaska,"another series following the life and adventures of a larger-than-life heroine. While viewers on TLC could watch Palin butchering salmon in Alaska's bear country, on Lifetime you could see Barr tramping through her macadamia nut farm on the Big Island of Hawaii, blasting away at wild pigs with a hunting rifle -- at least until the show was canceled in September. "Perhaps she is considering a run for president," McNamara concluded about Barr. How right she was.
On Monday, Barr's name appeared on the California secretary of state's list of candidates for the June presidential primary, running with the Green Party. If eye-rolling were audible, the streets of California today would sound like the testing lab at a ball-bearing factory. Nonetheless, Barr's pseudo-candidacy does call for some reflection about the influence of celebrities in politics.
Warren Beatty is the most famous person I've ever eaten lunch with. This notable event happened in 2005, when Beatty was feigning an interest in running for governor. Not that he actually filed papers like Barr, or even came out and said he was running; he simply dropped hints. "I have to give you a stock answer," Beatty said when asked if he were going to challenge then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I don't want to run for governor, but I would have no inhibition at all." Huh? This was intriguing enough for The Times' editorial board to invite Beatty to lunch, where he regaled us with his political views while making it abundantly clear that he had no interest whatsoever in actually doing the hard work of campaigning, let alone governing. Beatty, in other words, had discovered that fame didn't necessarily translate into influence, and the only way to get people and the media to pay attention to him was to pretend to run for high political office.
This kind of thing poses a challenge for the media because it's hard to know how seriously to take celebrity candidates. Obviously, some are real contenders -- Ronald Reagan showed that Americans were willing to elect a movie star as president, and dozens of others, from Schwarzenegger to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, have proved that fame goes a long way in swaying voters. Yet it's still possible to divide these candidates into three categories: publicity hounds like Beatty, satirists like Stephen Colbert, and real political hopefuls like former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who played a tough-guy Southern officeholder so well in the movies that voters awarded him the role in real life.
Pegging a star on this spectrum isn't always simple. How does one assess, for example, the gravitas of a Donald Trump? It would be easy to dismiss him as a pure publicity seeker, but I have to suspect that Trump is just delusional enough to think that he would be a genuine contender if only he could tear himself away from his private sector duties. And, as I discovered after mocking his candidacy in a blog post last year, he actually seems to have a cadre of dedicated supporters who do not appreciate all the "lamestream" media's attacks on their faux-haired boy.
Barr is an easier call. She has no discernible campaign apparatus, zero political experience and very, very little credibility as a policy expert. A talented comedian with a reputation for substance abuse, temper tantrums and bizarre behavior, Barr isn't anybody's idea of a genuine contender, and unlike Beatty, the only lunch invitations she's likely to get as a result of her candidacy announcement will come from the Hollywood tabloids. But she might pick up a few more Twitter subscribers, which may be her real goal.
Photo: A publicity still from Roseanne Barr's short-lived series "Roseanne's Nuts." Credit: Lifetime Television.