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Magnum Opus

In "Las Vegas" and the Jesse Stone series, Tom Selleck reminds us why he is one of America's best-loved actors.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007

(continued from page 9)

Does Selleck like to talk about and debate politics? Absolutely. Just not in public and not as an actor who's routinely misrepresented, he says, within the mainstream media. In fact, don't even get him started on an op-ed piece penned by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in 1997 that had Selleck being encouraged to run for a Republican Senate seat by fellow actors Bruce Willis and [now California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The story was false, says Selleck, the article full of blatant errors and, worst of all, he says, then-Times executive editor Howell Raines, after receiving an indignant letter from the actor "proceeded to edit my letter [and] then print it in the paper."

Still, there's no question that Selleck is up on most political issues. For the next 30 minutes or so, Selleck rambles, intelligently, about politics—campaign reform, troop withdrawal, the importance of debate among the candidates, health care and the lead-up to the presidential primaries—but, as for running himself, he says, there are simply no plans.

"Look, I've had a couple times people make a phone [call] saying... 'we want you to run for governor,' And I said, 'Why? Do you know how I'd govern or do you just think I'm famous enough to get elected? I'm not interested. I'm an actor.' It's vaguely flattering, but that being said—I mean, it's come up endlessly, in every [film press] junket I've ever been on. You know, I finally had to say, 'Look, I don't want to talk about politics. I'm not running for office. I'm flattered you think I'm worthy, I guess that's implied in your question, but I'm an actor. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in politics, the subject, or that I don't vote, but...I'm an actor!'"

If there's one political—or politically correct/incorrect—subject that Selleck doesn't mind discussing openly, it's that of ever-increasing bans on personal behavior, including smoking.

"It's not good to smoke a lot. It's not. But when people move from convincing to mandates, it's just not my deal. And I don't think that is what a free society is about. Government has a function in education but not [in] propagandizing, and that is not a simple world. That world is messier. That world allows for human failure and that world allows for messy solutions, which we ought to get really comfortable with if we want to stay free. It's real simple to practically abolish speeding if you apply the death penalty to it.

"Look," Selleck continues, "we don't stay free with what we're doing now. There's just no end to it [and] it's a question of what responsibilities we give up. My concept of this society, which I tell kids as often as possible, is what they should be most grateful for in a free society is the right to fail. Which sounds kind of weird. But if you don't have the right to fail and you're protected from failure, you can't truly succeed. You're then stuck in this great gray middle where you're giving up responsibilities for the perceived benefits that come from a government, [and] that's a very slippery slope. Do you remember when the seat belt law came into being, and how every politician in the country would say: 'It's a law but it's really [just] a guideline and an officer would never pull somebody over for not wearing a seatbelt?'

"Then you start, if you live long enough, to see the slippery slope and an erosion. That doesn't mean people shouldn't wear seat belts. It doesn't mean cars shouldn't come with seat belts, [but] you end up with this 'nanny state' and people don't see the correlation between that and all aspects of life. You can almost find a 'good reason' to prescribe anything.

"I think free society is supposed to be messier than that. Solutions to social problems have to be. I'm not on a crusade, it's just the way I think, and, I don't know, I think we need, in the words of the most politically incorrect [laughs] character I can think of, Jack Nicholson [in A Few Good Men], 'You need me on that wall.'"

Betsy Model is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

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