Barbra Streisand made news this past week because she is trying, once again, to make policy.
Streisand is hoping that the Democrats will win back control of the U.S. House of Representatives this fall, and toward that end, recently took part in a fundraiser at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. She and various other entertainers, Barry Manilow and Steve Harvey among them, raised a reported $6 million at an event whose tickets sold for $500 at the low end and $250,000 at the high.
Streisand, who seldom performs live anymore, sang eight songs in 30 minutes, and bashed Republicans in between, calling Dick Cheney "frightening" and criticizing the president's policy on Iraq.
What interests me more than Streisand's positions is the broader issue of celebrity involvement in politics. It is, of course, the right of all American citizens, regardless of how bright the lights in which their names appear, to take political positions, and it is inevitable, given all the wattage, that the media will pay more attention to the Streisand viewpoint--or to the Schwarzenegger viewpoint--than it will to yours or mine. I, for one, have not yet reached the point in my career in which people will pay a quarter of a million bucks to hear me bad-mouth an occupant of the Oval Office.
But the media pay too much attention to celebrities in virtually all of their venues--whether it be stage, screen or soapbox. And the media fail to point out that, even in a culture as saturated with celebrity as ours, the role of the singer or actor or joke-teller in the political process is, at the least, curious.
No one, not even the most besotted male fan of the most buxomy female songstress, is going to form, or alter, his political views to bring them in line with those of his idol. Streisand sways no Republicans, Schwarzenegger persuades no Democrats, and if Britney Spears had a position on a matter of national importance, teenage boys would not be able to stop their drooling long enough to listen.
As spokespeople, celebrities are as irrelevant to the decision-making process of American government as aspirin is to the treatment of broken bones.
However, as financiers, celebrities are relevant to a remarkably unfortunate degree. Some of them earn enormous sums of money, and are thus more able than the rest of us to make healthy donations to their favorite candidates. And they are able to perform for audiences of similarly affluent people who will make healthy donations of their own to the celebrities' favorite candidates.
That Streisand and Manilow and Harvey could persuade people to lighten their wallets by $6 million is an astonishing tribute to their star power. But it is not, as the media seem to imply, an astonishing tribute to the popularity of their beliefs.
I would like to make a suggestion to Streisand, Manilow and Harvey, as well as to other celebrities who broadcast their politics and wallow in their clout. If you think that the public truly cares about your politics, if you think that the public is eager to know your thoughts, and no less eager to be influenced by them, try the following: Hold a fundraiser and don't sing. Invite people to pay between $500 and $250,000 apiece for tickets and then open your mouths and do nothing but speak. Rely on words, not melodies; put your views up for sale rather than your talents.
Perhaps then you will see the truth of your renown, that as far as politics is concerned, its value has everything to do with money, nothing to do with ideology.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .