Sen. Barack Obama promised us “Hope and Change” during the 2008 presidential campaign.
A gaggle of celebrities from Tom Hanks to Spike Lee predicted more than that if voters pulled the lever for Obama. They said the senator would “change the world.”
Voters assumed they meant for the better.
But after 16 months of the Obama Administration in action—high unemployment, allies rebuffed, promises shattered, chaos in Afghanistan and mind-numbing deficits—these very same celebrities owe us an apology.
And Oprah Winfrey’s mea culpa should come gift-wrapped and scented with fancy perfume. She used her reservoir of good will to stump for the smooth-talking senator.
It’s surreal to re-read some of the comments made only a short time ago by the glitterati. They sounded loopy back then, but today they’re downright hilarious—if only the stakes weren’t so tragically high.
Obama’s lack of executive experience didn’t cause celebrities concern. A leader who hasn’t gotten the country into a war has “the kind of inexperience I can get used to,” Oscar winner Robert De Niro said.
Actress Alfe Woodard compared the future President to a cool, refreshing drink:
“If you take orange juice and mix it with a little seltzer you get then same effect and it’s good for you. And that’s Obama—he’s good for this country, [voters] just may not know it yet.” She was prescient on one front. Unemployed Americans sure don’t know how good Obama is for their job prospects.
Tom Hanks made a promotional video for Obama‘s campaign, using his rhetorical gifts to pitch a candidate who will bring people together:
“He has the integrity and the inspiration to unify us as did FDR and Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy—and even Ronald Reagan—when they ran for the job,” Hanks said, comments clearly made prior to the Beer Summit and other great moments in Team Obama divisiveness.
Actor Josh Lucas (“Poseidon”) got to know Obama on a very deep level before throwing his support behind him.
“I’ve been around him and shook his hand. He’s a truly scholarly man. I’m very excited that we have this powerful, intelligent, constitutionally brilliant President. I find him very soulful in private,” Lucas said.
One stunning celebrity even offered to do Obama’s bidding so long as it meant he would ascend to the Oval Office.
"I’ll do whatever he says to do," actress Halle Berry said. “I’ll collect paper cups off the ground to make his pathway clear."
Wonder if she can take those paper cups to “plug the damn hole?”
Winfrey did more than testify to the greatness of “The One.” She used her daytime chat show to pitch Obama to the masses, using the same bully pulpit that turned regular books into bestsellers.
She even refused to share her couch with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, and a woman who could have shattered one of the last glass ceilings left without a scratch.
Few celebrities were as effusive in their praise for the man as director Spike Lee:
"It’s going to be before Obama, ‘B.B.,’ and after Obama—’A.B.’—and some folks need to get used to this," director Spike Lee said. “It’s not an if … he changes the world. He changes how the world looks at the United States. It’s going to be a new day. Not just a new day, a better day."
Rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer) posted a Youtube video asking people to vote for Obama and had this to say on the dawn of his inauguration:
“He’s about encouraging people to voice their opinions and get involved and collaborate and not just sit back and let it happen to us,” the young actor said.
Tell that to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two radio personalities Obama has singled out for “voicing their opinions,” or the Tea Partiers the President’s party dismissed.
The most damning pre-election quote comes from George Clooney. The dashing actor assured us Obama was the right person for the job:
“He possesses the one quality you cannot teach, you cannot learn, which is he is a leader,” Clooney said.
What’s particularly galling about these celebrity quotes—particularly Clooney’s—is that they had little basis in reality.
Theoretically, Obama could have been a great leader, and there’s always the chance he’ll grow in office over the next two years. But he hadn’t shown leadership qualities prior to the election. All that talk of transparency and reaching across the aisle was based on sloganeering, and little else.
Celebrities have every right to speak their minds, and there’s nothing technically wrong with them telling audiences who they prefer in a presidential election—assuming they understand it could alienate people who indirectly pay their salaries.
But they deserve to be reminded of their recent comments—as do voters who may think twice before they consider listening to an actor’s political opinion in 2012.