August 25, 2004,
Ican hardly wait. I'm going to camp out the night before to get tickets. It's going to be the greatest show on earth. Just think! L'il Kim and Benny Boom debating Social Security privatization! Kevin Bacon extolling the virtues of U.S. antidumping policy! Woody Harrelson and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos discussing European troop-deployment plans for the 21st century!
O.K., maybe it's not that bad, but it seems that every two-bit celebrity not currently occupying the center square on a morning game show is lining up to join in an anti-Bush advertising campaign sponsored by multibillionaire George Soros's pet political project Moveon.org. According to the Washington Post, "a celebrity-saturated effort to defeat the president kicks into high gear [this week] with a premiere featuring music by Moby, the Roots and Natalie Merchant, and appearances by actor Kevin Bacon, liberal radio hosts Al Franken and Jeaneane Garafalo and onetime candidate Howard Dean." Woody Harrelson has lent a hand in writing, directing, and starring in a short feature titled Cheney is Not on Our Side.
But, assuming the mantle of those who could not afford the price of admission or, who, for some unfathomable reason chose not to attend last night's Bush-bashing soiree, let me express this sentiment: We simply don't care. We don't care that Moby is upset that "George Bush pretends to be a cowboy" while running up "the largest federal deficit in history." We don't care that Benny Boom thinks "George Bush is probably the first real gangsta we've had in office." We don't care about Bruce Springsteen's thoughts on "economic justice, transparent government, how do we treat our weakest citizens, say, in foreign policy." The views of Hollywood, Broadway, Motown, and for that matter, the runways of Paris and New York don't add an ounce of weight to the serious issues facing our country in this Presidential election. To quote Bill Murray in Meatballs, "It just doesn't matter."
But it does seem to matter to the people running the Democratic campaign for president. Far from running from the most extreme element of Hollywood (if there is such a thing), they've embraced Michael Moore and his colleagues as the voice of the party. Was it an accident that Moore sat ringside with former President Carter during the Democratic Convention in Boston? Or that Ben Affleck is taking time off from his filming schedule to appear at campaign events with John Kerry and John Edwards? Of course not. Apparently, the movers and shakers on that side of the political divide believe that slurs and slogans belted out by such heavyweight talents as Margaret Cho and Ione Skye will have a measurable impact on the way Americans view this election. The Republicans seem to be making the same mistake, trotting out Wayne Newton, Bo Derek, and a lesser Baldwin, Stephen (which one is he?) at next week's convention to prove that they too can attract meaningless endorsements from celebrities currently fit to star in a late-night reality show on UPN.
It would be nice to think that Americans can't be sold on a presidential election the same way it could be sold on, say, the latest model of BMW or the next great brand of cereal. But Hollywood seems to have a different view. As Bruce Springsteen told a timid Ted Koppel recently on ABC's Nightline: "You build up credibility, and you build it up for a reason, you know, over a long period of time, and hopefully we've built up that credibility with our audience.... And I think there comes a time when you feel, all right, I've built this up, and it's time to spend some of this."
I'm sure Springsteen does have credibility with a lot of people. When he puts out a new album, rock-music critics go ga-ga. He can wail on the guitar. For some reason I've never figured out, a lot of people like his raspy voice. It's all-American. But I am probably in the minority. An undisclosed friend of mine currently working for the Republican National Committee has traversed the country hopping freight cars like a hobo to see him sing. But what makes the Boss think that his "credibility" extends even remotely to the realm of political discourse, I'll never understand.
But it continues. Babs Streisand spends her waking hours posting DNC talking points about "Dick Cheney's voting record" on her website and rewriting her catalog of songs with such clever lyrics as (sung to the tune of "People"): "Rumsfeld/We must get rid of Rumsfeld/He's the spookiest person in the world." No political myth stolen elections, disenfranchised minorities, "Republican voter suppression efforts" is too extreme for the celebrity voice of the Democratic party.
A couple of years ago, ESPN ran a great series of commercials with great sports figures doing common jobs around the ESPN studios. Like Roger Clemens, the six-time Cy Young award-winning pitcher, making copies or getting coffee for the staff. It was supposed to be satire what happens when a great sports figure switches places with the common man? Moveon.org's new campaign has the feel of that campaign, with all manner of celebrities dabbling in politics. The only trouble is that it's not satire. It's the real deal.
We should all run out, get some popcorn and enjoy the show. If only we cared.
Shannen W. Coffin, a Washington, D.C., attorney, is a former deputy assistant attorney general for the civil division of the U.S. Department of Justice.