Is Celebrity Love “Marginally Damaging” to Obama?

The two best critiques of the Obama campaign on Thursday, came from  Yuval Levin in the National Review and Andrew Sullivan. Levin wonders if Obama’s campaign could be hurt by its “messianic flavor” and a “culture of cool” that has built up around it. “The traveling revivalist cabaret has certainly helped Obama immensely, and contributed to his electoral strength, but it also carries serious risks for him,” risks that might including alienating the Reagan(McCain?) Democrats he’ll need to win in the fall.

Levin raises a question I’ve been pondering since the Yes We Can vido blew up: is the Oprah-Clooney-Halle Berry celebrity love for Obama at cross-purposes with the campaign’s bottom-up message? This came up this morning during a fascinating chat hosted by the Berkman Center on the aforementioned Yes We Can video. Jesse Dylan, the video’s director, a veteran Hollywood helmer, and the scion of rock royalty, was reluctant to accept that the project’s evident success derives from celebrity-hood. He seemed to suggest that the involvement of Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johannson, Common and (blogger) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in two professionally- produced videos for a musician with five #1 or 2 hits to his name was an accident. (I don’t have notes of Dylan’s comments, Berkman says the video will post soon. Erica George twittered the conversation.) No doubt the songs and videos have been quite effective in rallying support– at least among those already supporting Obama. As someone said today, “the success of the video is that it feels grassroots, even while using celebrity.”

Bruce Springsteen, himself a major celebratory endorser for the first time in 2004, is unsure of the utility of celebs. He pointed out recently that star support “can be marginally helpful sometimes, and if you’re not careful, you can be marginally damaging. I always try to tread carefully.” In line with the Boss, a new study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center argues that endorsements are over-rated. Charle Beckett has related thoughts on pols as celebs.

That said, if The Roots do a concert for Obama while I’m in Philly next month, I’m there.


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