Deal or No Deal?
OBAMA'S their DEAL!
By Paul Bond
ong before Sen. Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee for the highest office in the land, megastar actor George Clooney spoke as if he had witnessed Obama walking on water.
"He possesses the one quality you cannot teach, you cannot learn, which is he is a leader," Clooney gushed. "He walks into a room and you wanna follow him somewhere."
Clooney went on to tell PBS host Charlie Rose, "I think he's the most charismatic person I've been in a room with in a long time."
That level of effusive praise for Obama has been echoed by the glitterati ever since. Hollywood's pro-Obama passion is so strong now that it appears voters should brace themselves in the months ahead for an unprecedented onslaught of Hollywood campaigning and fundraising the likes of which have never been seen.
Of course, Hollywood backed Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. But this time there's an air of urgency that has all of Hollywood so completely focused on electing Barack Obama that many stars appear willing to put their careers on the backburner if that's what it takes to win the White House.
Oprah Winfrey's fundraiser for Obama at her Santa Barbara-area estate was one of the biggest events of the primary season, and helped cement Obama's position as a credible challenger to Sen. Hillary Clinton. It raised a whopping $3 million for the junior senator from Illinois.
When Winfrey endorsed Obama, she angered many of her fans who were supporting Clinton, to say nothing of the less-vocal Republicans who regularly watch her show. Following the endorsement, her ratings declined, as did network ratings generally following the writers' strike. Her commitment to Obama hasn't wavered, however.
Steven J. Ross, the USC History Department chairman who's writing a book on the influence of stars on politics, says Winfrey could be a difference maker in the general election because of her ability to increase the turnout among women voters.
"In the last two elections," Ross says, "if you could increase voter turnout by just 1 or 2 percent, that would be enough to swing the election. Oprah is the only celebrity who could actually potentially swing an election.
"The other stars matter more, in a sense, for their money than for their celebrity because their endorsements could trigger a backlash."
The demographic most likely to rebel against an onslaught of pro-Obama celebrity endorsements, Ross says: this year's all-important independent voters.
"It might hurt him with the independents," says Ross. "Those voters are going to want to know why celebrities are endorsing him."
Celebrities are aware that singing Obama's praises might trigger a backlash against him, but they just can't help themselves. They want to make history by helping to elect in as public a fashion as possible the first African-American president. Already the star-studded roster of Obama donors includes Clooney, Will Smith, Jennifer Aniston, Winfrey, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame, model Cindy Crawford, and singer Harry Connick Jr., to name just a few.
So get ready, America. Get ready for pre-recorded celebrity phone calls, music videos, concerts, the fawning and impassioned introductions of Obama by celebs at campaign rallies, impassioned pleas on late-night talk shows, and lots and lots of ads. You'll see and hear the commercials on TV, radio, and via the Internet, from actors, musicians, directors, producers, and others.
Whether Hollywood can help deliver a win for Obama remains to be seen. Increasingly, Americans say that the political opinions of celebrities mean little to them and, in some cases, that they're less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by an actor.
Celebrity endorsements could be especially problematic for Obama, a relatively unfamiliar candidate. Democrat political consultant Dan Gerstein, who helped engineer Sen. Joe Lieberman's 2006 re-election victory, warns that stars could complicate Obama's efforts to define himself for voters.
"At this point," he says, "what most swing voters know about Obama is that he is young, black, gives a great speech, has a crazy preacher. And if they know more, it's that he thinks blue-collar voters cling to guns and God out of bitterness and that he doesn't like to wear a flag pin. All of which makes him look elitist and unpatriotic. So in that context, running around with a bunch of out-of-touch celebrities, especially in the next couple months, is probably not in his best interests."
Obama will happily accept their money, however, now that he's spurned public campaign financing. In June, he raised more than $5 million at a star-studded event headlined by the Grammy Award-winning artist Seal at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Among the A-listers in attendance: Dennis Quaid, Don Cheadle, and Samuel L. Jackson.
