Put an end to celebrity endorsements

In an exclusive interview, Sunday, with the BBC, Eminem announced, with characteristic sobriety, his intention to vote for Barack Obama on November 4.

By Tim Murphy

Amid the brouhaha surrounding Colin Powell’s spirited endorsement of Barack Obama Sunday, another endorsement, also by a retired, former American icon, went nearly unnoticed. In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Eminem announced, with characteristic sobriety, his intention to vote for Barack Obama on November 4. Although he qualified his support with the self-evident disclaimer that he doesn’t “know enough about everything to know what’s going on,” the Rabbit was out of the bag.

The support of a man who was once investigated by the Secret Service for rapping about “seeing the president dead” hardly benefits Obama as the Illinois senator tries to disassociate himself from unrepentant terrorist William Ayers. And while Eminem knows a little something about clinging to guns, it’s unlikely he’ll take to the trail in Ohio and Pennsylvania to talk universal health care and middle-class tax cuts.

What the rapper’s October surprise lacks in political significance, it more than compensates for with its outright inanity. Eminem’s endorsement is only the latest in the long line of a remarkably bland and altogether meaningless genre of political theater: the celebrity endorsement.

Already this election cycle, we’ve seen Oprah hit the road with Barack Obama, Chuck Norris open up for Mike Huckabee, and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak heap praise on Fred Thompson (seriously). In December, Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen took to the backroads of New Hampshire to campaign for Dennis Kucinich, and, as I write this, washed-up musicians John Cougar Mellencamp (for Obama) and Hank Williams, Jr., (for McCain) are voicing dueling robocalls for their respective candidates.

With the exception of the Chuck–Huck alliance that helped put Mike Huckabee on the map, none of these endorsements had any real influence on how voters filled out their ballots. And that’s probably as it should be. America may have its flaws, but it’s comforting to know that in 2008, the public support of Donny and Marie Osmond alone isn’t enough to propel Mitt Romney to the White House.

But as harmless as they are to our democracy, celebrity endorsements seriously erode our perceptions of these stars. At civic centers and high school gymnasiums across the Rust Belt, they wander around the stage, out of their element and slightly lost, like a chicken with its head cut off—or John McCain at the town hall debate—to the benefit of no one. It’s the equivalent of seeing Pete Rose sign autographs at a baseball-card convention, or watching Brett Favre try to gut it out for one final season with the Jets.

Suffice to say, anyone who publicly supports Fred Thompson lacks the requisite common sense to stay quiet about such matters, which is why outside intervention is needed. In keeping with the new government policy of assuming the costs of failed enterprises, national icons, like geographical oddities and historic landmarks, should be nationalized to prevent them from corroding over time.

The policy would be fairly straightforward: When a revered icon reaches a certain age or status, for example, they would be provided housing and a stipend with which to continue enjoying a comfortable lifestyle, but their public appearances would be strictly limited. National anthems, parades, and perhaps the odd summer blockbuster or two, would all be within the limits, but VH1 reality programming and off-the-cuff political speeches would not. Schedules would be tightly regulated, with significant government oversight, and the highly arbitrary nature of the selection process would lend itself well to the modern political climate. Instead of dismissing each other as “the biggest celebrity in the world,” as McCain did to Obama, candidates could now debate the merits of various C-list celebrities, to determine which former “Cheers” cast members warrant government oversight.

Or failing that, we can encourage our favorite actors and hip-hop artists to go all in. Following in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eminem could put his name on the ballot and campaign to be the next mayor of Detroit. I can already see the slogan: Run, Rabbit, Run.