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Mr. Beatty goes to Washington

It is delicious that Warren Beatty should be the one to come to Washington to tell us to snap out of our addiction to sex.

Beatty arrived with his new movie, Bulworth, which is about the capital's other addiction _ money. He dubs the offbeat film about a senator who has a nervous breakdown and speaks hilarious truths on sensitive issues "a campaign finance comedy."

"I believe that the Clinton administration and its sexual distractions are a minnow swimming to shore beside a whale of American sexual hypocrisy that is coming close to beaching itself," Beatty said in a small metaphorical orgy. This is, after all, the man who played a sex addict so memorably in Shampoo, and who is Hollywood's most famous retired Lothario.

"All this time that's wasted talking about this issue of sex is time that would be better spent talking about the disparity of wealth, race, class and the tyranny of big money in politics," he said.

Beatty and Gary Hart were the first Hollywood-Washington power couple. Beatty watched his friend's 1988 campaign sink in the wake of the Monkey Business.

Was Hart prematurely promiscuous, or did he lack the courage of his own concupiscence? Why did Bill Clinton's numbers go up with each new scandalous revelation?

"Maybe America is becoming less reluctant to sweep it under the rug, more accepting of its own sexual difficulties," he says. "America is becoming more like the countries that America came from."

Should Clinton just start being brutally honest about everything, like Sen. Bulworth? Should he, as Gloria Steinem suggested, get treatment if he is a sexual addict?

"Gloria's addiction is more worthy of treatment," he said archly. "I wish we could figure out what it is."

Beatty is clearly swept away by his movie's message that it might take a politician who eschews the cant and cash of politics as usual to capture the hearts of jaded Americans. Over coffee Tuesday morning in John McCain's office, the star even suggested to the Arizona senator who has waged a lonely fight for campaign finance reform that he make a run for the presidency without accepting any contributions.

"You need some kind of funding to rent the room and the bus and all that kind of stuff," McCain said dubiously. "I understand the allure of a candidate not taking any money, but it ignores the realities of a campaign."

Beatty is in a fantastical mood these days, suitable to his farce about a Democratic senator who starts puncturing special interests. At an entertainment industry fund-raiser, Bulworth declares that his staff people "always put the big Jews on my schedule," that his speech is bound to contain a section trashing Louis Farrakhan, and that the Hollywood big shots are producing junk.

Some of the Washington insiders who attended a screening were offended by the crude language and raw sentiments. (Washington insiders are tender plants.)

The movie also takes a hard shot at the concentration of media power in the hands of a few moguls _ moguls presumably like the Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch, who bankrolled the satire.

Obviously, Beatty, a master marketer, was trying to get his own positive buzz going with his VIP screenings, just in case Murdoch decides to pull the plug on promotion.

Asked about some press barbs that the White House correspondents' dinner he attended here last weekend had presented a tacky melding of Hollywood and Washington, Beatty scoffed: "Washington is Hollywood. The techniques and events and the people are the same. As though if the actors left the party, there'd be a more serious discussion? Dream on."

New York Times News Service

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