So will Hollywood's elites be able to put the first African-American candidate over the top and into the White House? Will there be a backlash against Left Coast elitism? Will Obama be able to win over voters even as pampered celebs laud him 24/7 on talk shows between now and November?
It sounds like suspense worthy of a Hollywood movie: A plot to pick the next president of the United States of America.
So stay tuned, and watch these celebs in particular.
Ode to Obama: "Leading up to him clinching the nomination, the sense was: Is America really going to let him do this?" Cusack said while in the U.K. recently. "That's what I kept hearing here in England. So there seemed to be a euphoria about it."
Pet causes: He'll push for withdrawal from Iraq. Probably best known for his wild accusations against the Bush administration, which he calls "depressing, corrupt, unlawful, and tragically absurd."
Credentials: Dropped out of New York University after one year. Cites as a major influence Philip Berrigan, a 1960s radical once accused of plotting the kidnapping of Henry Kissinger.
Campaign impact: He seems less interested in promoting Obama than he is in attacking Republicans, which he does often on venues such as MSNBC. Aligned with MoveOn.org, he cut a series of commercials comparing President Bush with presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
Ode to Obama: "I think he's the best candidate I've ever seen. I really do."
Pet causes: Environmentalism and saving the people of Darfur. The latter he does in part through Not On Our Watch, an organization also supported by Brad Pitt and fellow Obama enthusiast Matt Damon.
Credentials: Attended two colleges, but didn't graduate from either. Tried out for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team in 1977, but didn't make the first cut. Although he's a pro-labor liberal, Clooney quit the Writer's Guild of America after the union refused to give him a writing credit on Leatherheads, a movie he directed, produced, and starred in. When Democrats tried to recruit him as a political candidate, he said: "Run for office? No. I've slept with too many women, I've done too many drugs, and I've been to too many parties." Has been known to engage in planning sessions for liberal activism with the likes of Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and Gore Vidal.
Campaign impact: Clooney's image appears on a "union-made" $5 campaign button along with his Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve co-stars Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. The button reads: "Oceans of Support For Obama." While Clooney never shies away from promoting Obama when asked about politics, he's also savvy enough to realize Americans are often put off by celebrity activism, so he has stated he'll help Obama any way he can, "even if that means staying away."
Ode to Obama: "My heart belongs to Barack, and that is who I am currently, finally, engaged to."
Pet causes: Supports U2 lead singer Bono's push for more U.S. money to help fight AIDS, hunger, and poverty around the globe.
Credentials: Dubbed "Sexiest Celebrity" by Playboy magazine in 2007, she says monogamy is overrated.
Campaign impact: Johansson says she trades personal e-mails with Obama almost daily; he denies it. However, his camp reportedly sent out her automated calls on the candidate's behalf during the primaries, so don't be surprised if you receive a robotic phone call from her later this year. One of several celebs to appear in the "Yes We Can" music video. She even campaigned door-to-door for Obama in Minnesota.
Ode to Obama: "I think a lot of the problems in the world would be mitigated if he were the face of our country."
Pet causes: Like so many other celebrity backers of Obama, he's active in the One Campaign and Not On Our Watch. He also founded the H20 Africa Foundation to raise awareness of the lack of clean water in parts of that continent.
Credentials: In 2007, People magazine named him the Sexiest Man Alive. Attended Harvard University but did not graduate. With Ben Affleck, he won an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting.
Campaign impact: In interviews, he talks up Obama often, although he'll usually wait until he is asked about politics. With Affleck, he promoted a MoveOn.org "Obama in 30 Seconds" contest that encouraged amateurs to submit their best pro-Obama videos. Damon, Affleck, actor Adrian Grenier, singer John Legend, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were judges.
Ode to Obama: "I think he has really taken over Los Angeles in a really sort of dramatic fashion."
Pet causes: Affleck is more obsessed with environmentalism than most actors. Also, he and pal Matt Damon are primary celebrity supporters of the A-T Children's Project, dedicated to fighting ataxia-telangiectasia, a degenerative brain disease. After months of participation in a rigorous get-out-the-vote campaign eight years ago for former vice president Al Gore, Affleck didn't bother to vote, according to TheSmokingGun.com.
