In "Wag the Dog," Dustin Hoffman played a Hollywood producer who staged a war to help a president snared in a sex scandal with a Girl Scout. But last Wednesday night, he was spinning for a real-life presidential wanna-be. Sort of. "Warren Beatty wouldn't make the mistakes of other presidents," Hoffman deadpanned. "Unlike Richard Nixon, he would have burnt the tapes. Unlike George Bush, he would have come up with something better than being 'out of the loop.' Unlike Bill Clinton, he would have never trusted a 22-year-old girl to be discreet."
That's the kind of night it was in the ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton, where Jack Nicholson looked lost without his shades, Courtney Love hid a hole in her slinky silk with a Beatty 2000 sticker and gadfly Gloria Allred held court with the 150 reporters present for Beatty to promote Cybill Shepherd's campaign.
The historian Daniel Boorstin saw it coming. In 1961, when Beatty had his breakout role in "Splendor in the Grass," Boorstin's cultural study, "The Image," observed that American politics was now dominated by "pseudo-events" like photo ops, staged interviews and televised debates. "In a democracy," he warned, "reality tends to conform to the pseudo-event. Nature imitates art... Pseudo-events spawn other pseudo-events in geometric progression."
Since then, an actor has become president, and candidates from Richard Nixon on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" to Bill Clinton on "The Arsenio Hall Show" have acted like entertainers to get elected. But Beatty's not-quite campaign may be the ultimate pseudo-event. Think of it as political performance art: he's not really an actor running for president; he's an actor playing an actor thinking about running for president. …