Tinseltown believes politics is showbusiness for ugly people

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The Independent US

Politics may be a serious business, but this is Los Angeles, and this week's Democratic Convention shows every sign of being a chase after the biggest, glitziest, most celebrity-filled parties.

Politics may be a serious business, but this is Los Angeles, and this week's Democratic Convention shows every sign of being a chase after the biggest, glitziest, most celebrity-filled parties.

President Clinton, who is a natural at these things, is having to hold back so he doesn't overshadow his more wooden Vice-President and putative successor, Al Gore. Already at the weekend, congressmen seeking funds to shore up their re-election campaigns were fanning out to private residences in the Hollywood Hills to seek out donors and earn themselves kudos by snuggling up to Tom Selleck, Jennifer Aniston or Warren Beatty.

Far from discussing the niceties of Democratic policy on missile defence, or campaign finance reform, community activists spent the weekend frantically calling friends, and friends of friends, to talk their way into the DreamWorks party, or the LA Weekly party (for progressives), or the Al Gore knees-up at the Shrine Auditorium on Thursday.

Even the street demonstrators were planning their own version of a celebrity party, thanks to a free concert being thrown on Tuesday night by the rock group Rage Against the Machine, whose latest album, not coincidentally, is entitled Battle of Los Angeles.

In a town that likes to think of politics as showbusiness for ugly people, this convention is shaping up to be uncannily reminiscent of the Oscars - an exercise in status-building, celebrity by association and lavish spending to create buzz around pet causes.

Starting on Saturday night, Bill Clinton set the tone with the first of two fundraisers doubling as end-of-presidency farewell appearances. Limos jammed the narrow road up Mandeville Canyon, in the Santa Monica mountains, as a cast of a thousand descended on real estate developer Ken Roberts' 112-acre ranch for an event billedas a "Hollywood Tribute to William Jefferson Clinton".

John Travolta, who played a thinly veiled version of the president in last year's film Primary Colors, did the warm-up honours, along with Stan Lee, the cartoon-strip king and creator of the X-Men, whose screen version has just been released in the US.

Other speakers included Shirley MacLaine and Rosa Parks, the Alabama African- American who famously refused to get off a whites-only bus more than 40 years ago. Among the glittery line-up of singers were Diana Ross, Cher and Melissa Etheridge, the rocker who came out as a lesbian on the 1992 Clinton campaign trail.

An audience featuring newlyweds Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, as well as actors Rod Steiger and Patrick Stewart, were treated to giant video-screen close-ups of the president visibly choking up on the emotion of it all. Meanwhile, the $1,000-a-head (£670) gate money - along with the $25,000 per person paid up by a more select group who stayed for dinner - went into the coffers of the First Lady, Hillary Clinton, and her New York Senate race.

The Clinton schmooze-fest continued yesterday morning with a brunch at Barbra Streisand's beach-side home in Malibu, this one to raise money for his presidential library in Arkansas. Hereafter, it will be Mr Gore's turn to try to grab the celebrity spotlight, and his success or failure in doing so may well become a bellwether of his overall performance in this crucial political week.

The Vice-President certainly hasn't done badly raising funds in Hollywood - more than $800,000 in direct contributions to date, with millions more in so-called "soft money" - and is certainly well ahead of George W Bush. But it remains to be seen what kind of reception he receives at his own concert bash on Thursday, featuring Ms Streisand, Gladys Knight, Boyz II Men, and Whoopi Goldberg.

The vibes are somewhat mixed. The triumvirate who run DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, have all pledged support for Mr Gore, but have expended more energy on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Mr Geffen lobbied hard for Los Angeles to host the Democratic Convention, but then failed to come through with funds to pay for it, leaving a $4m bill to local taxpayers. The snub has not gone unnoticed.