Credentials: When describing Democrats who aren't sufficiently anti-war, he has the ability to drop the F-word three times in 22 seconds, as he did on Real Time with Bill Maher. A friend since childhood of fellow Obamamaniac Matt Damon and married to another, Jennifer Garner. In 2004, he won the California State Poker Championship, earning $356,000 in prize money. Won an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Damon. Graduated from a Malibu alcohol rehabilitation clinic in 2001. Has expressed an interest in running for political office someday.
Campaign impact: While he touts Obama every chance he gets, Affleck has toned down his partisan activism a notch. His outspoken support for Al Gore and John Kerry did not appear to benefit their candidacies.
Ode to Obama: "Barack to me is a change, you know. It's time for a change. You know, anything would be better than Mr. Bush. You know, I, you know, Bush. My God!"
Pet causes: Helped launch RED, which raises money for women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. Is also a UNICEF ambassador and a supporter of Artists for a New South Africa.
Credentials: Known for his liberal use of "the N-word," earning him a rebuke from Bill Cosby and others. Hosted the 77th Academy Awards show in 2005. Says it's "too much" to expect him to act like a role model. Has been awarded two Emmys and a Grammy.
Campaign impact: He recorded phone calls for Obama, and has introduced him during appearances, but the raunchy performer is careful not to overdo it. "I have a mild case of comedic Tourette's," he said. "It's so easy for me to say the wrong thing, so I don't want to hurt the guy."
Ode to Obama: "I so love what he stands for and respect him so much that when I met him, I was a bit shaky."
Pet causes: Active in raising money for diabetes. Co-hosted this year's 15th Annual Entertainment Industry Foundation Revlon Run/Walk for Women, which raises money for research on cancers that primarily attack women.
Credentials: Was crowned Miss Ohio USA in 1985 and was runner-up in the Miss USA pageant. Was the first African-American to win a best actress Oscar. Pled no contest and was sentenced to three years probation after she left the scene of a car accident before police arrived. On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, she once made a joke about Jews having big noses, although at her request the offensive comment was later obscured through editing.
Campaign impact: She said she's willing to "collect paper cups off the ground to make his pathway clear" to the presidency. Made a huge splash for wearing an eye-popping T-shirt with Obama's image on it, and joined a phone bank to make calls on Obama's behalf.
Ode to Obama: After Norton heard Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he said: "We were all so struck by Barack's speech and talked about how exciting it was to see someone from our generation not our parents' make his presence felt in such an inspiring way. It was akin to the way I remembered my dad describing how he felt when Kennedy gave his inauguration speech."
Pet causes: A long-time environmentalist, Norton conducted an online chat to answer questions about global warming. Was a staunch supporter of disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Credentials: Earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University. Learned to speak Japanese while working at his grandfather's company in Osaka, Japan. Twice broke off engagements to get married, once to Courtney Love and once to Salma Hayek.
Campaign impact: Norton gained early access to Obama's campaign long before he was considered a likely nominee when he began production of a documentary about the candidate. The movie, though, isn't scheduled for release until next year. In the meantime, Norton's strategy apparently is to heap praise on Obama during every interview he does about the movie.
Ode to Obama: "I'm voting for Barack Obama not because he's black, I'm voting for Barack Obama because he is brilliant."
Pet causes: Almost too many to name, though helping the poor in Africa has been a primary theme and she founded Oprah's Angel Network, which has raised more than $50 million. She has personally given about $303 million to charities, making her one of America's 50 most generous philanthropists, according to BusinessWeek magazine. Oprah has financed the college education of 250 black men, and with $40 million of her own money she founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.
Credentials: Obama said Winfrey "may be the most influential woman in the country." Forbes magazine named her the world's most powerful celebrity in 2005, 2007, and 2008. She became a self-made millionaire at age 32, and now at 54 is worth about $2.5 billion. Was voted "most popular girl" in high school, and through an oratory contest earned a scholarship to Tennessee State University. Also won the Miss Black Tennessee pageant when she was 18.
