Only demented politicians speak truth

May 07, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

IN "Bulworth," Warren Beatty's a politician speaking inconvenient truths in public. Naturally, the movie's a farce. Everybody knows, a truly honest politician is one who, once bought, stays bought. So Beatty's truths are spoken only in the course of a nervous breakdown.

He tells a black church congregation to forget getting any help from him - blacks can't afford enough campaign payoffs. He tells a gathering of rich show-biz types that they make crummy movies - while openly wondering where he's misplaced his newest anti-Farrakhan joke, which he always inserts in speeches to patronize any nervous Jews in attendance.

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," it ain't. The movie's pretty brave and provocative, and makes us wonder about our own politicians. Will they speak truths to us this summer in the race for governor of Maryland?

One of Parris Glendening's mantras is his line about being pro-children - as though there's some snake candidate out there running on a vicious anti-children platform.

The other night, Glendening was all over the TV news for the opening of a little state-assisted day care center in Northwest Baltimore. But the opening comes in the same week that the Annie E. Casey Foundation calls conditions for Maryland's children only 32nd best of the 50 states. What's the measure? For one thing, affordable and accessible child care, especially for kids whose parents work low-wage jobs nights and weekends. Other measures: poverty, public schools and health conditions, all pretty deplorable. So where's the truth here?

In "Bulworth," Beatty's a liberal Democrat who's had his flirtations with idealism - his office is decorated with photos of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall - but he figures the Democrats have now kissed off black people.

Well, so what? Bulworth asks, where else are blacks gonna go? To Republicans? Hah! Preposterous, of course.

Around here, much is made of the Larry Gibson-Kurt L. Schmoke switch from Glendening to Eileen Rehrmann, and all the talk of racetrack slot machines and broken promises behind it. But, Tuesday night, at a sneak preview of "Bulworth" at Towson Commons General Cinema, Gibson explained his reasoning. It isn't gambling, he insisted, or even the lie behind it. It's simple arithmetic. Glendening can't possibly beat Ellen Sauerbrey. So Gibson had to find somebody who could.

Four years ago, en route to his slender 6,000-vote win, Glendening put together a cushion of about 225,000 votes in Baltimore and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Without them, he loses humiliatingly. And, this time around, says Gibson, there's no way he can gain such a cushion again in the only three jurisdictions he won last time.

Why can't he win? Because people don't trust Glendening, said Gibson. He referred to all people, and not just blacks - though both the city (where Schmoke has abandoned Glendening) and Prince George's (where County Executive Wayne Curry is expected to abandon Glendening) are now more than 60 percent black.

Might such intraparty squabbling simply turn off these black voters and send them elsewhere? Hah! Preposterous, of course. As Bulworth asks, Where are they gonna go, to Republicans?

Ellen Sauerbrey wants to cut government programs. Who needs these programs? Lots of poor people. Who are these poor people, and why are they having such a hard time? That's one of the truths the politicians skip lightly around, inventing entire new languages of obfuscation to do it.

Then there's Rehrmann, about to be dubbed Our Lady of the Slots. She welcomes the Gibson-Schmoke embrace because their support gives her legitimacy she otherwise couldn't buy. But it comes with the undeniable Schmoke desire for slots at racetracks, and never mind that the money might help schools.

Has Rehrmann sold her soul in such a process? In her years in the legislature, she was known as no particular friend of gambling. Some who know her well say she's philosophically opposed to it. Rehrmann was out of town yesterday and couldn't be reached.

On at least one measure, a 1984 bill to let Maryland horse players place telephone bets on out-of-state races, Rehrmann voted against it. The racing industry wanted it. By the way, Sauerbrey also voted against it. Glendening says he's against gambling, but his home county was awash in it for years while he was running things, and Glendening was happy to receive gambling contributions during those years. Will we get an honest discussion of their views this summer?

"Bulworth" says it's a rare (and demented) politician who speaks the truth. Maybe that's why the movie's considered a box-office risk. When it comes to fantasy and farce, we get all we can handle in the real world of politics.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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