Bob Dole raced through the Los Angeles streets Monday hot on the trail of a movie theater without protesters, so he could see the blockbuster movie “Independence Day” in peace, in preparation for another verbal onslaught on Hollywood today.
Take one: The campaign had planned for the probable Republican presidential candidate and his wife, Elizabeth, who celebrated her 60th birthday Monday, to take in the movie, with its splashy scenes of an exploding White House, at historic Mann’s Chinese Theater.
Then word got out. Dole aides started to worry.
“We don’t want to run into a bunch of Buttmen,” said one aide, talking about the cigarette-costumed Democratic protester who has followed Dole around for the last several weeks.
So take two: The Chinese was scratched and mystery reigned, as the candidate and his intrepid entourage left Northern California and headed south. “We’re not going to know [the theater] until we hit the ground,” the aide warned.
Why all the racing around? In May of 1995, Dole gave a speech criticizing Hollywood for “bombarding our children with destructive messages of casual violence and more casual sex.” But he was somewhat embarrassed when he had to admit he hadn’t seen the films he had mentioned.
Before today’s speech, in which he plans to praise “Independence Day” as an example of good values, aides figured he had better see it. Critics may consider the film vapid, albeit highly entertaining, but Dole’s staff sees it as meaningful.
“He’s going to cite ‘Independence Day’ as an example of a major motion picture that makes money but preserves the notion of patriotism, mankind coming together and the fight between good and evil,” said Nelson Warfield, Dole’s campaign spokesman.
Warfield even compared “Independence Day” to the highly acclaimed “Schindler’s List,” which Dole saw on video over the weekend. “ ‘Schindler’s List’ is a movie that describes an evil but has a positive message,” said Warfield, adding that good movies can depict violence without gratuitousness if it is essential to the plot and promotes a greater good.
In “Independence Day,” millions die, “but mankind comes together,” Warfield said. “We defeat the alien threat.”
Millions die, “but they’re all liberals,” quipped Kenneth L. Khachigian, Dole’s senior California advisor.
First, however, Dole had to reach the matinee unhindered by possible protests. Even once he reached LAX, the venue for his matinee remained shrouded in doubt as the motorcade snarled traffic on the northbound San Diego Freeway in early rush hour, wending its way toward . . . the 3 p.m. bargain showing at the Cineplex Odeon Century Plaza, where the candidate handed over a $20 bill at the box office for two $4.75 tickets.
“Money back!” he said in surprise--enough for a small tub of popcorn and a box of Goobers for himself and Elizabeth.
Dole first clashed with the Hollywood hierarchy last year, a month after his April announcement that he would run for president of the United States, in a Los Angeles speech in which he called popular culture “one of the greatest threats to American family values.”
“Our music, movies, television and advertising regularly push the limits of decency,” he said then.
That speech got a tepid reaction, at best, in the entertainment industry, but won Dole much applause among Republican activists--something he has not gotten much of recently. And so, today, he plans to target the movies again, on location at 20th Century Fox, the studio that created the money-maker called “Independence Day.”
Dole came to the blockbuster a little bit late; opponent Bill Clinton saw it on opening day, telling a crowd the next morning: “I recommend it.”
And what did Dole think?
“We won in the end. Leadership. America. Good over evil,” he said upon emerging from the theater, accompanied by his wife and William J. Bennett, author of the “Book of Virtues.”
Dole warmed up for this most recent California campaign swing--his fourth of the summer--by taking to the stage Sunday night in Billings, Mont., a refueling stop on his flight west, where he joined with Bucky Beaver and the Ground Grippers, letting loose with a rendition of the Bellamy Brothers’ hit “Redneck Girl.”
“Gimme, gimme, gimme a redneck girl,” he crooned before asking the band: “Got any Dole songs?”
They continued, “Gimme, gimme, gimme a Bob Dole vote. . . . Gimme, gimme, gimme a Bob Dole victory.”
He continued Monday morning with a trip to Anderson, Calif.--in the heart of timber country at the far northern end of the Central Valley--attacking the Clinton administration for environmental “extremism.”
“More than 140 mills in California, Oregon and Washington have been closed,” Dole said under searing skies at the Sierra Pacific Lumber Mill. “Nearly 20,000 mill and logging jobs have vanished. . . . and when they disappeared, entire towns and villages were cast into Depression-type conditions.”
“You have been abandoned. You have suffered enough,” Dole told the crowd.
Gov. Pete Wilson, who introduced Dole to a partisan crowd that was enthusiastic despite the 100-degree heat, declared that the party motto should be: “It’s jobs first, not Earth First!”
Dole traveled to Shasta County--which has only 86,000 registered voters, less than 1% of the state total--at Khachigian’s recommendation. “This is not a huge place, but it’s a media market,” Khachigian told reporters. “In a close election, you’re playing on the margins; for us to win, you have to play the margins. The entire base has to be strengthened in California.”
Of course, at this point, the Dole-Clinton race is not a close election--not in California, where the most recent Times Poll showed Clinton with a 27-point lead, and not in the nation as a whole.
But Dole is hoping that his attack on what Khachigian calls “environmental radicalism” will bring conservative California voters back into the fold--the first step toward turning the state around for the Republican.
Once the summer party conventions are over at the end of August and both candidates receive an influx of federal campaign money, Khachigian said, Dole’s fortunes will begin to turn. At that point, he argues, “you have a level playing field.”