Campaign impact: "If he wants me to, I'm ready to go door-to-door," Winfrey said. She's done just about everything else, including talking about him so much that many fans of her TV show complained. She also appears at campaign stops with Obama, delivers speeches on his behalf, introduces the candidate to the richest and most powerful people in the entertainment industry, and raises millions of dollars for him. Before he had made his decision clear, Winfrey urged him to run for president on her TV show in October 2006. Obama is the first presidential candidate she publicly endorsed.
Ode to Obama: "I think he's what the future of America is going to be. Barack represents what I feel is the future of the optimum survival of America."
Pet causes: Hosted an all-star concert in South Africa that raised $1.6 million for Nelson Mandela's AIDS and HIV awareness fund. Donated money to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Credentials: He's a supporter of Scientology, although not a member of its church. Earned millions as a rapper in the 1980s, but nearly went bankrupt with a $2.8 million tax debt in the early 1990s before landing the lead role in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That TV sitcom catapulted him to fame and led to a lucrative film career. Has expressed sympathy for the conspiracy theory touted by Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright that the U.S. government created the AIDS virus to kill people.
Campaign impact: Smith and Obama have discussed the possibility of Smith playing him, if a movie were ever made of Obama's life. There are no such plans at the moment. He says he phoned Obama "and asked him to tell me wherever you think you need me."
Ode to Obama: "He has the integrity and the inspiration to unify us as did FDR and Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy and even Ronald Reagan when they ran for the job."
Pet causes: The environment, space exploration, and World War II veterans. Was national spokesperson for the World War II Memorial Campaign, honorary chairperson for the D-Day Museum Capital Campaign, and is a board member of the nonprofit National Space Society.
Credentials: As a teenager, was a peanut vendor at The Oakland Coliseum. Dropped out of college. Won best actor Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. With his wife Rita Wilson, produced My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In 2002, at the age of 45, he became the youngest recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. Was made an honorary member of the U.S. Army Rangers Hall of Fame for his portrayal of Capt. John Miller in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Played Congressman Charles Wilson, an anti-Communist Democrat, in last year's Charlie Wilson's War.
Campaign impact: While he doesn't like to publicly discuss partisan politics, he made an exception with an online video in praise of Obama that begins with the disclaimer, "Beware: Celebrity Endorsement."
Robert De Niro
Ode to Obama: "Finally, one person has inspired me. One person has given me hope. One person has made me believe that we can make a change. That person is Barack Obama."
Pet causes: Joined Woody Allen and others in a 2003 campaign to encourage American tourists to visit France. Lobbied Congress against impeaching President Bill Clinton and narrated 9/11, a documentary about the role firefighters played during the terrorist attacks.
Credentials: Dropped out of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art in New York at age 13 and joined a street gang. Awarded an Oscar for best supporting actor for The Godfather, Part II even though he spoke no English in the role (he spoke Sicilian). Won the best actor Oscar for portraying boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. Appeared in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
Campaign impact: De Niro could help Obama's credibility problem among older blue-collar workers. He appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews with Matt Damon. Later, he gave what he called his first-ever political speech on behalf of Obama, standing behind a podium emblazoned with the slogan, "Change we can believe in."
Ode to Obama: "He's a combination of JFK and Martin Luther King. With that, he can't lose."
Pet causes: Performed in the star-studded We Are the World, with proceeds from the song going for famine relief in Ethiopia. Donated the proceeds from his song Shelter in the Rain to The Wonder Foundation to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. Along with musicians Bono, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, and others, he supports Witness, a group that uses video and Internet technology to educate the public about human rights abuses.
Credentials: Has won 25 Grammy Awards, a lifetime achievement award, and an Oscar for best song. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Campaign impact: Sang his praises for Obama at a UCLA rally that starred Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. His songs Sir Duke and Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours are often played at Obama rallies.
