Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Says You

Jack Nicholson endorses Hillary Clinton. Robert DeNiro endorses Barack Obama. Chuck Norris endorses Mike Huckabee. Jon Voight endorsed Rudy Giuliani. And four out of five doctors who tried Camels prefer sheep instead.

Who really cares if a celebrity endorses a particular candidate? It’s great for the headlines, but does it make a difference to the average voter? How much more likely are you to vote for someone because a star or talk show host — or blogger, for that matter — endorses a candidate?

Frankly, I don’t think it means anything, and I can’t think of a time where I’ve been persuaded to vote for — or against — someone because of an endorsement from a celebrity. I may know their work and admire their talent, but I’m not sure how that has a bearing on whether or not I go along with their recommendation to vote for this or that candidate. I’m much more likely to listen to someone I know personally and know their positions on issues that I care about — equal rights, education, peace — rather than take my electoral guidance from someone who made the cover of People magazine.

That said, there’s no denying that we are in a celebrity-driven culture. Billions of dollars are spent and barrels of ink are wasted following the antics of people like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, and when Elvis Presley died in August 1977, it led the evening news. (Had CNN been around at the time, it would have been wall-to-wall coverage with live reporting from Graceland and the funeral would have been a national event unseen since that grey day in November 1963.) It’s part of human nature to care about people whom we don’t know but have elevated to some kind of cultural status as icons or even idols. But when it comes to making a choice about a political leader, which is one of the more personal choices that we make, doing it only because Jack Nicholson or Chuck Norris says so is a sorry statement about our electoral process. We could end up with a vacant and vapid leader who had a lot of connections but no depth and certainly no business carrying the nuclear launch codes in his back pocket. Oh, wait…

This isn’t to say that celebrities aren’t entitled to their opinions and aren’t entitled to endorse whomever they believe in and to share that with the rest of the world using whatever means they have at their disposal. But it would be far more useful if they did it in such a way that makes it clear that they are doing it not because of who they are but because of what they believe in. More importantly, they should make it clear to the voters that they shouldn’t vote for someone just because someone else says they should.