BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - At 70, without a thing left to prove, Jack Nicholson is sharpening his political edges. Not that he'll be showing up at any presidential campaign rallies.

"I, by choice, am not an activist at this point," Nicholson said. "I think Sean Penn is the greatest living American in a certain way, because he's a man of action. . . . I feel by being a neutralist in this area, in my actual field of endeavor I can be more effective."

That didn't stop the icon of Hollywood cool from talking of solar power, Tony Blair, oil industry propaganda and his friendship with the Clintons in an interview. Cooly, of course.

"You do not become militant if you wish to be a successful propagandist. Because all you will do is preach to the choir and further entrench your opposition."

That's worth a signature Jack eyebrow arch. But while he hints at folding progressive messages into his movie roles, Nicholson in conversation also has the crowd-pleasing ability of a natural actor to take both sides of an issue - and make you believe him.

He calls former British Prime Minister Blair a "rock star . . . he's wonderful" and says he supports Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. ("I'm a friend of the family.")

Nicholson acknowledges being "a lifelong Irish Democrat. What more can I say? I voted for what's his name, [1988 presidential candidate Michael] Dukakis. This was the real test for a Democrat."

Yet he also won't criticize President Bush: "I'm always at odds with my own constituency. I support every president. Period."

That's been Nicholson's party line for years; he'd happily riff about the Lakers, free love, being stoned in the '70s and such.

But in public appearances and rare interviews, he avoided delving into his personal politics.

"My political actor fantasies were never to be president, but rather to be Jim Farley or [Charles] 'Bebe' Rebozo or somebody like that who just kind of had a relationship" with the president, Nicholson said. "When he was at loggerheads, to be the 'why' guy, the alternative guy."

Nicholson was last politically active during George McGovern's 1972 campaign against Richard Nixon, and he explains why.

"I wanted to do solar energy. I wanted to legalize drugs versus the terrorist problem, which I was aware of in the '70s. Because where else are they getting illegal money at that level?

"Enforce the monopoly laws of the Constitution they're so proud of, which would have eliminated Enron and the interlocking directorate of conglomeration. Double teacher salaries. Find a way to liase from a personnel point of view between the military and the domestic police. *