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And to the republic, with limos and justice for all

Accepting a People for the American Way Foundation honor, Ben Affleck gives ... a stump speech?

October 26, 2003|Nancy Rommelmann | Special to The Times

"It's not one of the expensive limos," sighed the tabloid reporter on Ben & Jen watch, waiting for the duo to alight at the Beverly Hilton. Would they be no-shows for the People for the American Way Foundation dinner Oct. 14, where Ben Affleck was picking up a Champion of the American Way award? The crush of reporters made do with the brawny winners of "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor: Thailand," and '80s episodic TV starlet Heather Thomas Brittenham, who with her husband, attorney Skip Brittenham, was accepting a Spirit of Liberty award.

"Oh, baloney," Thomas Brittenham said when asked if the liberal agenda was in jeopardy in California. "The majority of Americans have progressive ideals and progressive values." When asked the same question, actor Hector Elizondo said, "Does Pinocchio have wooden buttons?"

Gathered to applaud one another's good works, the crowd initially seemed almost fluish, as if still recovering from the recall election. The room was not so much low-wattage -- there was Harrison Ford, there was Bruce Willis -- as low-energy, with the exception of 69-year-old author Barbara Howar, who introduced herself to a small group of people telling one another what they do for a living by saying, "Hi, I'm Barbara Howar. I'm a good lay."

Master of ceremonies Paul Begala tried to inject some party-line levity. "If you're here for the NAACP award for Rush Limbaugh, it's been canceled," he said. And while Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for the Horse's Patootie Award, he continued, "we were afraid he'd fondle it." That award, voted on by the audience, was eventually won by John Ashcroft. "The attorney general couldn't make it tonight, but he did send a note," said Begala, reading: "Dear People, I am thrilled you are having this little meeting while my agents are at your homes going through your e-mail."

Ben & Jen slipped in as the disco standard "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" blared, causing most of the women in the room to drop their dinner forks and fixate on Jennifer Lopez's hair, as big and curly as Donna Summer's. As to why Affleck was getting an award from PFAW, an organization devoted to preserving the country's pluralism, civil rights and liberties, founder Norman Lear told the audience, "Ben has used his celebrity to level the field for all of us."

"Finally, finally, Ben Affleck is going to get a little attention from the media," said director Kevin Smith, a 2001 PFAW award winner, by way of introduction. "I am talking some simple recognition for a guy who saved us all from an asteroid the size of Texas."

Taking the stage, Affleck gave what sounded like a stump speech. "Ever since I cashed my first paycheck for guest-starring on 'The Torkelsons,' I've tried to practice noblesse oblige," he said. "Those of us who've benefited have the obligation to continue to work for a better America and leave none of its citizens behind. I saved a million dollars this year from Bush's tax cuts, while families with children in this country go without the most basic healthcare. I saved a million dollars while teachers in this country have insufficient resources to educate the future leaders of our country. I saved a million dollars while the national debt went up like William Bennett's credit line at a one-arm bandit at Bally's Las Vegas."

Producer Chris Moore said his friend and fellow "Project Greenlight" player had "campaigned for Gore and for Hillary Clinton. If he hadn't been going through some personal stuff, he probably would've gotten involved with the governor's election here. I've said it before, we should have written in Ben for the ballot rather than Arnold."

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