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Warren Beatty Academy Award-winning director Warren Beatty gave the keynote address at the graduation ceremony for UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. (Photos by Bart Nagel)

UC Berkeley Web Feature

Actor Warren Beatty gives public-policy graduates —
and Gov. Schwarzenegger — some advice on power

– Veteran actor and director Warren Beatty, his wife Annette Bening, and their four children sweltered gamely through a Saturday morning graduation ceremony for UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. Beatty, a longtime political activist who has campaigned for every Democratic presidential candidate since Robert Kennedy, gave a keynote speech that was almost as blistering as the heat in its criticism of California Governor and fellow Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Watch Warren Beatty's commencement speech at the Goldman School of Public Policy (24 min. RealMedia)

Wearing UC Berkeley regalia (he dropped out of Northwestern University to study acting), Beatty cracked plenty of jokes but did not mince words about his disappointment in the direction that California is heading fiscally and philosophically. His performance was reminiscent of the candid, fed-up character he played in the movie "Bulworth" - a Democratic Senator running for re-election in California - which he also directed and co-wrote.

Multiple news crews were in attendance in Faculty Glade, drawn by rumors that Beatty would declare his intent to replace Schwarzenegger. He did not do so, but he did have this to say: "Although I don't want to run for governor, I'd do one helluva lot better job than he's done." However, in answer to reporters' questions immediately following the ceremony, Beatty said that he "was not ruling out" a run for governor.

The prepared text of his speech follows.

Warren Beatty's remarks to the Goldman School of Public Policy
UC Berkeley, May 21, 2005

Good morning. It's just after 10:00. In Hollywood it's time to get out of bed and seize the day.

Let me say first how honored I am to have been invited to speak here at your school of public policy. I'm a Hollywood movie actor, and for public policy I think you know what that can mean.

Perhaps you are wondering not only why you have invited me here, but why I have decided to come.

Warren Beatty
What is the sense in running to Wall Street and borrowing $15 billion, raising the debt to over $30 billion, and then coming back here and trying to cut programs and obligations to nurses, firemen, teachers, cops, students, schools, the elderly, the blind and disabled, and then denigrating these good people as special interests? Please. These are the people you should be especially interested in.'
-Warren Beatty
An old compatriot of mine through many political campaigns once told me something his father, who was a member of the Tennessee state legislature, had said to him when he was a child: That 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 else to listen to it.

So: Forgive me - you have fallen into my trap.

Hence my immediate, enthusiastic and, I must emphasize, respectful acceptance of your invitation to speak at the country's No. 1-rated school of public policy. Not that I know how to give a commencement speech.

It's been said that old people like to give good advice to cheer themselves up for no longer being able to provide a bad example.

So I'll assume I should address myself primarily to public policy and try to avoid too much presumptuous advice, although I do like to give it.

I grew up a nice Southern Baptist boy in Virginia. My parents and grandparents were teachers, and I became rich and famous 46 years ago.

I can tell you with no hesitation at all that the most striking perk of fame and fortune is access. Not only access to people and pleasure and privilege and places, but to podiums. And since I've been lucky enough to have an unusual amount of access beginning in my early 20s, I've always thought it's a shame not to use it to learn from those in power and then, with humility and civility, irritate, agitate, inform and even once in a while encourage them with unsolicited advice. Sometimes privately but I think you have to be ready to do it from podiums.

Now, with the podium of the Internet and the new technology, everybody has more access. My advice to you is that if you don't use it for more dialectic and more argument and enjoy the sound of your own voice on public policy - it's a shame, you may have wasted your time here. Because with the new access, it's difficult to ignore that, primarily because of the way our political campaigns are financed, the public policy of the world's best functioning democracy drifts further and further into a plutocracy, a state in which the wealthy class rules. And most of the public sleeps.

And with the obscenely increasing disparity of wealth, what does the wealthy class buy?

Our attention. Access. Through buying satellites and cable and television and radio stations and newspapers and magazines and direct mailings and spokesmodels and financing political candidates, it buys Access. An obscene amount of access to our opinion.

Is it hopeless to compete with this access to the public's attention by asking: "Are you aware of the effect of the right-wing deregulation and consolidation of media on public opinion and public policy in this din of the technological tornado that has miniaturized our attention span while what passes for the truth is manipulated by fewer and fewer hands and a sleepy citizenry is aroused by very little other than entertainment devices and most individual entertainer-personalities in the news media become more and more reluctant to resist the conservative politics of their employers? And that there are steps that we as voters can take to rally our legislators into action that can curtail, eliminate or at least ameliorate this movement to plutocracy?"


But if you ask: "Can't you wake the hell up you sleepy sons of bitches and find out what you can do to keep these rich bullshitters from feeding you this crap and telling you what to think?"

Well, that might be a better sound bite, but it risks censorship in mainstream media as obscenity.

