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Friday, January 21, 2022

Elements of Victory 2020, Part 1: Get the best celebrities

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In 2022 voters will decide who wins in national and state races on what is decidedly not a level playing field thanks to the extraordinarily effective Republican efforts of voter suppression through gerrymandering, cutting back on early voting, and in a few cases shamelessly placing voting sites in the middle of nowhere.

Certainly finding the best candidates is the primary element to winning. I’ll address that issue in the future. I’ll start with an easy topic for what may or may not turn out to be a multi-part series of columns on how I see the element of victory.

Nearly 56% of the U.S. voting-age population voted in the 2016 presidential election, somewhat more than 2012 but less than in the record year of 2008 when Barack Obama worked his magic in 2008. By international standards the United States, supposedly the bastion of democracy, citizen participation in elections as evidenced by voter turnout is dismally low.

Whichever party can make sustainable inroads, even small ones, into the 44% of the population who don’t vote and turn them into reliably Republican or Democratic voters will consistently win elections. Nobody except the candidate himself needs to be reminded that Trump won in a squeaker, losing the popular vote and only winning because of close elections in the rust belt states.

Democrats may blanch at the idea of diminishing the perception that they are the policy party where the message is always more important than the messenger by using celebrities whenever possible.

Democrats thinking they can win with a wonkish policy-oriented candidate should consider Adlai Stevenson. He would have made an excellent president and for those too young to be familiar with him it is worthwhile to learn a little about him.

Even in an ideal world he wouldn’t have beaten Eisenhower when he ran against him and was defeated in landslides in 1952 and 1956, or beaten John F. Kennedy in the primary in 1960, but if he was more telegenic he would have probably done much better. (He was the 5th U.N. ambassador, a position he was well suited for now to be held by a former talk show host.)

The Taylor Swift Effect

It’s now a “thing”

In the lead-up to the 2018 election Tennessee pop and country superstar Taylor Swift made a historic Instagram post to her 112 million followers endorsing Tennessee Democrats Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper who were running for the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. She urged her fans to register to vote. This resulted in 65,000 new registrations in a single day. Even though both of the candidates lost, Swift demonstrated the effect of star power for Democrats in a red state.

Donald Trump had his own personal star power. Although the fact that millions of people find him charismatic is a sad commentary on the taste of a large segment of the population, he did get huge ratings for the various iterations of The Apprentice. He took that appeal and wedded it to a racist xenophobic message aimed at people who felt disenfranchised by society and disrespected by the more educated so-called elite.

Trump didn’t need or want a celebrity to upstage him, a good thing for him because those willing few  Hollywood and Nashville personalities were barely on the C list, if they were on any list at all. Consider Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman, Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, Roseanne Barr, John Voight and a couple of dozen others.

How many of them could urge their a significant number of followers to register actually make the effort to vote?

Most Hollywood A list stars are Democrats and many have made their opinions public. For example Jennifer Lopez, Ellen DeGeneris, Jake Gyllenhall, Bette Middler, Beyonce, Leonardo DeCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Tommy Lee Jones, Alyssa Milano, Bruce Springsteen, Cher, Ben Stiller, 50 Cents, Whoopi Goldberg, Alex Baldwin, Carole King, Kevin Bacon, Barbra Steisand, Brad Pitt, Ashley Judd, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Beto supporter Willie Nelson, and two who could be a dream 2020 ticket, George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey.

Any of these candidates could go on the campaign trail and add luster to rallies. They would increase the airtime given to coverage of rallies for presidential and even vice presidential Democratic candidates. The only possible Democratic candidate being talked about now who brings his own charisma is Beto O’Rourke. All of the rest could use a musical prelude by Beyoncé or, in country music states by Bette Middler, and an introduction by any of the actors on my list. Of course, Beto could actually jam with Willy or “the Boss.”

Some Democratic celebrities are already making their views known, notably Michael Moore and Rob Reiner. Younger voters don’t even know why Rob Reiner once was famous. Nobody who is undecided about whether or not to vote, and about who they are going to vote for, goes to a Michael Moore movie. Both are preaching to the choir and don’t reach a new audience who have yet to form a political allegiance, especially those who will be voting for the first time in 2020 and the under 30’s.

Democrats have tended to be all about substance and message. Bernie Sanders came close to winning the primary, and quite possibly the presidency, based on a message which inspired the younger generation and of course many older progressives. He had his own charisma, certainly different from the charisma of Trump but it was just as powerful. Whether he’d still be a viable candidate is something I will be pondering and writing about in the future.

Hillary had no personal charisma, no star power, but she did have celebrities appear at rallies with her, notably Kate Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, Jon Bon Jovi, and LeBron James (read story and see photos). There are probably others who I couldn’t readily find in a web search.

I haven’t been able to find references to Bernie using well-known celebrities to add glitz and glamour to his rallies (he had actresses Shailene Woodley and Rosario Dawson at a Wisconsin rally), but considering these were for the primaries that isn’t particularly significant. It is the presidential race that counts. I am sure he would have had many A-listers appear with him had he won the primary.

I think that it isn’t too soon for the Democratic National Committee chaired by the uninspiring but hopefully highly competent Tom Perez to begin to line up as many A-list celebrities to campaign for them starting the day the convention selects their next presidential candidate.

There are certainly more crucial factors than using celebrity power to help win an election when the deck has been shamelessly and undemocratically stacked against you by the other party. I will be addressing these in the months ahead.


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