Clint, Eva, and partisan celebrities

A counterpart to Clint Eastwood, Eva Longoria will address the Democratic Convention tonight, prior to President Obama’s speech.  Longoria has promised that there will be no empty chairs, and there’s every reason to believe that her remarks, like those of virtually all of the non-Eastwood and non-Clinton speakers at both conventions, will be tightly scripted.

Eva Longoria, as we’ve discussed here before, like Clint Eastwood, is hardly a political novice.  In addition to her acting and entrepreneurial efforts, she’s invested a great deal of time in a range of causes, including immigration reform and education, and has been active in presidential politics since volunteering for Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992.  She serves as one of 34 national co-chairs of President Obama’s reelection campaign.

A brief comparison of the two actors gives us some insight into the risks and rewards of employing celebrities in partisan politics.

Clint Eastwood has a long career of accomplishment in the arts, acting in both extremely high quality productions and extreme schlock over the years.  Increasingly, he’s been even better known as a director.  Annoyed when the City of Carmel (Carmel-by-the-Sea) denied him a building permit for his restaurant, The Hog’s Breath Inn, he sued the city, and ultimately settled out of court with an agreement that allowed him to build.  He ran for mayor in 1986, won, and served a two year term, promising to run a business-friendly government.  Although Eastwood has been consistently candid about his politics, distrusting government intervention in the economy, business, and personal lives, he has been more interested in arts and business than politics.

Although he endorsed Mitt Romney for president in early August, he has not been heavily involved in the campaign.  Having a massive Hollywood star introduce the party’s nominee surely seemed like a great opportunity for Governor Romney’s advisers, and they let the icon choreograph his own time at the podium, which included an improvised dialogue with an empty chair that represented President Obama.  Eastwood’s twelve minutes upstaged Governor Romney, and provoked more than a little wincing from Republicans and ridicule from Democrats.

Eva Longoria has already done more for the Democrats, speaking for the Obama campaign across the country.  In addition to providing some star power, she represents an outreach to Latino voters.  (Eastwood, although an older white man, apparently exudes enough cool to appeal to younger voters.) In addition to public speeches, assume that Longoria has been appearing at smaller, less public events, to help raise funds from donors somewhat more likely to write checks when they get to sip drinks with a star.

Republican pundits will dismiss Longoria as a Hollywood actress, not necessarily versed in the issues, noting that her most visible work has been in daytime and nightime soap operas.  Like Clint Eastwood, however, Longoria has other business interests, including a restaurant.  Eastwood’s resume is much much longer and more impressive than Longoria’s so far, but she’s 37 and has already directed a short and a documentary.  He’s 82, and directed his first film at age 41.

There’s plenty of depth and plenty of frivolity to find in either career.  Putting the celebrity on the podium is risking ridicule in exchange for attention, but most viewers will project their politics onto the speaker.  Many Republicans found Eastwood’s commentary humorous, pointed, and provocative, and whatever Longoria does tonight will surely generate ridicule from conservative blogs.  The more interesting question is how effectively each celebrity can leverage their profile for the causes they care about.  I suspect that Eva Longoria’s politics are closer to President Obama’s than Clint Eastwood’s are to Governor Romney.   I think she wins this round.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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One Response to Clint, Eva, and partisan celebrities

  1. I saw Clint on Ellen and it struck me how SHY he still is. I may not agree with his politics, but he’s a genuine guy.

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