Over the next few months, it's likely that a large number of Hollywood celebrities will publicly endorse Barack Obama and a small number will endorse John McCain. But will these high-profile endorsements be beneficial or detrimental?
In a culture that's obsessed with every move Britney Spears makes, it would make sense that a celebrity endorsement would be an asset to a candidate. Fortunately, that isn't the case. According to a study conducted by Forbes Magazine and E-Poll Market Research, support from Madonna, Tom Cruise, Donald Trump or Susan Sarandon would hurt rather than help a presidential bid. (I'd guess that the list would also include Paris Hilton, Whitney Houston and anyone who's ever appeared on "Dancing With the Stars.") On the other hand, an endorsement from Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Jon Stewart or Angelina Jolie could prove to be helpful.
The study also suggests that younger voters are more inclined to heed the advice of a celebrity than mature voters might be (i.e. those who once made the choice between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale).
No matter how alluring you might consider Angelina Jolie, why in the world would you support her candidate of choice no matter who it was? Would we want John McCain voting for the Academy Awards?
The entire notion might seem ludicrous (Ludacris, by the way, is a fan of Obama), but celebrities yield power, and power translates into dollars. That's why famous faces have replaced nameless models in marketing campaigns for Prada, Calvin Klein, Revlon, Covergirl, Louis Vuitton and so many others. The celebrity brings a certain cache to a company, maybe a built-in audience. There's no question that an A-lister attracts publicity when he or she stands next to a candidate, and publicity is a valued commodity in an election.
Unfortunately, the audience that would buy hair products hawked by Sarah Jessica Parker might vote for the star's candidate. What's wrong with this picture? So much that it's mind-boggling. First of all, voters might think they know and trust their favorite celebrity, but they only know the celebrity's public persona (which is often very different from the real human being). The larger, more obvious problem is that most celebrities have no political expertise. They know how to act, how to dress, how to pose for the camera, but what do they know about the economy or foreign policy unless it relates to overseas film sales? I don't want to hear about Iraq or Afghanistan from the chatty women on "The View," entertaining as they may be. I might agree with Barbra Streisand's politics, but I don't want to listen to her on a soapbox. Somehow it demeans the entire political process.
When a celebrity aligns his or herself with a candidate, that candidate by default is aligned with the celebrity. At a time when Andy Dick's arrest makes national news and Lindsay Lohan's mother stars in a reality show, it's an unnerving notion that the leader of the free world might be spending his free time hanging with some Hollywood types. Aren't there more constructive things to do back in the Oval Office?
Celebrities often state that as American citizens they have the right to back whomever they choose, and of course they do. But they should do it in private like everybody else. No actor or singer or talk show host should have the slightest influence over a presidential election unless we're talking about the Screen Actors Guild. Is there a better example of the simple-mindedness of the celebrity endorsement than Donny and Marie Osmond supporting Mitt Romney during the primaries?
So far, the list of Obama supporters includes Scarlett Johansson, Usher and of course Oprah. McCain can count on Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wilfred Brimley. Yes, Wilfred Brimley. (Insert your own joke here.) There's only one upside to all this. Just as Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday" to our youngest president John F. Kennedy in 1962, maybe McCain, who would be our oldest president, would lure Doris Day out of retirement to sing "Happy Birthday" to him.