Celebrities and the presidential election - Jason A. Smith

It's less than a year away. In a mere 11 months, citizens will go to the polls to decide who will lead this country for the next four years.

I don't know if I should be panicking, or not. After all, the 2008 presidential election is looming closer, and I still don't know who I'm going to vote for.

Maybe I just need some good, solid advice from someone whose opinion I trust, someone who knows the issues and how I would be affected by them, depending on who I choose as the next president.

I know what I'll do. I'll find out what the celebrities think. I'll scan the news online and on television and find out who today's best known singers, actors and actresses are supporting, and I'll just follow their lead. Sure, I've never met any of them, and I likely have very little in common with them. But certainly, they have all the answers, right?

I must say, it was hard to write all that with a straight face.

The sad thing is, celebrity endorsements, today, are often given more credence than they deserve. Oprah Winfrey made headlines earlier this year when she announced that she was supporting Ilinois Sen. Barack Obama's bid for the democratic nomination. When an actor like Sean Penn or George Clooney, or a singer like Bono from U2, talks about politically-charged topics, be they domestic or international, it's big news.

But why? What have these celebrities done to warrant my caring what they have to say about anything political? It would be like me telling them how to act, or sing, or produce a talk show.

To further illustrate my point, I'll refer to a recent column written by talk-show host (and celebrity) Pat Sajak. In discussing this very topic, he summed up the issue perfectly when he said, "If any group of citizens is uniquely unqualified to tell someone else how to vote, it's those of us who live in the sheltered, privileged arena of celebrityhood."

He went on to say that it's one thing to purchase a piece of exercise equipment because Chuck Norris endorses it, but quite another to assign more relevance than necessary to the political opinions of celebrities.

Some may say, "You're just bashing celebrities because you disagree with them politically." Whether I agree or disagree with them isn't the issue. I'm not trying to denigrate celebrities, nor am I saying they don't have a right to put their support behind a particular candidate or political agenda. As Americans, they are free to do that if they please, and even if I disagree vehemently with the vast majority of political statements made by celebrities, they have the right to make their views known.

My issue isn't with the celebrities themselves, but with the inordinate amount of attention given to their political endorsements by media who hang on their every word.

Is it interesting to find out who a particular celebrity is supporting for the presidency? Sure. Should celebrities be commended for doing more with their fame than making money from their various projects? Absolutely.

But, I'm pretty sure that when most citizens go to the voting booths next November, they're not going to be thinking about who Winfrey, or Clooney, or Norris, is voting for.

If it isn't going to matter then, why should it matter now?

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.