Do celebrity endorsements of political candidates matter? Reviews are mixed on this question, and it will be interesting to see what happens as a result of Oprah Winfrey’s let’s-pull-out-all-the-stops campaign tour for Barack Obama. By all accounts, Oprah is one of the most powerful cultural voices in this era. But even this savvy media maven was reportedly “nervous” in throwing her endorsement to the candidate. What if he loses? Will some of the lustre fade on Oprah’s star? I doubt it. She has stirred the pot of national conversations on just about every conversation imaginable, including numerous taboo topics once only whispered in back rooms. If Oprah can get people to talk about their most intimate personal problems on worldwide television, how could she lose by engaging in a conversation about the most important public topic the nation will face next year — who will be the next president of the United States?
How interesting, though, to see Oprah proclaiming her political faith from stages in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire at the end of the same week when another candidate, Mitt Romney, felt compelled to give a speech proclaiming that his religion would not be a barrier to holding high office. Oprah can tell us who to vote for, but Lord help the candidate whose bishop favors or condemns him or her.
Celebrity endorsements are nothing new, of course; the Clintons are well known for their many Hollywood friends, and the Republican candidates have a slew of more conservative stars promoting their causes. The media also gets heavily involved in the endorsement business; supposedly unbiased media outlets make editorial endorsements close to election day. It’s all part of the great American game of politics, and all part of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates.
Campaigns are fun and frustrating, full of stars and wacky moments and dark horses and long shots and too many half-empty rooms to count. What matters in the end, however, is what each individual citizen does when she or he enters that voting booth. We process all of the information we have received, and then we mark the ballot (or push the button, or throw the lever… just don’t leave your chads hanging!!).
The Oprah factor is good if it helps gain interest for who the candidates are and what they stand for. But when we stand alone at the polls, our responsibility as citizens is to make an independent judgment, based on our assessment of who is best qualified to lead this nation in these very difficult times.