There’s an ever more blurred distinction between holding the Oval Office and holding a never-ending press junket (Beer Summit, anyone?), and the 2012 Democratic and Republican National Conventions have taken one more troubling step toward turning politics into an endless Hollywood studio event — the celebrity speaker.
This is a new phenomenon: neither party had an actor speak at their 2008 convention.
When Clint Eastwood appeared as a surprise speaker at last week’s RNC, he created newspaper headlines from New York to Seattle, and while not all of the feedback was positive (to put it bluntly, Eastwood’s speech was depressingly incoherent), it clearly generated a lot of publicity for the convention while helping to rebuke the stereotype of liberal Hollywood.
The problem is that Eastwood didn’t say anything of substance. He offered no solutions, vaguely cited faults of the Obama administration and proved that — at least in his old age — he is a terrible public speaker.
He represented the Republican Party while standing behind the Convention’s podium, and did so very, very poorly.
Instead of learning from the Eastwood RNC disaster, the DNC stepped up the movie-star-as-political-speaker race by hosting Scarlett Johansen and Kerry Washington as speakers for Thursday night of the Convention.
Multiple news sites have noted the shameless and advantageous use of female celebrities to appeal to a demographic whose support Obama will need in order to win the election. Likewise, the choice of Eastwood mirrors a strong supporting demographic for Romney: older white males.
So (to take the cynic’s route) it doesn’t matter what the celebrity speakers actually believe or necessarily what they have to say. What matters is the demographic that they represent, and that’s disgusting.
And for the DNC, it doesn’t end with the more high-profile speeches.
Eva Longoria also spoke at the convention, and the event’s livestream coverage was hosted by Olivia Wilde, Fran Drescher, Zack Braff, Aisha Tyler and Alexis Bledel — not by prominent political figures (oh, and the Foo Fighters played a song or two before the Portman/Johansen/Washington speech because they’re extremely relevant and cool in the eyes of the DNC, I guess).
The two political parties wouldn’t rely on Hollywood figures to help spread their messages if the public didn’t pay attention to them, but these celebrities have made their living off pretending to be fictitious characters — so why on earth are we listening to them speak about politics when all that we know of them are lies?
It comes down to the fact that our politicians are celebrities. We see them on our television screens as often as we see any other performer — and while the case can be made that this helps for governmental transparency — appearances such as Obama’s stint on Mythbusters had nothing to do with politics (despite the explanation that it was related to education reform).
And is anyone going to argue that seeing Nancy Pelosi on CNN every night has given the public any greater insight into what our government is actually doing? Probably not.
It’s time that our politicians stop trying to present themselves as performers and start trying to embody the characteristics we hire public officials for; we want them to be wiser, more innovative, better leaders and smarter than the rest of us.
We don’t want them to simply look better on camera than the common person (case study: the rising star of Chris Christie).