Thursday, August 26, 2004

The most forlorn soul at the Republican National Convention in New York next week may be the “celebrity liaison,” that dutiful GOPer whose job it will be to shuttle actors and musicians to Madison Square Garden.

In Boston, where the Democrats nominated their man, they would have been justified in rolling out a red carpet to the FleetCenter.

If it wasn’t Carole King singing or Glenn Close preaching onstage, it was rock star Bono, actor John Cusack or director Robert Altman wandering the arena floor. The after-hours cocktail parties and fund-raisers were abuzz with celebrities, too.

Even the arena’s house band featured the likes of drummer Steve Jordan, a former band mate of Keith Richards’ and a co-producer of Patti Scialfa’s latest album. Not a household name, true, but far from your typical hired hand.

Don’t expect such a glittery scene in New York.

Republican conventions are traditionally low on star power, but this year’s roster is even weaker than usual. (By way of comparison, the 2000 convention featured some big-time pop-culture names, such as Bruce Willis and pro-wrestling superstar and actor the Rock.)

An announcement from Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie promises musical acts that “range from country to classical and from blues to punk.” That might be true technically (although I’m not sure who fits the punk billing), but a more accurate release would have said, “a lot of country, a little gospel … and anybody else we could scare up.”

Brooks & Dunn, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack, Darryl Worley — these country stars would be A-list catches if the nation had no coasts.

Delegates with a taste for rock are left with a fairly popular Christian band (Third Day) and the young, relatively unknown act Dexter Freebish. All right, the completely unknown Dexter Freebish.

The Republican entertainment lineup is even thinner in actors. The prize catch so far is Ron Silver, who may not even be the most popular middle-aged Jewish character actor named Ron. (He’s neck and neck with Ron Leibman.)

The lineup does show, at least, a narrow shrewdness.

Latin singer Jaci Velasquez was a smart pick: She’ll help in the Hispanic-outreach department and, possibly, redeem herself for acting in the atrocious movie “Chasing Papi.” Daniel Rodriguez, the NYPD cop turned opera singer, may stir up memories of September 11 heroism, one of the reasons the party chose New York in the first place.

Republicans are having gender-gap problems again this year, so it’s no surprise that they looked to “The View,” ABC’s daytime gabfest for women, for assistance. “View” co-talker and “Survivor” contestant Elisabeth Hasselbeck will be there pitching to the soccer moms, which could be problematic: She’s married to an NFL quarterback.

There’s the female surfer Daize Shayne, too, as well as inspirational speaker Gracie Rosenberger. Word has it that Kiss rocker Gene Simmons will be on hand in an unofficial capacity. (The delegates may not recognize him without face paint and wagging red tongue.)

That’s about it for this B-minus list.

It’s true that Republicans have never in modern times been less popular among entertainers than they are this year, but it’s also true that they do themselves no favors.

Before “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone had even finished their satirical puppet movie “Team America” — which skewers lefty blowhards such as Michael Moore and Alec Baldwin — the White House condemned it.

Rockers Alice Cooper and Johnny Ramone are publicly Bush-friendly — and they’re worth at least 10 Sheryl Crows in coolness quotient — but you won’t see them on the hustings.

This is all a silly preoccupation, of course. We’re keeping tabs on celebrity turnout while the country’s at war. But don’t blame me. Democrats are raising millions using rock stars and actors this year.

And as I write, the most prominent thing on the Republicans’ official convention Web site ( is a large Entertainment Update banner announcing, “More entertainers just added!” (To read about the candidates, you can “Click here.”)

Perhaps it’s a commentary on how insignificant the nominating conventions have become — that their success or failure depends in some measure on how many famous people they attract.

This puts the Republicans at a severe disadvantage.

Give them credit, though, for making the best of a bad situation. They’re reserving Tuesday night’s prime-time speaking slot for a Hollywood actor. That’s something even the celebrity-crazy Democrats couldn’t manage.

This actor happens also to be the governor of California.

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