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Beware of Celebrity Political Endorsements

On his MySpace page, actor Tom Hanks recently posted a video titled “Beware: Celebrity Endorsement.” As he led up to whom he is endorsing for president (guess who?), Hanks said in the video, “As an official celebrity, I know my endorsement has just made up your mind for you.”

While I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek attitude of this talented actor, at the end of the day he remains … a talented actor, someone who makes millions of dollars entertaining others. Like any American, he is entitled to shout his political preferences to the rooftops. But only in Hollywood can it be that someone who is not an expert in anything, but makes a living pretending to be an expert in everything, would think that his endorsement might actually sway the opinions of the masses. And you know he hopes he will — otherwise, why bother posting the video at all?

We’re used to seeing celebrities endorse everything from soft drinks to deodorant to denture paste. Certainly their familiar faces catch the eye of unwary consumers (Drew Barrymore wears Cover Girl makeup? Quick, I have to get to CVS!) and may possibly convince them to give the product a try. Unfortunately, voting for president isn’t the same as buying a new lipstick. If you don’t like him, you can’t just toss him into the trash or pass him on to someone else while you try another brand. You and America are stuck with him — and his policies — for at least four years.

“Caveat emptor” takes on an entirely new meaning.

What’s also interesting is that while celebrities have no problem endorsing a wide variety of products as long as the price is right, that love of variety takes a sharp nosedive when it comes to politics. There should be a new sign put up under the famous “Hollywood” sign: “Liberalism or Else.” And those Tinseltown luminaries who might harbor conservative tendencies tend to keep them under wraps if they want to get hired for anything other than an infomercial for the next useless exercise machine-cum-clothes rack.

There are some celebrities who aren’t afraid to speak out as conservatives: Bruce Willis, Dennis Miller, Chuck Norris, and the late great Charlton Heston, to name a few. But for the most part, they keep mum about their political views for fear of being shunned socially and professionally. Hey, even those who prefer caviar to store brand macaroni and cheese still gotta eat!

A recent quote from Robert Downey, Jr., whose new movie Iron Man is already box office gold, touches on what may perhaps be a relatively new political outlook for him and the reason behind it:

I have a really interesting political point of view, and it’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here, but you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal. You can’t. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else, but it was very, very, very educational for me and has informed my proclivities and politics ever since.

Does he really consider himself a conservative now? Or is he just a tad to the right of someone like Michael Moore? The jury’s still out. But the fact that he doesn’t like to mention his newfound “proclivities and politics” while dining at Spago is certainly telling about the stifling political atmosphere in Hollywood.

“You will assimilate. Resistance is futile.” Sorry, had to throw that in there.

Do bear in mind that many of these folks constantly refer to the days of “blacklisting” and “McCarthyism.” (Read this interesting Libertas post from 2005 for a bit more on this topic.)

In an op-ed column written in the days after the 2004 election, George Will declared:

In 2000, Americans were reminded that electoral votes select presidents. In 2004, Democrats were reminded that Bruce Springsteen does not.

John Kerry had the Hollywood vote wrapped up: Michael Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Affleck, Martin Sheen, Chevy Chase, Barbra Streisand, and Sean Penn were among the big names gunning for Kerry. But in the end, those high-flying endorsements didn’t add up to a hill of beans. Americans went with their gut and re-elected George W. Bush.

So when it comes to celebrity endorsements — no matter who they’re shilling for, liberal candidate or conservative — appreciate them for what they are. But do your own homework on the candidates and vote your gut. After November 4, those same pampered actors, singers, and television hosts will go back to their lofty perches, far from the madding crowd whose opinions they seemed to care about for a few short months in 2008.

Pam Meister is the editor of FamilySecurityMatters.org (the opinions she expresses here are her own), and her work has also been featured on American Thinker.