Just as they did in 2004, Hollywood is lining up to go to the Democratic National Convention next month, even though it’s all but inevitable that the GOP will ridicule Barack Obama’s connections to all the glitz and glamour.
That’s in my next column in the print edition of Variety, which you can read here., or below:
In a Doonesbury strip last week, John McCain’s strategists are beside
themselves trying to come up with a way to fill a stadium for the
candidate’s convention acceptance speech.
The solution: celebrities. But when an event producer checks a list of McCain’s star support, he comes up empty.
McCain’s adviser asks, in frustration, "Could you check again?"
probably not far from the truth, as the Democratic National Convention
is fast becoming a ticket as prized as the Oscars, as much a
destination as Sundance and as much a media moment for "Entertainment
Tonight" and "Access Hollywood" as it is for MSNBC.
Annette Bening, Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee, Rob Reiner and Ben Affleck
are expected. Entertainers as diverse as Kanye West, Melissa Etheridge,
the Black Eyed Peas, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow and Rufus Wainwright
are being lined up for convention-related events in Denver. And cabler
Starz is coordinating a "Green Room," where delegates, celebs and other
VIPs can mingle, watch politically themed movies, and listen to panels
on entertainment and politics.
The only thing missing are gift suites — off-limits due to stringent lobbying rules.
politics as in Newton’s laws of physics, every action brings an equal
and opposite reaction. So it doesn’t take a leap to figure how the GOP
There will be entertainment at the Republican
convention in St. Paul, Minn., but save for an expected heavy lineup of
country stars, it will be tough to compete given Hollywood’s affinity
for Obama and the Democrats. (Current score, according to the Center
for Responsive Politics: $4.4 million for Obama from the showbiz sector
– more than five times McCain’s $757,546.)
But it’s likely the GOP will make hay out of the glitterati that descends on Obama’s night.
January, when Obama and Hillary Clinton engaged in a pre-Super Tuesday
debate, CNN’s cameras zeroed in on an Oscar-like audience of stars that
included Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Reiner and Topher Grace,
earning some ridicule among conservative commentators and reps from the
Republican National Committee.
And on July 22, infamous GOP
attackmeister David Bossie unveiled plans for a new anti-Obama film,
"HYPE: The Obama Effect," with a trailer that casts the candidate
partially as the product of Hollywood hoopla, as Obama dances with
Ellen DeGeneres on her show and Wonder croons the candidate’s name.
("B-A-H-R-A-C-K OH BAH-AH-MAH!).
Even Obama’s speech before an
enthusiastic crowd in Berlin drew a GOP consultant’s snide comment
comparing the candidate to another sensation in Germany: "We don’t want
The message: It’s just too much glitz.
Should Hollywood be really worried that it will become a political punching bag? Maybe not.
as GOP attacks on the industry fell flat in the mid-terms of 2006,
there’s a similar expectation that voters will have other concerns on
their hands than whether Oprah takes the podium. (According to the
Denver Post, she’s been inquiring about hotel rooms).
Democratic conventions of the past, at least one member of the showbiz
contingent has taken grief from conservative pundits; it was Affleck in
2004, Rob Lowe in 1988.
"That is the traditional contretemps
people get into, and I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever,"
says Democratic consultant Bill Carrick. "When gas prices are over $4 a
gallon and the economy is in really bad shape, I don’t think people are
going to pay attention to all that nonsense."
Moreover, if there
is anything that the Obama campaign has proven to be particularly adept
at, it’s crafting messages and images of the candidate at large-scale
events. Just ask the journalists traveling with Obama overseas last
week. They’ve been griping about the campaign’s tight hold. Obama
advisers also have been judicious in deploying celebrity surrogates.
goes without saying that the campaign will make sure that it deploys
similar stagecraft when Obama accepts the nomination on Aug. 28 before
an expected 75,000 people at Invesco Field. Just watch the networks try
to pluck the famous figures out of that crowd.
"I don’t think
anyone thinks this will and should be a ‘Hollywood convention,’ " says
political consultant Chad Griffin. "I expect that if anywhere
celebrities are used in the convention, it will be for an appropriate
purpose and will fit a particular theme."
The Democratic National
Committee has yet to announce the lineup of speakers and entertainment
inside the Pepsi Center — under the guidance of exec producers Ricky
Kirshner and Mark Squier.
But a handful of industry figures are
scheduled to be at the convention as delegates, including Griffin,
actress Erika Alexander, music industry exec Nicole Avant, Wild Brain
CEO Charles Rivkin, former news anchor Giselle Fernandez, producer
Wendy Wanderman and communications exec Sim Farar.
well-known figures from the L.A. entertainment/political scene –
Jeremy Bernard, finance consultant for the Obama campaign, and longtime
party veteran Roz Wyman — are superdelegates. Davis Guggenheim, who
directed "An Inconvenient Truth," is reportedly working on an Obama
film, following in the footsteps of James Moll, Spike Jonze and Harry
and Linda Bloodworth Thomason, who made shorts for past conventions.
Major fund-raisers are working with the campaign in securing hotel rooms — a game of politics in and of itself.
are championing various causes. Bono’s ONE campaign is planning events
for both conventions, as it did in 2004. There’s been some talk that
Jennifer Lopez would co-host a reception with New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson, and that Bruce Springsteen is being pursued for one of the
nights. Laurie David is among those spearheading an environmentally
themed concert called "Green Rocks at Red Rocks" on the Sunday before
the convention, with a lineup that includes Crow, Sugarland and Earth,
Wind & Fire.
The Creative Coalition — a non-partisan org
that advocates for causes, not candidates — will again send
delegations, led by Tim Daly and Kerry Washington, to both conventions.
The Black Eyed Peas will perform at a DNC event; the Charlie Daniels
Band at an RNC shindig.
And the Creative Coalition has
assembled an entourage including Sarandon, Danny Glover, Quentin
Tarantino, Josh Lucas and Rashida Jones to go to the DNC, and is
working on a delegation for the RNC.
"I think ‘the celebrity’ is
being used a lot more in the campaigns this year, but everyone is being
smarter about it," says Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative
Coalition. "The stakes are higher. It is the role of a lifetime and the
supporting cast of a lifetime."
Above, Sean Combs, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.