Oprah for president

Oprah Winfrey’s bold move supporting Barack Obama, and Fred Thompson's candidacy for president, represents a new wave of an old relationship between entertainment and politics.

The famous example was Frank Sinatra championing John Kennedy in the 1960s. Less well known was Hollywood mega-mogul Lew Wasserman’s advising presidents while his business moved from nightclubs and radio to motion pictures, television and global mergers.
Hollywood meets Washington when great issues motivate talent, and business interests change with technological revolutions that transform entertainment and media.

Oprah has what money cannot buy: the credibility to inspire a huge audience instantly.

While Republicans are energized with the entry of actor Fred Thompson into the presidential sweepstakes, Democrats in Hollywood are energized by fierce opposition to George Bush and by major entertainment support of two candidates (Obama and Clinton).

Twenty-first century issues bring together personal, political and financial interests of both the talent and business sides of entertainment. As record labels learned the hard way, technological change forces all entertainment sectors to change the way they do business, and advocate their interests in Washington.

As the Internet fuses with music, motion pictures and television there are profound new issues of piracy and digital rights, and major new opportunities for business expansion.

The new venture from this newspaper, HillTube, demonstrates how television, video and Internet technology create communications bridges to bring targeted congressional messages to large national audiences.

The genius of Jack Valenti when he led the Motion Picture Association of America was that he played the inside game of Washington brilliantly but understood the outside realities and technical challenges equally brilliantly. Valenti was the perfect interlocutor between Washington insiders, Hollywood talent and the “blue suits” of motion picture studios.

Actors, artists, athletes, authors and musicians who participate in public affairs promote their values, while also promoting their work and their industry.

Movie studios, record labels, publishing houses and sports leagues can bring Jerry Maguire to national politics and advance their business interests while supporting causes that move large numbers of Americans and leaders of both parties in Washington.

Take George Clooney, who could evolve into an updated version of Sinatra and JFK. He moves effortlessly — making a movie against McCarthyism, backing candidates, running his own production company and campaigning against genocide.

Cher and Gary Sinise are two among many stars who champion American troops, while Angelina Jolie is a passionate stateswoman championing the world’s poor children, and Willie Nelson mobilizes an army of talent for America’s family farmers.

From Broadway to Hollywood there is dramatic activism in the fight against AIDS. From a long list of country and western artists to Robin Williams and Al Franken there is passionate commitment to the USO.

Al Gore mobilizes talent and creates his own product to bring global warming to center stage while Arnold Schwarzenegger moves from being the Terminator to one of America’s most successful governors, and Fred Thompson bids to be the Republicans’ next Reagan.

The Hollywood-Washington engagement is rising again and today is analogous to 1959 when Sinatra supported Kennedy early in the television age.

With modern media markets, lobbying rules and public issues we have entered another historical period, coincident with the election of a new president, with opportunities that have only begun to be realized.

While America honors our first woman Speaker, Oprah represents another powerful new phenomenon: the growing legion of woman billionaires who could become a nonpartisan power for change if motivated by our next president.

Progressive stars have enormous potential to support progressive cable, radio and Internet outlets through their investments and their appearances while their studios and record labels market their movies and CDs.

Conservative stars could expand cause-related projects in new media to advance their values, products and candidates.

Major talent agencies and K Street firms with entertainment clients can spearhead high-profile projects for causes and reap high-level good will in both parties, with value equal to millions of dollars of campaign contributions, with Democrats and Republicans lining up in support.

In an age of cynicism toward politics, radical changes in media technology and new ways of achieving influence in Washington, the new Hollywood-Washington engagement is coming to a theater, and campaign, near you.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then-chief deputy whip of the House. His client during the 1990s, Premier Artist Services, represented Frank Sinatra and other stars. He can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net and read on The Hill Pundits Blog.