Celebrity Campaigns

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I have a DVD of the inaugural gala for John F. Kennedy, hosted by Frank Sinatra, with appearances by Sidney Poitier, Ethel Merman, Bette Davis, Leonard Bernstein and others. It includes some great music, but the striking aspect of it (other than the non-HDTV black and white picture - hey, I'm spoiled!) is the general reverence held for the Office of the President. There are a few partisan jabs, of course, but it's certainly a celebratory but respectful affair.

And no wonder. As much credit as Bill Clinton received for connecting with an audience ("I feel your pain"), it seems a rare thing to hear a candidate speak, to all appearances, from the heart. Presenting, candidate John F. Kennedy:

The rather clueless insertions of Nixon are made for good effect, but overall, I'd say Kennedy qualified as a Statesmen of first rank, regardless of his other foibles. Campaigns of substance seem to be lacking the last 20ish years, and if we haven't settled into a steady diet of poll-tested sound bites with media spin, it seems that is all that we can get. Thank you, President Kennedy, for a reminder of the way things used to (and ought to) be.

An interesting website is "The Living Room Candidate," from which this video originated, which hosts videos of prior media ads and debates for candidates going back to Ike vs. Stevenson. At a minimum, it's entertaining.

Celebrities, too, it seems, have always had their hands into politics and occupy a portion of the campaign landscape. As a music lover, there's no end to musical artists (Springsteen, Neil Young, Wayne Coyne, John Lennon, ad infinitum) who get out to "Rock the Vote."

I wonder if they feel a certain measure of guilt regarding their fame and wealth, and therefore seek to contribute back to society in some way. In the case of actors, perhaps they search for recognition for their own thoughts rather than as interpreters of others'. But for better or worse, at least they try. Everyone should care.

But some intentions go awry. Actors such as Alec Baldwin miss as often as they hit when ad-libbing, an example being his promise to flee the country should W win the election. W won. Alec stayed, and found himself a nice sit-com to star in to keep his celebrity star shining brightly. Barbra Streisand, Robert Altman, and Eddie Vetter also decided that the U.S. is a desirable place to live, ultimately, despite their threats to leave.

Seriously, is a fan of a particular celebrity, author, or artist supposed to change their own vote because their hero(ine) threatens to leave the country if they don't get their way? That expectation seems rather unlikely, but then, it was never an honest intention to begin with. I would suspect that voters swayed by such would find their convictions mightily tested by, oh, the 21 flavors at Baskin Robbins', which is really much more pleasant diversion than standing in a line and finding out they forgot to register. Again.

I'm sure that partisanship was every bit as strong in 1960 as it is today. Thinking people pay attention to politics and are aware of their own values and beliefs. After a measure of diligence and consideration, they tend to select a "representative" that shares their outlook.

Without a doubt, celebrity endorsements are pop culture fodder. But with the current generation of Alec Baldwins in mind, yesteryear's actors also seemed more Statesman-like in their endorsements.

Nice job, Henry. We miss you.

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