In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton barnstormed the country surrounded (and bankrolled) by the Beautiful People of Hollywood. Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty, Michael Douglas, Michael Eisner, Steven Spielberg - this was the A-list to end all A-lists of celebrity star power. By early 1995, one would have thought by the way they were avoiding him that Clinton had the Ebola virus, he looked to be such a loser politically. With Clinton's fortunes once again reversed, and with the perfect setting for public relations megaexposure, it's rather surprising that such a relatively meager contingent of celebrities showed up for the Democratic convention in Chicago.
Yes, Christopher Reeve was there. So, too, was "registered Republican" Kevin Costner, who proclaimed that "I'm voting for the President. I think he's going in the right direction and I think he's doing a good job." Costner was a double whammy for the Democrats, one of the top movie stars in the business, and a "registered Republican" to boot. One has to assume the Democrats were happier still that no one in the press questioned that label, especially since Costner's been running from it for years. "I registered as a Republican when I was twenty-one. My parents were Republicans," he told Vanity Fair back in 1992. "But as I've gotten older I've questioned my whole conservative background ... I think you should be fair about how you treat people."
Billy Baldwin, brother of Alec and equally liberal, was there, too. The Creative Coalition, on whose board he sits, is a leftist amalgamation of showbiz heavyweights. They were active at both conventions with panel discussions on topics like abortion and campaign finance reform. Baldwin attempted to be everywhere, lending his intellectual firepower to the day's public policy debates, but when given the national spotlight in an interview on CNN, he inexplicably focused on one of the burning issues of ... 1989. "People like Jesse Helms and Phil Gramm and Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich are offended by ... a Mapplethorpe photograph and don't feel the taxpayers' money should be spent on being offended," he droned, "but I don't think it's the government's job to define what's art and what's not art and what's offensive and what's not offensive." (Question: Does this mean that Baldwin believes taxpayers' money should be spent offending taxpayers?)
Aretha Franklin sang the "Star-Spangled Banner," Ted Danson rambled on about the environment on CNN, and Edward James Olmos took to the convention podium only to yell at the delegates for not listening to his speech about something or other. Candice Bergen, Ron Silver, Richard Lewis and a handful of other lesser-known celebrities were on the floor from time to time. But that was about it.
Clinton did have the one entertainment outlet he could rely on for unabashed fawning. MTV had shown some real improvement in correcting its unabashedly pro-liberal slant in its news reports during the GOP convention in San Diego, but in Chicago returned to its old form as fearless cheerleader for Clinton-Gore.
Anchor Tabitha Soren spent her time lauding the Democrats' economic plans while demonstrating how little she knows about economics. There was this gem, straight from the Clinton Who Cares About The Facts Anyway? handbook: "The president pushed through a deficit-reduction plan which has since cut the deficit by one-half. The plan raised taxes on the wealthy and received not one Republican vote."
And then there was this doozy of a question to DNC Chairman Chris Dodd: "The Democrats are running their campaign on fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction, while the Republicans have offered tax cuts. Don't you worry a little bit that voters will say, 'Hey, forget responsibility, let me take the cash?'"
All in all, though, there seemed to be something missing in Chicago.
Various news reports had predicted that Robin Williams would make a major address; he didn't. A Barbra Streisand appearance would have been a natural here; she was a no-show, too. Perhaps it's that this administration's earlier failures on issues like gays in the military and socialized health care have left liberals in Hollywood listless. Maybe Clinton's post-1994 moderate makeover, with support for the V-chip and welfare reform - issues that are pure dynamite within the Hollywood community - has soured this powerful entity's support for the administration.
Whatever the reason, Clinton is not presently relying on this very powerful industry to promote his re-election campaign. And my guess is that as long as he continues to enjoy a double-digit lead, he'll be happy to keep the leftists at arm's length. But should the race tighten, and should Clinton need last-minute reinforcements, this cavalry will be waiting in the wings. All he needs to do to summon them is move back to the left, back in sync with them.