The Shadow of Celebrity

Guest: Meredith McGehee, Executive Director, Alliance for Better Campaigns As I watched the convention last night, what struck me is how the culture of celebrity has overtaken every aspect of modern American life. And this culture of celebrity is now mutually reinforced by television and the political parties. Television types like to air celebrities because it makes for better ratings – their holy grail. Knowing that television exposure is the key way to communicate our 21st Century America, party leaders are eager to offer celebrities so they can get on television and in turn get their “message” out. Thus, we are see the two biggest Republican celebrities lead off the first two days convention -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain.

And for those of us who are actually watching the conventions on the non-broadcast channels (Public Television, CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, etc.), we are also treated other celebrities – football player Jason Seahorn with his actress wife Angie Harmon and actor Ron Silver among them. At the Democratic convention, we got actress Glen Close in a speaking role and a large entourage of other actors and musicians, with former President Clinton the only real political celebrity to match Schwarzenegger.

In short, celebrity has become a substitute for substance. How can we expect a campaign marked by “grace” when the popular culture feeds on crass exploitation (Fear Factor, The Apprentice, etc.) and the political culture rewards craven, poll-driven policies or knee-jerk patriotism that squelches debate?