The Fame Game

Chris Dodd kicks off his new ad with this line: “As you might have guessed, I’m not a former first lady, or a celebrity. …” In a conference call with reporters last week, South Carolina state Rep. Leon Howard, who has endorsed John Edwards, referred derisively to other unnamed candidates’ “celebrity status.” As if, in a race where name recognition is half the battle, being famous is suddenly a bad thing.

The attack capitalizes on the notion that Barack Obama is an empty vessel, all glitz and no substance. That just because he has David Geffen and Oprah Winfrey, it means he doesn’t understand the everyday problems of voters. It’s a bizarre angle for someone who has been in Congress for 30 years, but even more so for Edwards. He appeared on the cover of Men’s Vogue . He shared a stage with John Mellencamp. And then there was that whole vice-presidential nominee thing. Plus, keep in mind that Edwards is boarding the celebrity endorsement bandwagon with glee. This week both Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon will campaign for Edwards. Dodd, meanwhile, has West Wing star Bradley Whitford shilling for him on YouTube. For either candidate to imply that Oprah’s support somehow makes Obama a sellout is silliness.

True, all that glitters may not be gold. But that doesn’t mean all that’s dull—or crabby and self-righteous—is. Attacking the very fact of your opponent’s popularity seems to be the last refuge of a loser.