Jewish World Review August 23, 2004/ 6 Elul, 5764
Pols play second fiddle to celebrity egos
It's a different world over at the GOP. My Campaign 2000 edition of Who's Who Of Republican Celebrities -- an attractively bound, exquisitely tooled single sheet of paper -- listed just two celebrities prepared to support publicly George W. Bush: In a masterly bid to woo the youth vote, there was Pat Boone, who had a No. 1 record as recently as 43 years ago (''Moody River''), and someone from the Oak Ridge Boys -- exactly which Oak Ridge Boy I forget, but he's a household name, if your household happens to be in the greater Oak Ridge area. I don't recall hearing a word from either Pat or the Oak Ridge Boy this campaign season, so it may be that the Republicans have surpassed themselves this time and secured a pristine Zero Celebrity rating.
Christopher Hitchens observed some years back that politics is show business for ugly people. These days, show business seems to be politics for beautiful people, a rather more bewildering concept. I went into a record store last week, and the clerk pounced at the door and asked if I wanted to buy the new CD compilation, Rock Against Bush. "Not a chance," I said, but, not wishing to part on bad terms, added that if he had Croon Easy-Listening Favorites With A Full-Size Orchestra Against Bush I'd be happy to consider it.
It shouldn't be that difficult. In Vegas the other week, in the middle of a pleasant evening of Nelson Riddle-arranged standards plus a few soft rock hits from the old days, Linda Ronstadt launched into a demented paean to ''Fahrenheit 9/11'' and so riled the audience and management she got tossed out of the joint. "This is an election year, and I think we're in desperate trouble," says Linda. "It's a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I'd rather not know." That whole "Celebrate Diversity" thing only goes so far. Nanci Griffith has promised to leave the country if Bush is re-elected, following in the footsteps of the last election's I'm-outta-here celeb Alec Baldwin, whose departing flight has been idling on the runway for four years now.
Seems that's all that's in the news
Blame the feller in the White House
For The Way We Are"
Mis'ry's all that's in the news? Someone's been listening to way too many John Edwards speeches, with their Dickensian flourishes of shivering moppets unable to afford winter coats because daddy's lost his job at the mill. Sen. Edwards' theme is that there are "two Americas" -- one for the rich, one for the poor -- and ne'er the twain shall meet. This sounds too ridiculous even for campaign pabulum, but it's easy to see why one might fall for such a concept if one attended the Democratic Convention, where the hot-ticket events had VIP rooms so Bianca Jagger and miscellaneous Baldwin brothers could discuss the plight of the common man without any actual common men getting in the way.
John Kerry's raised nearly 50 million bucks from Hollywood, and, short of divorcing Teresa and the pre-nup kicking in, he's not going to find that kind of money anywhere else. So he's obliged to go along with, for example, Whoopi Goldberg comparing President Bush with her own, ah, intimate areas, as she did at a recent all-star Kerry gala. Or with Meryl Streep musing, ''I wonder which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families in Baghdad.'' The financial benefits of the celebrification of the Democratic Party are unquestionable. But the surest sign of its limited appeal in the broader sense was the Kerry campaign's refusal to release the video of the Goldberg-Streep gala. Having the most popular figures in popular culture on your side can seriously damage your popularity.
In his excellent election primer If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat, Hugh Hewitt has a shrewd analysis of the current state of the Democratic Party and its key components, the Party of Race, the Party of Government and the Party of License -- ie, the Hollywood elite. ''The Party of License is deeply alienated from the American mainstream,'' writes Hewitt. ''The list of foul-mouthed and very dense celebrities is so long, and their repeated insults so offensive that Hollywood and the university elites are now an anchor and not an engine for the party.''
I think that's correct. I don't hold a celebrity's politics against him, because, if I did, my choice of movies, plays, CDs, etc., would be reduced to virtually nil. But the point about celebrities is that they tend to be at least a little bit nutty. They exist in a bubble in which the constraints necessary for mental balance have been removed. Consider Sir Elton John, taking tea on the balcony of his Italian hotel suite a few years back: The poor man became irked by the wafting breeze and wound up screaming at the room service waiter, ''Can't you do something about this f---in' wind?''
''She's lost it,'' sighed a member of his entourage. ''She's finally lost it.''
So when celebrities venture into politics it's hardly surprising they're as deranged about that as they are about everything. These days Sir Elton mutters darkly that there's something in the air and it's not just the f---in' wind. No, it's a "deadly atmosphere of fear in America.'' The poor lad's going to too many parties with too many other paranoid show biz plutocrats. The feeling that the entire country is one big scary police state is, after all, only a heightened version of VIP Lounge Syndrome.
But it's not healthy for political parties to embrace the mental state of the Michaels Jackson and Moore. Celebrity supporters are not naturally inclined to supporting roles. That's the trouble with the Streisand-Goldberg-Affleck Hollywood-heavy Democratic Party: Barbra, Whoopi and Ben are the stars, and the party looks more and more like just a slightly bigger than usual entourage.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.