Justice Potter Stuart said of pornography: "I'll know it when I see it." So if we do see obscenity and we know it, what should our public policy be? Silence? At what point should one hear the sound of one's own voice?

There are few things quite as daunting for an individual as trying to protest against the voice of an energetic marketing [person] who holds the podium of public office who's funded by a plutocracy who's willing to say whatever expedient thing works for the moment.

But it's less daunting, however, for a group - a group with conviction - who are willing to organize publicly.

One night a few months ago in Los Angeles, I found myself speaking to a group with conviction offering some advice for the current governor of our state. (He was not there.) I was a little tougher on him than it had been fashionable in Hollywood to be, up until then.

I've never enjoyed being publicly negative about actors in public office like Ronald Reagan, who I really liked, or Sonny Bono or George Murphy because I've always had a real soft spot for actors even if they are right wing.

And although I've never known Arnold very well I've always liked him. When he went from body building into the movies and said in interviews he'd like to do it like Clint Eastwood does it and like Warren Beatty does it, of course that's pretty much all you have to say to have me eating out of your hand.

But now that he's a politician, I say, why not rise to the higher levels of that calling, rather than denigrate your fellow politicians, calling them "stooges" and "girly men" and "losers." They give years of their lives to public service in the legislature of what is intended to be a representative form of government, where public policy on decisions affecting 38 million people's lives are adequately discussed - not a government by ballot initiatives financed by huge advertising monies that bypass a careful examination of a bill by the people's elected representatives.

Can't we accept that devotion to the building of the body politic is more complex and a little more sensitive than devotion to body-building?

Does that make me a "girly man"?

I said that night that, although there was an awful lot to do here in California, there was nothing wrong with his wanting to be the president of the United States. Doesn't every Austrian parent want their son or daughter to grow up to be the president of the United States? Fine.

 Mary Catherine Birgeneau and Annette Bening
Mary Catherine Birgeneau, wife of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, met Beatty's wife, the actress Annette Bening, after the ceremony.
Fine. But to embrace the reactionary right-wing agenda here in California in order to gain a national political party to become the president with? No. No.

It's become time to define a Schwarzenegger Republican. A Schwarzenegger Republican is a Bush Republican who says he's a Schwarzenegger Republican.

I'll repeat I wanted to be rooting for Arnold, but he'd have to take some of that bombastic marketing and market the right thing - telling rich people like me the truth: that with a state debt of $18 billion caused by energy deregulation and the dot-com bust, our taxes are going to have to be a little higher on the rich. No matter what that group of advisors say. And maybe only temporarily. Which is what both Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson did.

And tell them, Governor, just as your advisor Warren Buffet told you before you told him to be quiet and do 500 sit-ups, that Proposition 13 has to tax businesses the same as homeowners, and that'd raise about $5 billion a year. It won't make business leave California. And that the Bush tax cuts for the upper 1 percent in California alone amount to about $12 billion a year, so what's the point of ruling out all new taxes on the rich other than to make sure they continue to finance your nonstop campaign advertising?

And what is the sense in running to Wall Street and borrowing $15 billion, raising the debt to over $30 billion, and then coming back here and trying to cut programs and obligations to nurses, firemen, teachers, cops, students, schools, the elderly, the blind and disabled, and then denigrating these good people as special interests? Please. These are the people you should be especially interested in.

We are not the governor's dumbbells.

It's not fooling anybody for him to run around raising money from Wall Street and K Street and rich Republicans all over the country who hope that if they can get this reactionary stuff started in California, they can get it done back in their own states and actually dismantle the New Deal, which they simplemindedly forget saved American capitalism, and then they can dismantle the fair deal, the new frontier, and the Great Society and the entitlements and the rights and the guarantees that make the society safe for everyone including the rich.

And then to call a totally unnecessary $70 million extra election in November, when we're going to have another one in June, is nothing but a strategy to distract attention from the failure to deal honestly with the budget and a fear of losing the support of the rich if he raises our taxes, while legally he can raise an unlimited amount of campaign money this year but not next year.

What is the need for an initiative on reapportionment when there is basic agreement in the legislature? Nobody wants the legislators to pick their voters, and everybody wants the voters to pick their legislators.

The Republican Secretary of State Bruce MacPherson has said the reapportionment cannot be done by 2006, is very questionable by 2008, could be done by 2010 - but then a court would throw it out, because in 2010 a new census will be done. So why call an extra election in November of 2005 when you'll have another one in June of 2006?

The governor wants to attract conservative attention nationally with an extra election at a time when very few elections are going on in the country, and win credit from the right wing for winning on this fake issue, something everybody already basically agrees on.

And for bullying labor and the little guys with this anti-worker, misleadingly named "paycheck protection" ballot initiative - which would make it almost impossible for union members to pool some of their dues, unite on political issues, and stand up to the big guys behind this scam that tries to castrate the labor movement and vitiate the dignity of working men and women - and spend $70 million of the public's money doing it.

