BAITING Hollywood ranks right up there with flag-waving as a safe political bet, so Bob Dole is daring his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination to stand up for the violence and sex he deplores in the entertainment industry.
He'll get no takers. And Hollywood itself spooks at the weakest political "boo." Mr. Dole will get no serious fight there, either.
Mr. Dole, of course, has a point. The nihilism and misogyny of some rock and gangsta rap and the gore-nography of gratuitous movie violence are social toxins, but Mr. Dole isn't so much trying to purify an apostate population as he is trying to convince the skeptical right wing of his party that he's one of them.
Mr. Dole may be, as everyone says, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, but to become the real thing he will have to pass muster with the party's cultural right, especially with its curia of TV preachers and direct-mail divines.
Mr. Dole has a bit of the old George Bush problem.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Dole is an honest-to-goodness Republican conservative, but of the country-club sort, given to running political errands for business and harrumphing about the shortcomings of the poor.
Mr. Dole has never been much taken up with the reactionary social agenda that these days defines political conservatism for many and, like Mr. Bush, he is distrusted in those quarters.
Now, Mr. Dole is straining to establish his New Republican credentials. All of a sudden, he's hot against abortion. He wants to repeal gun-control laws.
And he has taken on demon Hollywood, if not precisely in its very lair, then at least close by, at a Los Angeles dinner for Republican big spenders.
Others have crusaded down this road before. Former Vice President Dan Quayle famously flayed Murphy Brown, an unwed sitcom mom, as the source of teen pregnancies. Bill Clinton showed himself a New Democrat by fuming at Sister Souljah.
But Mr. Dole is being more tenacious and is wielding this sword through a wider arc than his predecessors -- at some risk, it must be said, to himself.
For if he keeps this up -- and he has since he first announced his candidacy -- people might start taking him seriously and begin asking some awkward questions.
Such as: Why, then, kill public radio, the nation's largest source of fine music, and public television, our best source of nonviolent TV?
Why, kill, too, support for art museums, symphony orchestras and ballet companies, the very antitheses of the violent movies he scolds.
And: Do you suppose we would cut random violence more if we got a few movies out of the theaters or if we got a lot of guns off the streets?
And: What the hell is Arnold Schwarzenegger doing in your party?
Tom Teepen is national correspondent of Cox Newspapers.