Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The celebrity endorsement game

When I saw the TV commercial with Chuck Norris endorsing Mike Huckabee for president, I nearly wet my pants giggling. Finally, Saturday Night Live has a funny skit again...

One thing though - it wasn't a joke.

When an actual, serious candidate for the White House in an expensive, real ad campaign utters the campaign statement, "There is no chin behind Chuck Norris' beard, just another fist," we have to realize that times have changed.

We don't need endorsements by world diplomats, educators, captains of industry, environmental leaders and the like any more - the race is going to be decided by the celebrities.

That's all we care about anymore anyway, isn't it?

On the second page of the "Register" today, above the minor story of how the nation's elementary school reading performance is rapidly losing ground to the rest of the world, the big, bold headlines tell us who got snubbed on "Dancing With the Stars" and that Christina Aguilera is flaunting her pregnant belly on the cover of "Marie Claire."

You know, the really important news.

So, we apparently have Chucklebee running as a team now. Huck 'n Chuck. Goodness knows we couldn't have made up our minds on our choice for the leader of the free world without the all-important input of Walker Texas Ranger.

So I did a little research last night. Turns out the celebrity endorsements are rolling in faster than a person can keep up with them.

Huckabee has also landed the endorsement of aging professional wrestler Ric Flair. Woooooo. And aging rock star Ted Nugent, who will no doubt lay some "Cat Scratch Fever" on Afghanistan. I'm not kidding.

Hillary Clinton though, has landed Barbra Streisand's nod, and Magic Johnson's, among some 200 endorsements listed on her web site. Pshaw, Mitt Romney has a whopping 350.

Dennis Kucinich has in his camp bad-boy actor Sean Penn and country singer/cannabis enthusiast Willy Nelson.

Rudy Giuliani needs some work in Hollywood - the biggest names he's been packing recently are former Yankee great Yogi Berra, best known for his confused quotes, and Robert Duvall, a fine actor, but no Babs Streisand in terms of name-dropping.

John Edwards has been aligned with Iowa native actor Ashton Kutcher and Dennis Hopper. Not much help there.

Barack Obama - now here is a heavy-hitting celeb endorsement machine. Oprah and Spielberg? Oh my.

So look, I'd pay to see a Jell-O wrestling match between Ms. Winfrey and Ms. Steisand to decide the whole shooting match. The Nature Boy can be the special guest ref, and Willy can warble the National Anthem while Sean Penn beats the snot out of Ashton in the stands.

All of this is, of course, nothing new. Frank Sinatra helped turn the race when he campaigned for John F. Kennedy. Wilt Chamberlain backed Nixon. Jon Bon Jovi was Al Gore's right hand rocker. Comic Jerry Seinfeld was John Kerry's prized pal.

Bo Derek has appeared at the Republican National Convention, and Christie Brinkley at the Democrats'. For 2008, I'm guessing the winning party will be the one that lands the support of the "Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition" covergirl.

I'm told that many of the leading campaigns employ staff members they internally call "celebrity wranglers," who "negotiate" with the stars to try to land their endorsements. Silly me, I remember when the staffers researched issues.

Now, you have to have mixed feelings here.

Anything that gets people interested in the democratic process can't be all bad, and celebrities help generate the cash that keeps campaigns in business.

The fact that chasing celebrities trivializes the most important job in the land is an unpleasant little side effect.

Still, I'm holding out a little longer.

There are a few celebrity endorsements I want to see yet before I make up my mind on this 18-candidate menagerie:

Who's going to land the Jessica Simpson endorsement, sure to pull in the intellectual vote? I haveta know.

Who gets O.J. Simpson's nod for being tough on crime?

Where will Ozzie Ozbourne's endorsement go? And does Ozzy realize what country and year he is in? The Michael Vick endorsement could determine who is the big dog in this race.

Mr. T? "Elliot" from "Scribs?" The cheating ex-NBA ref? K-Fed? Flavor Flav? Bill Shatner? What are they waiting for?

I believe I may cast my vote for the candidate that wins the Geico "Gecko's" endorsement. I like that little gentle guy more than Chuck Norris. He would be a good U.S. ambassador to the Madagascar rain forest.

Ultimately, of course, it will be the endorsement of the monarch of commercial appeal that will decide the race. The next president will be endorsed by the "King" from the Burger King commercials. Mark my word, we are headed in that direction.

An interesting recent survey indicates that 8 percent of respondents say they would be swayed to vote for a candidate endorsed by Oprah. However, 10 percent say they might be swayed to vote against a candidate with the Big O seal of approval.

What do we learn from this? That exactly 18 percent of human beings are very silly creatures with little mind of their own. Get a grip, don't let anyone tell you who to vote for, learn the issues and make up your own mind. When it comes to the ballot box, your one vote is just as tough as Chuck Norris.' But please don't tell Mr. Norris that I said that. Because when Chuck does pushups, the earth goes down.