Ode to Obama: "It's like when you go to get a drink you get a Coke because you don't know any better. Well, if you take orange juice and mix it with a little seltzer you get the same effect and it's good for you. And that's Obama he's good for this country, they just may not know it yet."
Pet causes: Founder of Artists for a New South Africa.
Credentials: Graduated from Boston University. She's the most-honored black actress in the history of the Primetime Emmys, having won four times while being nominated on 13 occasions.
Campaign impact: Woodard has been an active presence on the campaign trail, and has already stumped for Obama in South Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, and elsewhere. She recorded automated phone calls on his behalf, and has also organized fundraisers, including a high-profile party for 250 women held at a posh home in Brentwood. Of Obama she said, "He's insightful, he's balanced, he's inspiring."
Ode to Obama: He has been most effective not when talking up Obama, but when talking down his opponent in the Democratic primary race: "Everybody in politics lies," he said of Hillary and Bill Clinton. "But they do it with such ease, it's troubling."
Pet causes: Openly gay, Geffen supports several gay activist groups and organizations researching cures for HIV/AIDS. Gave $200 million to the UCLA Medical School, which has since been renamed the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Credentials: Started his entertainment career in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency, and then quit to become personal manager to such upstart musicians as Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Founded Asylum Records in 1970, Geffen Records in 1980, and in 1994 co-founded the DreamWorks SKG film studio with partners Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Once taught business courses at Yale University. Now worth $6 billion, Geffen is one of the richest men in the entertainment industry.
Campaign impact: While all three are now on board, Geffen was the first of the DreamWorks partners to announce his support for Obama. The trio raised $1.3 million at an event they hosted at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and at Geffen's mansion. Look for them to host at least one more fundraiser before the November election.
Hill Will Chill; Her Showbiz
Backers to Back Barack
If Hollywood were to award a star on the Walk of Fame to its all-time favorite political couple, the honor would no doubt go to ahem, the envelope, please Bill and Hillary Clinton.
For nearly two decades, the husband-and-wife team from Little Rock, Ark., has reigned supreme when it comes to raising Hollywood cash. All that changed, however, when an up-and-comer named Barack Obama rode into town, dazzling Hollywood's glitterati with some pretty impressive charisma of his own.
Indeed, Obama's broad smile, good looks, friendly demeanor, and left-leaning politics seem suspiciously close to central casting's ideal for a presidential candidate, especially from the Left Coast's point of view.
However, here is a potential bump in the road to the White House for the junior senator from Illinois to win, he has to coax Hillary's disappointed Hollywood backers to throw their support to him. Given the long and contentious primary season, mending those fences may require a plot worthy of Hollywood.
Obama has already made inroads. First, he received pledges of support from former Clinton backers Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles and a Clinton national co-chair; Rob Reiner, the film director; and Ron Burkle, a close Clinton friend known for feting Hollywood's beautiful people at his Beverly Hills manse. Second, Obama has enlisted the help of director Steven Spielberg, who gave Hillary his endorsement last year, but now has agreed to hold a fundraiser for the Illinois senator.
Perhaps most significantly, Obama persuaded one of the biggest names in Hillary's camp, Barbra Streisand, to sing at a future Obama fundraiser. Streisand is expected to help win women and Jewish voters to Obama's cause.
As those recruitments suggest, experienced politicos maintain it's only a matter of time before the rest of Hillary's Hollywood faithful transfer their allegiance to Obama.
"For most activist types," says veteran political communications consultant Dan Gerstein, who helped return Sen. Joe Lieberman to office in 2006, "once the dust settles from the primaries, and the wounds begin to heal up, I have to think that beating the Republicans will trump personal loyalty or animus on the motivational pecking order."
University of Southern California historian Steve J. Ross, who closely follows the impact of celebrities on politics, agrees that Hillary's backers will return to the Democratic fold.
"I don't think they will hold back their support for Obama," Ross tells Newsmax. "They may hold back in their public pronouncements, but they will still give Obama money because in the end they'll continue to be party loyalists."
David A. Patten