The Democratic Party converged on Boston last week for their convention, with all the traditional spectacles intact. The delegates, guests and reporters were witness to the usual roll calls, speeches and ceremonies. However, it was not all business. In between speeches, the convention-goers were entertained by performances from such diverse acts as Brian McKnight (who performed the National Anthem), the Black Eyed Peas, and Wycliff Jean (whose song “Jaspora” is a favorite of former candidate Howard Dean) (1). In addition, there were many other celebrities in attendance, including actor Ben Affleck, director Rob Reiner, and controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, who sat with former President Jimmy Carter.

As long as there has been an entertainment industry, celebrities have been active in using their platforms to address the political process. This has had both positive and negative impact on both respective parties. On one hand it is understandable that politicians would want the extra “dazzle” of celebrity presence at their gatherings. As we discussed in class, Clorox Bleach has a higher approval rating among the American people than do political parties. Therefore, making the conventions into star-studded galas can help bring diversion to this.

However, there is also another side to the coin. Most celebrities are not trained political annalists, and many take very extreme approaches to politics. This has been quite evident in the recent “Bush Bashing” sessions done by numerous celebrities. USA Today reporter William Keck gives us some vivid examples:

A refreshing change in attitude comes from the afore-mentioned Ben Affleck. Although an outspoken liberal and Kerry supporter, Affleck showed a gentlemanly objectiveness at the Convention when he shared his views with Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly:
…And I don't have (sic) no interest in demonizing anybody. I think when you demonize your political opponent, you do yourself a disservice because you stop talking about what's important, what they're really doing, and you make it about (sic)— and all these attacks…Bush is patriot and he’s a man who believes in the country. He's trying to further an agenda he believes in. I happen to disagree with most of his policies, but I respect the man. (5)

Regardless of one’s political persuasion, I’m sure most would agree that this will be one of the most emotionally charged Presidential campaigns in history. While it is debatable how much impact celebrities may have on the actual political process, they make their voices impossible to ignore. In fact, there have been instances in which celebrity endorsement has done a candidate more harm than good. An example would be Michael Moore’s endorsement of Wesley Clark during the primaries, which some feel was the reason Clark’s campaign failed a short time afterwards. Similarly, Democratic nominee John Kerry has received some criticism for saying that the aforementioned Bush-bashing stars represented “the heart and soul of our country” (6). Time will tell what impact this will have on his campaign, if any.

It will be interesting to see which stars will come out for the Republican convention next month. Although to my knowledge, the only confirmed celebrity is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, there will no doubt be many others in attendance. Although the liberal stars seem to get the most press coverage, there are many celebrities that identify themselves as conservative and/or Republican. A short list would include actors Charleton Heston, Tom Selleck and Bruce Willis, actress Bo Derek, country music stars Lee Greenwood, Darryl Worley and Martina McBride, rock star Ted Nugent, and numerous others.

In conclusion, we have come a long way sine the days when celebrities were blacklisted by the government for having controversial political views (although admittedly, I think it would be entertaining to see Michael Moore in front of HUAC). It is a risky thing for a public figure to take stands on controversial issues. As Americans, we are free to either agree or disagree with their positions, and when necessary, we can speak out in response through letter writing, boycotting or numerous other means. The right to freely express our ideas, as well as the right to challenge the ideas of others, is a vital part of this wonderful experience we call America.