- - Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Oops! … They did it again.

Righties starved for any token of affection from a pop culture that for the most part misunderstands and openly reviles them have once again been too quick to embrace an entertainment superstar as one of their own — in this case, Britney Spears, longtime dance-pop queen and newly commissioned judge on Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor.”

For years, articles and online forum postings — especially those on conservative sites — have abounded with claims that Miss Spears is a registered Republican or that she has voiced support for conservative causes. Over time, the meme solidified with repetition into conventional wisdom — to the point that she has often been blithely lumped in with known Republicans in online lists and galleries devoted to that rare species, conservative celebrities.

And yet, despite the widespread assumption of her right-ish leanings, Miss Spears has never been known to her fans as a politically active, committed — or even aware — entertainer. And it turns out the claims for Miss Spears’ conservative proclivities have been unsupported by much in the way of evidence, even of the anecdotal variety.

On closer inspection — indeed, even on perfunctory inspection — it appears that the belief that Miss Spears leans right is, at least as of now, little more than an urban legend.

The roots of this political fantasy appears to lie in some brief, fractured remarks she managed during a 2003 interview on CNN. Asked by then-“Crossfire” co-host Tucker Carlson about her thoughts on the Iraq War, she famously replied, “Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.”

Asked if she trusted President George W. Bush, she replied that she did, and after that, she discussed her love for Pepsi.

From those few words of support for a U.S. president in time of war — uttered back in 2003, two Carlson cable-news homes ago, when about 60 percent of the public still approved of the Iraq War — was apparently born the sturdy popular myth of a conservative Britney. This image was likely reinforced for millions of moviegoers when Michael Moore included the footage of that answer in his anti-Bush diatribe “Fahrenheit 9/11,” mocking her as an example of a naive American blindly trusting a dishonest commander in chief.

But search the public record though you might — Miss Spears has never publicly endorsed a candidate, nor is she documented as having donated money to a political cause. In reality, Miss Spears has rarely publicly expressed views on any political issues, and the few positions she has taken can hardly be considered conservative. In recent years, for example, she has voiced support for gay marriage. That should come as no surprise. She has a reasonably large gay following, and the entertainment industry, crowded with many of the world’s most prominent supporters of gay rights, could be a lonely place for a celebrity who voices opposition to gay marriage.

How did the myth gain such widespread acceptance, despite so much evidence to the contrary and so little in support? Cultural expectations being what they are, the singer’s Deep South origins surely reinforced any incipient assumptions about her conservative impulses. Yet one needn’t have looked far for offsetting evidence, whether in her public persona — who could forget the famous smooch with Madonna at the MTV video awards? — or her work, which, after all, has included song after song about outre sexual practices, accompanied by extremely racy music videos and concert routines.

Conservatives believed, it seems, because they wanted to believe. Republicans — eager, even desperate, to counteract popular stereotypes of themselves as square, joyless and out-of-touch — have a vested interest in hip, ideologically compatible entertainment celebs who might shed reflected cultural cachet upon them. It’s that need — whether real or only felt — for pop cultural credibility that explains why conservatives are so often so quick to fall so gratefully on any scrap of evidence that a star shares their political sensibility — only to find themselves so often jilted.

The latest in a long line of stars to raise conservative hopes only to dash them without a qualm, is Robert Downey Jr. In 2009, the recovering substance abuser and ex-con told the New York Times: “It’s not always something I say too loud at dinner tables here, but you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal … it was very, very, very educational for me and has informed my proclivities and politics ever since.” Conservatives were sure this time they’d bagged the big one — a major star with artistic credibility at the peak of his career was a closeted conservative just waiting for the right moment to come out. If he could wait, so could they.

Looks like it could be a long wait: Late last week, Iron Man turned up at archliberal George Clooney’s home for a $40,000-a-plate fundraiser for President Obama.

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