The tease on the news last week said, "Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean picks up an important endorsement today." As I sat through two minutes of commercials, I wondered what influential Democrat had endorsed the former Vermont governor. Was it Gore? Clinton? Jimmy Carter? It was none of them. It was apparently someone more important than a mere former president or vice president. The endorsement was that of former actor and current director/producer, Rob Reiner.
Since the candidates are going for '70s television stars this year, I guess we'll soon be seeing a press conference with "Klinger" from MASH, wearing a ball gown as he endorses his favorite candidate. And if these guys are signing up, can "Potsie" be far behind?
Rob Reiner has participated in political and social causes for years. I don't doubt his sincerity or passion anymore than I doubt the commitment of Republican celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger. What I'm concerned about is that in this celebrity-worshiping culture of ours, the importance of star endorsements has risen to an absurd height.
Bo Derek was at the last Republican National Convention, and Christie Brinkley was with the Democrats. Next year, look for both parties to be vying for "Sports Illustrated's" swimsuit model Petra Nemcova.
Celebrities can raise lots of money for candidates, and candidates need lots of money to win. But – and I know this is dangerous to say when it comes to politics -- I don't think it's just about money. For one thing, politicians like to hang around famous people and get some of that Hollywood glitter on their perfectly-coiffed heads. But more cynically, political experts have obviously determined that some people vote for candidates because their favorite stars support them. That's not a good thing, especially in these days of close elections when every vote counts (or, at least it's supposed to).
I'm sure some people voted for Kennedy in 1960 because Frank Sinatra and friends supported him. Some basketball fans probably voted for Nixon in 1968 because Wilt Chamberlain campaigned for him. And now, some people (who probably never heard of him before) are going to vote for Howard Dean just because they liked Rob Reiner when he played "Meathead" on "All In The Family."
We're about to see a signing frenzy as candidates chase after celebrities. Campaigns will start grabbing up people like Bruce Willis, Rick Schroder, Kevin Costner, Mike Farrell, Heather Locklear, Clint Eastwood, Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. After the big celebrities are gone, candidates will have to start settling. We may see Al Sharpton posing with "Newman" from "Seinfeld," or President Bush with "That Guy Who Went Out With Phoebe Once In The Second Season of 'Friends,'" or Dennis Kucinich being endorsed by "The Lady From The Bladder Control Commercial."
And I'm sure political advisers will want to attract young voters. So, we shouldn't be too surprised to see things like Eminem up on a podium, introducing his "dog," Dick Cheney.
With so many candidates -- not just for president, but for lesser positions as well -- you'd think they might run out of celebrities. Don't worry. Today, there's a whole new category of celebrities -- those who have appeared on "reality shows." They're the big stars of this decade, the ones on the covers of magazines and in the gossip columns. And they're the ones who might make a difference in the next election. Think I'm exaggerating? What candidate wouldn't love to have Rudy from the first "Survivor" on board for the campaign?
We can definitely look for all the various "American Idols," "Bachelors," "Bachelorettes," "Millionaires," and "Moles" to be in the next campaign. Actually, the one who's perfect to get involved with a political candidate is that Joe Millionaire guy. After all, he became famous for deceiving people and pretending to be somebody he's not.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.