On Election Day 2000, as then-first lady Hillary Clinton was on the brink of winning election to the U.S. Senate, her campaign held a rally at Buffalo State College in western New York. Clinton "romped on to the stage to pump her fists to the live music of the rock band 10,000 Maniacs," according to a report from the London Independent, the not-very-rockin' band having performed at Bill Clinton's 1993 inaugural. (Dennis Miller, of all people, introduced them there as "Chelsea's favorite band.")
Clinton had a number of surrogates help make her last-minute push to the polls. Sen. Chuck Schumer was there, as was Doug Flutie, the popular Buffalo Bills quarterback who had his own line of cereal. And Bill Cosby was there.
"This is another joke we are going to play on Hillary," Cosby told the crowd, according to the New York Times. "We are going to vote her into office. She wants it, she is going to get it."
Clinton was not the only candidate to receive Cosby's endorsement. He has endorsed a number of candidates over the years. He backed the presidential candidacy of Jesse Jackson in 1984, filming a campaign ad in which he asked voters to support Jackson even if they didn't think Jackson could win. In 2000, he joined Shaquille O'Neal in backing Al Gore in the Democratic primary (with Gore spokesman Chris Lehane praising both as men who had "transcended their professions"). In 2001, Cosby endorsed the Democratic challenger to then-New York Gov. George Pataki, in the last successful race that Pataki would run.
Even as recently as 2012, Cosby was invited to weigh in on President Obama's first term in office.
We forget how stunning Cosby's collapse has been. It was largely triggered by a routine from comedian Hannibal Buress in October 2014, in which he mocked the long-standing assault allegations about Cosby. Over the next year, dozens of women accused him of drugging and assaulting them over the span of decades. The issue culminated on Wednesday, when Cosby was charged with an alleged sexual assault in Pennsylvania in 2004.
Since the allegations became well known, a number of organizations that had business or symbolic relationships with Cosby severed those ties. Cosby's famous advertising campaigns for Jell-O and Kodak ended more than a decade ago, but re-runs of "The Cosby Show" were pulled from the air. His long-standing relationship with Philadelphia's Temple University was truncated only a year ago. Other universities revoked honorary degrees, and Spelman College ended a professorship endowed by the actor.
Political endorsements are a bit trickier. A political endorsement is a statement of confidence from one person to another, one that (presumably/usually) occurs absent any concrete benefit to the endorser. In the case of a celebrity, it's that celebrity leveraging his popularity to point voters in a particular direction. (The celebrity endorsement is in the middle of the pack in the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy.) The candidate gets to bask in the adulation directed at a Doug Flutie or an Oprah Winfrey (Obama, 2008) or a Phil Robertson (various Republicans, more recently). They get the benefit of being trusted by someone the public already trusts and/or likes. And even if that collapses, as it appeared to for Robertson after disparaging comments about gay men were published by GQ, the indiscretion or allegation itself matters in determining the political fallout. Robertson's was orders of magnitude less damaging than what Cosby is accused of, and his endorsement remains valuable in Louisiana — and probably elsewhere.
Clinton's Senate campaign rally was a slice of a very particular moment. She would no more have Cosby at a rally today than she would have Donald Trump, even without the recent charges. No doubt to her chagrin, there's no undoing that 2000 rally and no retracting that photo at the top of this page. Clinton enjoys the benefit of distance, of course; it's not as if Cosby endorsed this year. It could have been worse.
Still. In 2000, Cosby didn't seem like a risky endorsement. But you just never know.