Remember When Roseanne Ran for President?

Photo: Sundance Selects

Last Friday, a single tweet was the focus of a national news story. It didn’t come from Trump’s Twitter account — but, perhaps unsurprisingly, he had something to do with it. “President Trump has freed so many children held in bondage to pimps all over this world,” Roseanne Barr claimed in a since-deleted tweet, referencing a 4Chan–originating conspiracy theory that first took root late last year. “Hundreds each month. He has broken up trafficking rings in high places everywhere. notice that. I disagree on some things, but give him benefit of doubt-4 now.”

Anyone who’s laid eyes on Barr’s feed over the past seven years knows that the legendary comedian and sitcom star — whose Roseanne returned last week after a 21-year hiatus to massive, record-breaking success — has a propensity for making questionable statements on the social-media platform. Through that lens alone, it’s easy to see why she would find a level of ideological kinship with Trump, who also has a long, long history of bizarre Twitter outbursts.

Arguably, the act of shitposting has become certified “presidential” behavior, and we’re so far through the looking glass in modern American life that any hypothesis can be rationalized into existence; just a few months after endless speculation abounded on whether Oprah would run for president, Barr — another cultural figure who, like Trump and Oprah, enjoyed high visibility in the 1990s and whose recent success has already eclipsed the return of another high-profile ABC reboot — is generating did-she-really-say-that headlines not dissimilar to Trump’s. Bear with me here, but consider this: What if Roseanne ran for president?

What if I told you she already did? It’s true: Barr staged a national campaign back in 2012, which was the focus of the 2015 documentary Roseanne for President! Directed by frequent Michael Moore collaborator Eric Weinrib (who, curiously, also ran for president in the 2016 election), the doc follows Barr as she attempts to secure a place on the national ballot — first as the Green Party candidate, and later as the ostensible face of the Peace and Freedom Party. Obviously, spoiler alerts aren’t necessary here — she lost, coming in sixth place in the popular vote behind Constitution Party candidate and current Trump supporter Virgil Goode — but in light of Barr’s present-day political views colliding with popular culture at large, Roseanne for President! provides a fascinating window into her eccentric, oft-muddled societal ethos. Here are eight takeaways from revisiting the documentary three years (and a whole lot of political upheaval) later:

1. Roseanne had more left-leaning allies than current events let on. Despite Trump’s personal phone call to congratulate Barr on Roseanne’s recent ratings bonanza, Roseanne for President! features multiple progressive, liberal-leaning political figures singing her praises; antiwar activist and eventual Barr running mate Cindy Sheehan praises Barr for supporting her 2008 congressional campaign in California.

Former Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney tells Barr in a recorded phone call that “a Roseanne Barr 2012 campaign would leave a legacy.” Fellow comedians Tom Smothers and Rosie O’Donnell (the latter being a common Trump target over the years) speak to Barr’s cultural appeal and willingness to push back against societal norms, And then there’s Moore, who we see introducing Barr at a 2004 anti-Bush rally.

2. Roseanne’s decision to run for president was essentially on a whim. “Is there any hope for us?” Barr asked Moore in an interview while taking over hosting duties for Joy Behar’s HLN show in 2011. “No jobs, nothing … are we gonna be like Mexico?” “Some of you need to run for office!” Moore implores, looking into the camera — to which Barr quickly interjects: “I’m running! I’m running for president of the United States on behalf of the tax-paying people.” As Moore looks taken aback by the announcement, she follows up: “I’m thinkin’ about it, anyway — on this Red Bull.” Who hasn’t gotten a little impulsive after downing an energy drink?

3. Some people in the Green Party really believed in her candidacy. “It was clear that she was very political,” McKinney says, “and I thought Roseanne Barr would be good for the Green Party.” And she wasn’t alone: National party co-chair Farheen Hakeem can be seen throughout the lion’s share of Roseanne for President! working closely with Barr in her primary battle against, among others, 2016 election enfant terrible Jill Stein — hammering together picket signs, whipping up crucial votes (more often than not, in vain), and at one point acting as a literal stand-in for Barr after she’s unable to Skype into a forum where Stein also appeared in person.

