Politics & Policy

Dangerous Liaisons

Courting the ET crowd doesn't always translate well at Wal-Mart.

Theories have been flying fast and furious over the last two weeks about the cause of Kerry’s post-convention bouncelessness. But if his strategists really want to know why the Democratic National Convention failed to put a spring in the presidential contender’s well-heeled step, perhaps they need only follow a trail of Manolos and Jimmy Choos back to Entertainment Tonight.

If the TV-viewing public knows nothing else about this election, they at least know now that the self-indulgent class–celebrities, that is–loves John Kerry. And that fact alone may be giving average Americans a reason not to.

From the moment he became the presumed Democratic nominee, Kerry has done little besides indiscriminately cozy up to Hollywood. Foul-mouthed has-been comediennes, notorious Vegas party boys (who, if they don’t score a hit soon, may themselves wind up as center square), gun-toting rappers: The Kerry camp embraces them all as the “heart and soul of our country.” Not surprisingly, normal, family-oriented citizens are responding to it none too favorably.

The culture of “up-the-ante” freakiness that reigns supreme in La La Land may sell albums, movies, and advertising time, but it doesn’t do much for celebrity credibility on issues of national import. With few exceptions, the general of-voting-age-and-inclination citizenry accords stars about as much consideration as they would heiress Paris Hilton when it comes to matters of state.

Plus, one consequence of constant entertainment news coverage is that the public is a lot more savvy about the motives of celebs than it used to be. One can’t help wondering if perennial self-promoter Sean “P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Puffy” Combs isn’t more interested in staying in the good graces of the A-listers he slavishly caters to than promoting informed voting. For many newly arrived glitterati, attending Kerry rallies could simply be a calculated career move.

Take the Black Eyed Peas, for example. Fronted by Stacy Ferguson, a young woman who grew up on the tough, urban streets of Kids Incorporated (you fellow Gen X-ers may remember the bubblegum precursor to Saved by the Bell), the Peas have no doubt slogged through a lot of hard years on their way to the top of the charts–so you can bet Stacy wants them to stay there. Aligning herself with the Kerry campaign surely provides Fergie (as she’s known to her new funk fans) ample opportunity for networking.

But while the political association may be doing wonders for the images of L.A.’s limousine liberals, it’s killing what little reputation Kerry had to begin with. Consider the “adopted” son he brought along on the campaign trail. Mediocre megastar Ben Affleck is hardly a model of restraint. Known for heavy drinking, heavy gambling, and heavy womanizing, his attention-desperate exploits with Jenny-from-the-Block were enough to earn the scorn of even the bootlicking entertainment press. Now it appears Affleck may be doing to John Kerry’s career what he did to his own and J-Lo’s.

By parading around a haute-couture horde of vain, elitist, irresponsible celebrities, the Kerry camp lends credence to the one of the worst stereotypes about liberals: that they are out of touch with reality and think they’re superior to Middle Americans. It would be like President Bush asking Enron executives, oil barons, and a drunken chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon to join him on the stump.

That’s not to say that the right side of the red carpet can’t claim a handful of famous faces: It’s just that conservatives don’t trot them out as some kind of MTV street cred nearly as often as Dems. Or maybe it’s that these particular performers don’t much care to trot themselves out. More than a few up-and-coming and recently arrived celebrities support the president–Jessica Simpson, Freddie Prinze Jr., Kid Rock, and Britney Spears, to name a few. But they don’t organize Kerry-bashing concert tours.

Presumably, the reason these conservative-leaning stars don’t speak out on politics more is that a slobbering media isn’t highlighting their opinions. Vanity Fair probably doesn’t knock down their doors, assuring them that the world is waiting with baited breath to hear their reasons for backing Bush. Or perhaps simple career preservation keeps them on the down-low–after all, they have to make records, movies, sitcoms, etc. with these people.

Or perhaps it’s because, as conservatives, their very nature precludes them from treating issues like war and terrorism as photo-ops.

Whatever the cause for their silence, it’s probably just as well. While President Bush undoubtedly appreciates Jessica Simpson’s support, he’s wise not to encourage a media spectacle when she visits the White House and compliments the secretary of the Interior on her selection of curtains.

Despite conventional wisdom, there is such a thing as bad press; just ask Whoopi Goldberg, Alec Baldwin, and Courtney Love–all Kerry supporters. Their donation money may be good, but in the long run it isn’t worth the price a candidate has to pay in credibility.

If Kerry’s poll numbers continue to show negative bounce, he might consider following Laura Ingraham’s lead in telling his friends to “shut up and sing!”

Megan Basham is a freelance writer in Phoenix, Arizona, and a current Phillips Foundation fellow.

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