Today, Alanis Morissette announced a new single. Like Beyonce, Morissette tried out an innovative new way of publicizing it. Instead of just dropping it on the Internet unannounced, however, the famous singer signaled its arrival in a press release from the campaign of Marianne Williamson, an independent running for Rep. Henry Waxman's seat in California's 33rd district -- which happens to be smack dab in the middle of one of the highest concentration of celebrities in the United States.
Williamson explained how her campaign's official song came to be on her Web site.
Several weeks ago, at our Love, Enlightenment and Politics seminar, a woman in the audience asked Alanis Morissette if she would write a song for the campaign. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed, hoping Alanis wouldn't think I'd put her up to it! But Alanis being Alanis, she simply said, "Sure!"
Now, true to her word, Alanis Morissette has produced a masterpiece. I have never heard a song more powerfully describe this moment in our history, or more lovingly call forth our generation's genius from the ashes of our pain. With her inimitable musical alchemy, Alanis has provided an anthem for our audacious quest to get America back on track.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "America's destiny is not Power, but Light." Would he love Alanis, or what?
And here's the song, "Today."
Given that many constituents in the 33rd are celebrities, Morissette is only the latest in a long line of big-name endorsements for Williamson, who told the New York Times' Mark Leibovich when interviewed about her candidacy, “I’m an author. When you’ve written 10 books and have six on the New York Times best-seller list — and four have been No. 1 — I think you have a right to be a member of Congress.”
Nicole Richie has endorsed her.
Eva Longoria has endorsed her.
Jane Lynch has endorsed her.
Will all these endorsements help Williamson win? Probably not. But, they do give us something entertaining to talk about.
Let us consult the political annals to see how celebrities on the trail helped, hindered or did absolutely nothing for a political campaign. (For more on the Fix endorsement hierarchy -- and where celebrity endorsements fit -- check this out.)
Barack Obama is perhaps the reigning champion of celebrity endorsements, as has been noted many, many times. Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am's music video "Yes We Can" -- featuring a few handfuls of singers and actors and sports stars -- is the ur-text of how celebrities do politics in the 21st century.
The video, released shortly before Super Tuesday in 2008, took Obama's concession speech from New Hampshire and built a song around it, spoken and sung by many beautiful people. It was translated into several languages. As the Washington Post reported at the time,
Its creators say the video was an "organic," ad hoc creation, and that they recorded it in two days. Will.i.am, a onetime John Kerry supporter, called filmmakers Mike Jurkovac and Dylan on Sunday, Jan. 27, and told them he had an idea. By that Wednesday, they were crammed in a recording studio in Los Angeles, gathering friends and whomever they could recruit along the way. After the video was recorded, they uploaded it on YouTube and Dipdive.com, and promoted it on ABC News's "What's the Buzz" on Friday.
"It was an exciting experience to be able to contribute not only by recruiting supporters but by artistically collaborating to get the message out," Johansson said in an e-mail. "I think myself and the other contributors hope that the video will inspire supporters, undecideds and people that are unfamiliar with Obama's policies to join his movement for change."
Originally, the filmmakers thought about including images of other yes-we-can moments in American history: King's "I Have a Dream" speech, astronauts walking on the moon, the suffragists marching in the streets. But they decided to confine the images to Obama and the singers on the screen, Jurkovac said.
Choire Sicha, when asked by the Washington Post, said of "Yes We Can,": "I did feel there was something there. It kind of makes me feel soft inside. But that doesn't last. It's like the . . . 'We Are the World' video, which you look at now and it's the most uncool thing ever."
The video has racked up more than 25 million views, but also helped fuel the Barack Obama "Celebrity" backlash, which even made its way into a John McCain campaign ad.
2008 feels like a long time ago, doesn't it.
Reporting on Barack Obama's celebrity endorsement has become so overwhelming, charts and slideshows needed to be deployed in the 2012 election. Studies were conducted to find out how much a celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey -- Obama was her first endorsement ever -- was worth. Right before Election Day, Lena Dunham (of "Girls" fame) starred in an ad asking young voters to join in the patriotic fun.
If you are a celebrity running for office, winning celebrity endorsements and celebrity campaign swag is easy. New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, a former basketball star, won endorsements from Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and other athletes. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who once starred on Saturday Nigh Live, was endorsed by Ben Stein, a conservative comedian. Scroll down to #3 to see the many celebrities who endorsed actor Ronald Reagan.
