Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Bad News for Democrats :Hollywood activists vow to keep it up.

Here's a funny story from the WSJ--


In the wake of the unexpectedly emphatic Bush victory, Democrats got bad news from Hollywood. Instead of announcing plans to immigrate to France or Canada, the leading entertainment industry activists solemnly pledged to intensify their already impassioned commitment to partisan politics--thereby greatly complicating Democrats' efforts to shed their elitist image and reconnect with the American mainstream.

Consider the example of John Cameron Mitchell, flamboyant creator of the critically acclaimed transsexual musical comedy "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." He traveled to Ohio to get out the vote for John Kerry and refused to feel discouraged by the disappointing results. "Ultimately, after a period of depression yesterday, today I feel even more energized!" he proudly told the New York Times.

Similarly, Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss saw no chance that Tinseltown campaigners would allow an inconvenient setback like a GOP victory to cool their ardor for remaking America. In an election-eve interview on my radio show, Mr. Dreyfuss noted the powerful momentum behind Mr. Kerry's candidacy and promised that in the unlikely event of a Bush triumph, the energy would continue to build, leading, inexorably, to the impeachment of the president.

Michael Moore himself, spiritual leader of pop-culture politicos, composed a pep talk to his followers under the cheery headline "17 Reasons Not to Slit Your Wrists." In addition to making predictions that President Bush would slack off in the second term ("It'll be like everyone's last month in 12th grade--you've already made it, so it's party time!"), he reminded the faithful that they had nearly achieved the impossible and shouldn't "stop on the three yard line."

Despite such confident exhortations, there's scant evidence that the unprecedented participation of scores of A-list celebrities helped Mr. Kerry march toward victory. Paul Newman surprised suburban homeowners by walking precincts in Ohio, and Sean Penn no doubt alarmed voters by going door to door in New Mexico, but both states wound up in the Republican column. Despite tireless, all-but-unanimous support for Mr. Kerry from the show-business elite (Bruce Springsteen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand and the well-known political theorist Ben Affleck), Mr. Bush actually improved his electoral performance in 45 of 50 states and even narrowed his margin of defeat in California.
The relentless "Vote or Die!" jihad of P-Diddy proved no more successful than amiable enticements by Drew Barrymore in "rocking the vote" with a tidal wave of new participants at the polls: The 18-to-29 contingent represented approximately the same percentage of total participation as it did in 2000.

In fact, the celebrity campaigners who flocked to the Kerry cause presented a painful dilemma for the Massachusetts senator: With his billionaire wife, windsurfing hobby and vacation homes in Sun Valley and Nantucket, he hardly needed further association with "the beautiful people" to emphasize his distance from everyday Americans.

At a controversial July fund-raiser in Radio City Music Hall, entertainers like Whoopi Goldberg, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep and John Leguizamo delivered bitter, often obscene tirades against the president, after which Sen. Kerry proudly declared that "every performer tonight . . . conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country." Mr. Bush promptly (and deftly) turned that comment against his opponent, noting at frequent campaign stops (and even in his acceptance speech) that Mr. Kerry thought that you can find "the heart and soul of America in Hollywood, but I know it is really found right here in (fill in the blank)."

As Election Day approached, celebrity activists had aroused enough resentment that they even turned up as sanctimonious villains in the counterterrorism spoof "Team America: World Police." Puppets representing Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Samuel L. Jackson and Matt Damon allied themselves with the puppet version of the diabolical Kim Jong Il, and suffered decapitation, evisceration and other gruesome fates on screen--while audiences reportedly roared their approval in multiplexes across the country.

Despite their popularity as entertainers, these performers maintain at best a love-hate relationship with the general public (and feed innumerable tabloids with lurid tales of their personal problems), so their endorsements of candidates mean almost nothing. Moreover, movies long ago ceased functioning as a unifying celebration of populist values and now serve a primarily youthful niche market. Even box-office blockbusters typically draw only seven million or eight million people on their opening weekends--less than half the number who listen to Rush Limbaugh in any given week.
If Democrats intend to compete for support in "fly-over country," generating fresh appeal to hardworking, religiously committed red-state voters who shop at Wal-Mart without guilt, they must escape their identification as the party of Beverly Hills dilettantes and self-righteous celebrities. This means learning to live without Hollywood money, and focusing less obsessive attention on fighting Ralph Nader (or other radical leaders) for a handful of high-profile endorsements on the marginal left.

A future standard-bearer might even strengthen his appeal if fashionable former Naderites like Ms. Sarandon, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins and Peter Coyote once again abandoned practical politics and embraced a chic, purist fringe party, leaving the Democrats to compete for the decidedly unglamorous voters who can actually elect a president of the United States.

Mr. Medved, author of "Right Turns," due from Crown Forum in January 2005, hosts a nationally syndicated daily radio talk show.

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