“Roseanne’s the only person with name recognition to get us those votes,” Hakeem, who’s also the first Muslim to serve in the executive committee of a United States political party, says with a measure of hope. “I can’t keep doing this stuff for 20 years.” In one scene, Barr dons a bandanna around her head in solidarity with Hakeem, attempting to mirror the latter’s hijab. “It says, ‘I resist the status quo,’ doesn’t it?” she asks someone off camera.

4. But many more did not. During the portion of Roseanne for President! that chronicles her bid for the Green Party candidacy, many party members express their reservations to Hakeem that Barr, while certainly able to provide sorely needed visibility, isn’t too serious about following through. And who could blame them? At several points, Stein — whose presence is scored to music resembling the “Imperial March” theme — criticizes Barr for not appearing at the majority of events that candidates typically deem necessary for party interaction.

Barr later offers that, unlike Stein’s efforts, flying across the country to make visits wouldn’t be in line with the Green Party’s, uh, “green” ethos. Fair point — but the further explanation that follows does little to bolster her stance: “I hate to be around people … plus, [there’s] the fear that there’ll be weirdos there trying to kill me.”

5. Roseanne’s political beliefs are all over the map. Despite her ecoconscious reasoning for limiting her public appearances, Barr’s commitment to the Green Party turned out to be short-lived: After losing the primary to Stein, she abandons the cause almost entirely to run on the Peace and Freedom ticket with Sheehan. “The Peace and Freedom Party never got to have so much fun,” a singer exclaims while performing at one of Barr’s rallies. “A fearless, righteous loudmouth speaking truth to everyone.”

But what is the truth Barr is putting forth? Roseanne for President! offers little in the way of answers, even as the subject is nothing but forthcoming. Perhaps her most cogent political stance appears early on, when she proclaims her support for single-payer universal health insurance; on the other end of the spectrum, there’s an elongated rant about socialism early on that comes across less as a political platform and more like a late-night Twitter brain drain.

6. But she really, really believes in weed. Like, really. Barr’s family members cite the Summer of Love as the temporal point in which she started using the drug regularly, and as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate it’s pretty much all we see her speak about in Roseanne for President!

Barr appears at the gargantuan jamfest Gathering of the Vibes, calling to end all wars and for legal pot; she claims in one scene that a joint should be taped in front of the nuclear button “and it should be law that [the president] has to smoke [it]” before pushing it. Most perplexingly, she tells a crowd at California’s Oaksterdam University — a “cannabis college” specializing in education related to the medicinal-marijuana industry — that the drug acts as a preventative agent against government mind control. I mean, if you’re stoned all the time, do you ever really know for sure?

7. Roseanne was terrified of what effect the candidacy would have on her career. We now know that Barr’s brand is alive, well, and very profitable — but that wasn’t the case during the filming of Roseanne for President! There are multiple moments of relative clarity in the doc in which Barr is flustered and anxious about the future, including a brief scene in which an assistant hand-delivers an Ambien prescription so she can sleep at night.

“I haven’t been able to replicate that success anywhere,” she candidly tells an interviewer about life since Roseanne — and viewers witness that truth firsthand in the form of her emotional fallout after finding out her 2012 NBC pilot was canceled. “It makes me feel extremely nervous that I’m doing this … like I’m fucking up my whole career and my whole life,” Barr sighs after getting the news. “I do like to be funny and work too, and on the offhand chance that I don’t win, I’m gonna need a job … The whole fucking world is over — my world, anyway.”

8. Everyone thought it was too ridiculous for a celebrity to be president — and they were all wrong. As it turns out, Barr’s doomsday vibes were six years ahead of their time (even if her current political outlook doesn’t exactly line up with, say, Michael Moore’s), and the greatest misconception put forth by Roseanne for President! is the now-antiquated notion that celebrities are simply too ill-suited and inexperienced to win a race for government office — let alone the highest position in the country and possibly the world.

“You have to question this old wisdom that a celebrity’s gonna do it for you,” Stein tells the camera — and I’m sure the irony is not lost on her that she would go on to lose in a subsequent election to someone who could arguably be considered the biggest celebrity in the world at this point.

All of this, of course, raises the question: Could Roseanne Barr win a presidential election in 2020, or 2024, or ever? In a cultural climate so absolutely bonkers that we barely bat an eyelash at Dan Conner rising from the dead, who can say?

Remember When Roseanne Ran for President?