Cancel it, Governor. Call it off. Or you're going to hear the sound of a lot more losers and stooges and "girly-men" like me who want to hear the sound of their own voices than you seem to think.

Now this is what I call good advice. I'd like to help. So imagine my chagrin when on television Arnold expresses reluctance to listen to my advice. He said to Chris Matthews that if I promise not to give him advice on politics, he'll promise not to give me advice on acting.

I can only advise him at this point that if politics and acting are both off the table, we are left only with hair and makeup. And you know? I don't want to give him advice on that.

But I can advise on cosmetics and cover-ups in the makeup of American politics. The base that is used to constantly conceal the mistakes and the mischief in the misanthropic agenda.

As a public-policy dermatologist, you might advise that just a couple of minutes a day of sunlight would be more than helpful. And you might cut down on the photo-ops, the fake events, the fake issues, the fake crowds, the backdrops, the signs, the distractions, the scapegoats, the "language problems," the broken promises, the minutemen, the prevarications and put some sunlight on some taxes.

Nobody likes taxes. But everybody wants their family to be safe and the society secure.

Not only will the economy benefit if we don't ask our children to pick up our tab, but inside most Democrats are people who feel they might some day get as rich as Republicans and don't want to destroy for themselves the possibilities in the American dream that responsible capitalism offers, any more than conservatives do.

When did conservatives decide to just borrow more money without raising taxes? Is the Governor now to the right of the head of the Fed? Even Alan Greenspan has started to talk taxes. This is serious stuff. Tip O'Neill said politics ain't beanbag!!

Bipartisanship?? We don't have it here. And let's not mistake the exploitation of the name of one of the greatest liberal families in American history for bipartisanship. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Governor, you're no Kennedy Democrat.

Stop trying to milk the illusion of bi-partisanship. You are a conservative Republican who likes to have a few Democrats around for show. This is good advice.

Do I think Arnold will eventually take it? I think so.

Of course he can joke that I want to defend the nurses because I'm closer to needing one, and the elderly because I'm nearer to being one, and the blind because I can't see past tax-and-spend liberalism. And then I can joke that he should defend the teachers because he has so much to learn, but finally it's not funny.

Government is not a joke, and despite what he's said, it's not a movie.

But he'll have to listen. He's not stupid. He knows I'm a private citizen just as he was a year ago. I'm an opponent of his muscle-bound conservatism with a longer experience in politics than he has, and although I don't want to run for governor, I'd do one helluva lot better job than he's done. But I can name you lots of Democrats that would be so much better than I would, and maybe even a few Republicans.

As a Southern Baptist in Virginia I was taught that good public policy was "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

I was taught "Love one another" was the point.

Good public policy for our economy, our culture and our safety will never fully exist without:

First, public financing of elections.

Second, assuring the separation of church and state.

Third, creating a single-payer universal health care system: Medicare for all.

Fourth, facing the value to the rich and the rest of a just redistribution of our enormous wealth with our tax policy. Concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.

And fifth: moderating against the dangers of the muscular utopianism of an empire that imposes what some call democracy on places in the world where it cannot be sustained and will lead to American decline.

Good public policy in a social democracy declares that might does not make right. Denial of this leads to totalitarianism, communism or fascism. Our silence is an anti-inflammatory, a steroid for bullies.

Bullies are basically cowards.

I say, inflame. Inflame yourself. Inflammation mobilizes. Enjoy the sound of your own voice. With humility, with affection for those who are in the dark.

With democracy, in this most formidable state, the world's fifth-largest economy, California's public opinion can be the beacon of public opinion in America. With democracy, because we are in this moment the mightiest country of all time - the power of American public opinion to guide its government may be the rescue of the human race.

Which brings me to the question my children most like to ridicule me with, usually while diving into the swimming pool or having a food fight: "Daddy, what is the meaning of life?"

After many years of running around a lot and having a good time and making a bunch of movies, I began to realize with some embarrassment that in most ways my movies all seem to return to one fairly unoriginal recurring theme: "Love conquers all."

I don't know if it's true, but it seems to be true for me.

Mr. Shakespeare tells us, "Wit is born of dilatory time." Webster defines dilatory as "tardy" - slow. The Oxford says "tending or designed to cause delay."

Early fame and fortune gifted me with the luxury of dilatory time. In time I've learned that the passion and the fury for art or politics or sex or thinking more highly of oneself is transcended by seeing and understanding.

Providence never lets you quite understand what it is to have children until you have them. My wife Annette and the four small Eastern European countries that live in our house - Kathlyn, Ben, Isabel, and Ella - have given me 10 more eyes to see life with and strive to understand.

You want my advice?

If you decided to have some of those at an earlier age than I did. Let's put it this way: I would not be critical of you.

Thank you and Godspeed.

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