The liberal actor and conservative politician had been close for years. Divided on most political issues, they were in agreement on one: the need for campaign finance reform. Now Beatty will be a pallbearer for his friend.
Warren Beatty has been announced as a pallbearer at Sen. John McCain’s memorial service set to take place Saturday morning at Washington National Cathedral, a week after the senator’s death. The veteran actor will join several politicians and businessmen in the role.
A friendship between a liberal Academy Award winner and a lifelong conservative politician may seem unlikely, but the two men had been close for years. While divided on most political issues, they were in agreement on one: the need for campaign finance reform. Beatty, an ardent Democrat, reportedly toyed with the idea of making a run for the White House in the late 1990s, around the time that McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, pledged to make the issue a centerpiece of his own presidential campaign. (The two filmed a TV commercial in 2000 that urged Californians to vote against Proposition 34, a ballot measure that would place caps on campaign donations. Prop 34 opponents predicted that it would reroute money to the parties instead, according to an Associated Press story.)
More on John McCain, 1936-2018
- John McCain, 'maverick' of the Senate and former POW, dies at 81
- Senator's casket in U.S. Capitol Friday as D.C. says goobye
- Tributes and tears at memorial event Thursday
- McCain's choices for ceremonies deliver symbolic final rebuke to Trump
- 'Do not despair': McCain's final letter to America
- The surprising and enduring friendship of John McCain and Warren Beatty
- One moment from 2008 campaign made clear McCain's character and foretold Trump's rise
- McCain was a force of nature in Washington, with an unrivaled global stature
- A life of courage, politics came down to one vote
- Candidates 'approve this message' because of John McCain
“I think Warren Beatty has worked in American politics and been involved since Bobby Kennedy’s campaign, and I think he has a right to voice his views,” McCain said on CNN in September 1999. “My understanding of his situation is that he believes that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is no longer represented. He wants to jump in. Come on in, the water’s fine.”
Beatty never did run for office — he told People magazine years later that it would have been “more like running for crucifixion” — but had already made his views exceptionally clear in 1998’s “Bulworth.” The political satire, which he wrote, directed and starred in, centers on a progressive senator who snaps after becoming disillusioned with Washington’s money-fueled political system. He described the film to The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd in April 1998 as “a campaign finance comedy.”
That Times interview took place in McCain’s Washington office. After claiming that all the energy spent discussing President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal would have been “better spent talking about the disparity of wealth, race, class and the tyranny of big money in politics,” Beatty casually suggested that the senator make a presidential run without accepting any financial contributions.
“You need some kind of funding to rent the room and the bus and all that kind of stuff,” McCain said in response, with Dowd noting his dubious tone. “I understand the allure of a candidate not taking any money, but it ignores the realities of a campaign.”
McCain further discussed such realities nine months later with Arianna Huffington, then a nationally syndicated columnist. She wrote that it was “highly jarring” to see him appoint Washington fixtures — such as Reagan administration member Kenneth Duberstein or former Republican congressman Vin Weber — as campaign advisers and deduced that the senator, who had publicly challenged his party, found himself fighting an uphill battle. To operate within the Republican primary process, he had to give in a bit to the same world of lobbying and soft money contributions that he had vowed to change.
Huffington asked if McCain would consider running as an independent to make things easier, but Beatty had apparently beat her to the chase: “He said he would support me if I did,” McCain remarked, laughing.
The senator garnered respect from members of both parties, and cross-aisle relationships were therefore typical. New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams wrote in March 1999 that a dinner with Beatty and actress Annette Bening, his wife, resulted in McCain saying he would pick a pro-abortion rights candidate for vice president. The next year, Playboy stated that, “in what could be the ultimate Hollywood compliment,” Beatty had referred to McCain as “a Bulworth Republican.” Newsweek even reported that John Kerry wanted McCain as his running mate during the 2004 campaign and tried to get Beatty to convince him.
In 2008, Marc Ambinder, writing for the Atlantic, asked Beatty whether it was true that McCain had voted for Kerry instead of the Republican incumbent. Beatty firmly called the rumor “an attempt to dramatize some sort of duplicity in a man who … always said he was a conservative.”
“It seems that people should take John McCain for what he says he is,” he continued, later adding: “I don’t think that political ideology is necessarily germane to friendships.”
The announcement detailing McCain’s memorial service includes brief descriptions for the pallbearers, all of which begin with “Friend.” Joining Beatty are: former Vice President Joe Biden; former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; former Secretary of Defense William Cohen; businessman Stephen Dart; former campaign manager Richard Davis; longtime fundraiser Carla Eudy; former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.); former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas); former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.); Open Russia vice chairman Vladimir Kara-Murza; former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge; former chief of staff Mark Salter; FedEx CEO Fred Smith; and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, are among those set to deliver tributes.