The Democrats need to skip the celebrity endorsements, says Chris Willman

By Chris Willman
Updated November 15, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Jon Bon Jovi
Credit: Lester Cohen/Retna

Barbra, Whoopi, and Cher may not have helped Gore

Much attention has been paid to the role of Ralph Nader as ”spoiler” in this stranger than fiction presidential election. But that emphasis may serve to obscure the more significant spoiling function played by the real slim shady in this campaign, the guy who really wrecked things but good for Al Gore: Jon Bon Jovi.

Well, I don’t mean Jon Bon Jovi all by himself. (The guy never did have any luck as a solo artist.) I mean Bon Jovi in tandem with Rosie, Barbra, Whoopi, Cher, Rob Reiner, and every other celebrity stumper who waxed so simplistically vituperative on Gore’s behalf that he or she helped drive celebrity phobic voters into George W. Bush’s star unsullied arms.

It’s time for Democrats to realize that celebrity endorsements can do more damage than good. It goes without saying that most diehard conservatives already hate Hollywood and don’t have any love lost for the Alec Baldwin brigade. New York Post columnist Rod Dreher urged his readers on election day, ”Make a fist in the voting booth, extend your middle finger, position it over the Republican lever, and think of Barbra.” But it wasn’t just Republican pundits getting turned off by the celestial children’s crusade. As a lifelong Democratic friend in L.A. confessed to me, ”I very nearly couldn’t punch the ballot for Gore, knowing how much wider that smirk on Whoopi Goldberg’s face will be tomorrow if he wins.” If folks this liberal very nearly batted the other way just to strike a private blow against unctuousness, how many Demos in the heartland whose livelihoods DON’T depend on the entertainment industry actually did go Grand Old Party on us just because of a bad John Leguizamo joke or three?

As Barbra Streisand repeatedly tells us, celebrities have the same right to voice their opinions as any other citizens, and if people happen to look up to them and be influenced by them, so be it. Fair enough. But, Barbra, here’s breaking news: The number of fans likely to be converted to the cause by your back to back campaign appearances on the Barbara Walters and Rosie O’Donnell shows doesn’t compare to the number of fence sitters likely to go screaming in the other direction when they feel overentitled stars are bullying their way onto the airwaves just in order to spread unconvincing hyperbole about the campaign being ”a war on bigotry.”

We would’ve figured the Gore/ Lieberman camp would have been leery of overemphasizing this support. Americans already have the idea that DreamWorks and Miramax spend more time fighting over time share rights to the Lincoln boudoir than on their annual Oscar scuffles. A Radio City Music Hall gala last month was a virtual riot of off putting, Bush bashing bathroom humor that both Gore and Lieberman subsequently had to apologize for.

But they didn’t learn, and so the country saw more, much more, of the usual suspects — celebrities whose combination of ubiquity and seeming political naivete renders them impotent at best and counterproductive at worst as evangelists. There was Cher, hopping on and off the Gore jet in the very last days, warning everyone that Jerry Falwell would run the country if Bush won. There was Bon Jovi, reminding supporters at rallies that the desperation of ”Livin’ on a Prayer” was inspired by the trickle down Reagan years. (The implication was that if Bush won, he’d be forced to write more of the same — the kind of terrorist threat I hope the FBI doesn’t take lightly.) There was Rob Reiner at an L.A. rally, the ”North” director chiding Bush for being an idiot and then earning his own props as a political bon vivant by leading a clever chant of ”No son of a Bush!” Way to go after those undecideds, Rob.

In 2004, when Hollywood is tempted to come out and stump en masse again for the Democratic nominee, celebrities would do well to remember that charity begins at home. And sometimes stays there. The last thing the next Democratic contender needs is Britney Spears as spoiler.