President Obama has spent this summer trying to prop up his unpopular health-care plan via his most loyal constituency: Hollywood.
When other constituencies desert him—and even loyal allies like labor unions have been grumbling about the added costs—the president knows he can count on Hollywood to support him, whatever the issue.
Recently, Obama brought celebrities like Jennifer Hudson, Amy Poehler, Michael Cera, and Kal Penn to the White House to encourage them to help sell ObamaCare. Oprah Winfrey and Jon Bon Jovi were apparently too busy to come but, fear not, they sent their “representatives” to attend the meeting in their stead. He also went on Jay Leno to ask viewers to sign up for exchanges.
The move towards approaching the health-care implementation effort like a political campaign is typical of Obama. After all, he was quite successful campaigning with Hollywood stars in both of his presidential campaigns. George Clooney has earned the title “Obama’s biggest bankroller,” and “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria was co-chairman of his 2012 campaign. Obama himself recognized how dependent he has been on the entertainment community. At a Hollywood fundraiser in February 2012, he told the crowd: “I’m going to need you. You’re going to carry this thing like you did in 2008.”
Of course, presidents have long used entertainment celebrities for political purposes. Andrew Jackson was the first president to assemble famous writers to support his campaign, enlisting the likes of James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne, among others, for help with speeches and encouraging them to write articles on his behalf. Hawthorne also later wrote a campaign biography for his old Bowdoin classmate Franklin Pierce. Similarly, Civil War general and Ben Hur author Lew Wallace wrote a campaign biography for Benjamin Harrison in 1888.
In the 20th century, with the advent of both broadcast and recording technologies, the celebrities became better known and the political advantage of using them grew. In 1920, Al Jolson sang “Harding, You’re the Man for Us” to bolster Warren Harding’s 1920 campaign, and he followed up with “Keep Cool, and Keep Coolidge” in 1924.
Franklin D. Roosevelt brought Hollywood into his camp during his four runs for president, using such stars as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Clark Gable, Boris Karloff, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. John F. Kennedy would be so closely linked to Hollywood celebrities that he asked his campaign staff to play down the hobnobbing, lest he appear out of touch with the American people.
In contrast to these predecessors, though, Obama is breaking new ground in bringing out a presidential campaign-style deployment of celebrities in order to back a specific policy program. This isn’t a star trying to get him elected — it’s Hollywood trying to influence policy.
It’s not clear that campaigning alone will be enough to win the day on ObamaCare, especially with provisions like price caps and business mandates delayed due to ineffective implementation.
Are multimillionaire entertainers, who clearly will not face the difficulties that regular Americans will face in paying for health care, the best strategy in this case?
It remains too soon to tell if Obama’s “last campaign” will be successful, but his efforts have not stopped Jay Leno from mocking ObamaCare. Leno recently joked that lawmakers who worked with administration officials to keep the health-care law from applying to congressional staff must have taken the “Hypocritic oath.”
Obama has successfully surpassed his predecessors at tapping celebrities, but these is a good chance ObamaCare may be a bridge too far.