By Patrick Hruby
Special to Page 3
Whew. Thank goodness. After a torturous slew of speeches and rallies, fundraisers and photo-ops, the year's most irritating campaign has finally -- mercifully -- come to a close.
The race for the White House?
Red state, blue state. Republican, Democrat. Yankees fan, everyone else. No matter. Whether you punched a card for Bush, touched a screen for Kerry or wasted -- er, spent -- a ballot on Nader, all of us in this great and divided nation can breathe a hearty sigh of sweet relief -- because as of today, the parade of athletes and celebrities telling us how to vote is officially kaput.
While it's impossible to pinpoint exactly when the political grandstanding of the rich and somewhat famous became too much to bear -- possibly when a recorded message from Ted Danson was used to woo Florida voters; probably when Stephen Baldwin got involved -- one thing seems clear: We've seen enough.
And that's without mentioning Ben Affleck, in which case we've seen more than enough. Never mind "Surviving Christmas."
P.T. Barnum once said that no one ever went broke underestimating, or even misunderestimating, the intelligence of the American public. This much is true. We're not the sharpest tools in the global shed. We snap up SUVs and complain about gas prices, scarf Krispy Kremes and ponder gastrointestinal bypass surgery. Many of us can't be bothered to vote, in part because we're busy watching "Desperate Housewives."
Nevertheless, there's something galling about Martin Sheen stumping for Howard Dean, as if playing the president on TV somehow endows him with real-world political expertise. Does George Will pen movie reviews? Please. Granted, we have a troubling tendency to turn no-talent moppets such as Ashlee Simpson into best-selling recording artists. But that doesn't make us a nation of complete idiots. Only partial. Do-gooding, civic-minded celebs should note the difference.
Er, excuse us, Mr. Affleck? You're not fooling anybody. Really. It's cute that you support John Kerry and all, but you're still the same poker-playing lummox who handsomed his way through "Bounce" and "Jersey Girl." Last we checked, that's your mug on the cover of US Weekly. As opposed to, say, the Journal of Foreign Affairs.
From Bruce Springsteen to Curt Schilling, celebrities on the campaign trail are like Britney Spears performing at the Kennedy Center. Fish out of water. In some ways, this phenomenon stems from a larger affliction -- namely, the misguided belief that success and competence in the entertainment field crosses over to other pursuits. Affleck and company can hardly be blamed for feeling this way: as celebs, they're accustomed to a lapdog public hanging on their every trite thought and banal utterance. We want to know what they wear, what they drive, where they take their famous significant others for sexy dinners.
Yet while transparent lifestyle marketing works for selling fragrance, it doesn't apply in politics. Nor should it. Lip gloss and a sultry pout might carry you to the center aisle at Macy's, but they won't get you far in the legislative process. Monica Lewinski excluded.
To put things another way: Schilling is a heck of a pitcher, tough and smart. Still, you wouldn't call on him to unclog your sink. Why trust the Red Sox ace to select the leader of the free world?
Adding insult to, well, insult, some of the most visible celebrity endorsers in this year's campaign aren't even credible in their day jobs. President Bush hasn't forgotten Poland. We haven't forgotten Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Beach." John Kerry wants to work for America. Sharon Stone's efforts on his behalf only remind us that she isn't working, anyway. And though Baldwin's born-again appearance at the Republican Convention was a commendable display of civic spirit, little bro has more important things to worry about. Like locating his career.
To be fair, the idea behind celebrity stumping is mostly decent: use one's notoriety to promote a cause you believe in, a la the late Christopher Reeve. What the Dansons of the world fail to realize is that notoriety cuts both ways. The enduring image of "Fahrenheit 9/11" wasn't a mother's anguish over her son's death in Iraq, or even Bush's perplexed "My Pet Goat" moment. It was Michael Moore's fat, scruffy, insufferable face. The messenger scuttles the message. And speaking of hirsute Hollywood types: Ron Silver supports Bush. Great. But who the heck is Ron Silver?
If that isn't bad enough, celeb politicos smell funny. They reek of fakery. On the left are the limousine liberals, bleeding hearts who campaign against their own high-income tax bracket. Springsteen writes working man's ballads, "Tunnel of Love" exempted. But the only thing the Boss has in common with Joe Sixpack is a love of jeans and T-shirts. On the right, cowardly conservatives compensate for their jellyfish innards by talking tough. Dennis Miller howls for a muscular American foreign policy -- ironic, given that there's nothing muscular about the once-funny comedian. And that's counting his role in "Bordello of Blood."
Puff Daddy -- er, P. Diddy, Puffy Combs, whatever -- implores us to "vote or die." He wants us to take back our country. Agreed. Why don't we start by taking back every classic song you've sampled and ruined over the last decade?
Years ago, Michael Jordan was asked to endorse the Democratic challenger to incumbent senator Jesse Helms in his home state of North Carolina. Jordan declined, famously noting that "Republicans buy shoes, too." His Airness had the right idea.
When it comes to political campaigns, celebrities are better off staying out entirely -- unless, of course, they're running for Governor of California. In that case, all bets are off.
Patrick Hruby is a sportswriter for the Washington Times.