2. Meat Loaf
Mitt Romney wasn't completely without the support of powerful people in pop culture. During an Ohio rally in October 2012, '80s rocker Meat Loaf told 12,000 Romney supporters, “The man needs to understand Putin and Russia. So I want you to know that there is one man who will stand tall in this country and fight the storm and bring the United States back to what it should be – Governor Mitt Romney!”
In an alternate reality somewhere in the universe, Meat Loaf is President Romney's secretary of state.
Mitt Romney was the first politician Meat Loaf ever endorsed. However, a number of perennial Republican rally figures also joined in, including Jon Voight, Chuck Norris and Donald Trump. Ted Nugent endorsed Romney, but the Romney campaign chose not to advertise this fact after Nugent mentioned chopping Democrats' heads off during a National Rifle Association event.
3. Mary Tyler Moore
In 1980, comedian Mary Tyler Moore endorsed President Jimmy Carter, saying he had done more to help women than any previous president. She was far from the only star choosing sides in the 1980 presidential election. As Mental Floss described the race,
The 1980 presidential election was so chock full of stars, it threatened to overshadow the actual politics involved. In incumbent Jimmy Carter's corner was a greatest hits album of country and western stars: Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels and Johnny Cash all put on concerts and supported the southern Democrat. Carter also had the star power of Mary Tyler Moore, Muhammad Ali, Roberta Flack, Dionne Warwick, Neil Simon, Lee Majors, and Elizabeth "Bewitched" Montgomery on his side. But it evidently wasn't enough. Former actor Ronald Reagan won, with a celebrity line-up that read like a Christmas special in Vegas: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Pat Boone, Wayne Newton, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, as well as James Cagney and Robert Stack (Unsolved Mysteries!)
Before Carter took the Democratic nomination, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (he of the Chappaquiddick scandal) was also in the running. And he too had no dearth of Hollywood friends, including Warren Beatty, Angie Dickinson, Goldie Hawn, Martin Sheen, Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon and Shelly Winters. Other candidates who time has forgotten also boasted all-star lists of endorsements: Paul Newman, Norman Lear, Jason Robards, Ed Asner, Margot Kidder and James Taylor supported John Anderson, while Helen "I Am Woman" Reddy and Linda Rondstadt both lifted their voices to support Jerry Brown.
Although Frank Sinatra supported Reagan in 1980, he had supported John F. Kennedy 20 years earlier. Sinatra's daughter has said that her father helped Kennedy get the labor vote through his ties to the Mafia. Sinatra also helped Reagan campaign when he was governor of California in 1970. The New York Times reported at the time,
It's all a part of the game that California campaign managers play and it makes them act like autograph hunters on Academy Award night as they gather "celebrity endorsement lists" to be augmented at intervals during the summer doldrums before autumn brings the campaign to life.
Mr. Sinatra, whose decision to join the Reagan camp was quickly seconded by his sidekick, Dean Martin, provides more potential substance with his endorsement than most actors; generally, they have a smaller political following than a janitor at the Chicago City Hall.
Every politician who didn't start their career in California and still managed to win a celebrity endorsement can thank the state for starting the fad. It's doubtful that an important California election has ever concluded without a reporter first tallying up the star wattage on either side of the race.
One of the most tireless Californians exporting his endorsements is Jon "Bowser" Bauman, of Sha Na Na fame. He is a connoisseur of the special election celebrity endorsement. He campaigned for Elizabeth Colbert Busch in South Carolina, Mark Critz in Pennsylvania and Kathy Hochul and David Weprin in New York.
4. Clint Eastwood
In 2012, the organizers of the Republican National Convention were hoping that a surprise prime-time speech from former mayor and vanquisher of bad guys Clint Eastwood was the perfect way to get lots of publicity for the event. They were right. Eastwood's speech gave them mountains of publicity. Just not the kind they wanted.
Eastwood's live interview with an invisible President Obama inspired a meme.
According to Lexis-Nexis, the incident led to at least 1,000 articles or cable news conversations.
Unfortunately, it did not help Mitt Romney get a single vote.
5. Willie Nelson
Country singer Willie Nelson has endorsed so many politicians that Salon even made a timeline of his many electoral moments. He isn't very skilled at picking winners. During the 2012 presidential candidate, he endorsed former New Mexico governor and libertarian Gary Johnson. A few days later, he retracted his endorsement, saying it was too soon for him to pick someone (it was May 2011), and anyway, if he did pick, it would be Dennis Kucinich.