“A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth,” said that wily social anthropologist, Charles Darwin.
The same might be said of endorsements, especially in a tense political race. But right about now one or both of the presidential candidates might be wondering how they might back out of the unwelcome embrace of a few of their “pals.”
Of course it’s great if former Secretary of State Colin Powell crosses party lines and endorses you for president.
The Obama campaign was justly proud of that, and lost no time in getting the word out.
It’s less thrilling if a major aide suggests that it was only because Powell and Barack Obama are soul brothers.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu may need a surgical operation to remove his very large foot from his even larger mouth, and the Romney team will probably try and keep him out of the limelight from now until Election Day.
Powell’s was not the only surprising endorsement that Obama has picked up recently.
The Salt Lake City Tribune threw its weight behind the president, and for the second time.
The “Trib,” as it is known, is the Utah capital’s more liberal newspaper. The Deseret News, privately called “the Mormon Times,” is also published in Salt Lake, and is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The Trib had harsh words for Romney, despite calling him “the Beehive State’s favorite adopted son” for his rescue of the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
“The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board had hoped that Romney would exhibit the same talents for organization, pragmatic problem solving and inspired leadership that he displayed here more than a decade ago,” read the endorsement. “Instead, we have watched him morph into a friend of the far right, then tack toward the center with breathtaking aplomb. Through a pair of presidential debates, Romney’s domestic agenda remains bereft of detail and worthy of mistrust.”
Well, OK then.
The Tribune’s endorsement was big news; according to Thomas Burr, a blogger for the newspaper, it generated record traffic on the site.
The “posting, by the way ... flooded the Trib's website and nearly logged an all-time high in unique visitors,” wrote Burr.
But this does not mean that the paper is a screaming bastion of liberalism, he cautions: “While The Tribune's editorial page is often thought of in Utah as leaning left, the paper has endorsed several Republican candidates this time around, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Rob Bishop and Gov. Gary Herbert.”
Obama has also picked up endorsements from The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker magazine, and several other major publications.
Romney has snagged the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Dallas Morning News, and the Houston Chronicle, as well as the Tampa Tribune and the Orlando Sentinel.
Editorial boards often identify their preferences, and there is nothing particularly troubling about the practice. Tracking which publications back which candidate in which key states may be an amusing parlor game, but it is no guarantee of success.
The more disconcerting “endorsements,” however, come from people who do not even have the right to vote in the United States. The conservative media have been gloating for weeks over kind words hurled in Obama’s direction from the likes of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the niece of Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Putin did indeed tell a Russian television station that he thought an Obama victory might be good for U.S.-Russia relations.
One can hardly blame him, after being identified as “America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe” by Romney last March.
Romney’s Russophobia also earned him a rebuke from Powell, and may have contributed to the former top diplomat’s willingness to back Obama.
“C’mon, Mitt, think,” he said, appearing on CBS’s “Morning Joe” after Romney’s Russia remarks. “That’s not the case.”
Chavez told his state television that “if I was from the United States, I'd vote for Obama,” a remark unlikely to do the American president a lot of good.
Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba’s current president Raul Castro and niece of the more fearsome Fidel, is also an Obama fan.
"As a citizen of the world, I would like him to win," Castro told Christianne Amanpour back in June.
All of this, of course, has been greeted with great glee by certain ”pundits.”
“Dictators support Obama!” crowed Sean Hannity who, among other things, hosts a talk show on Fox News. He hinted that Chavez, Putin, and Castro were all “birds of a feather” with the U.S. president.
Domestic politicians have been backing the candidates along party lines, so endorsement from former presidents, current senators and congressman have not attracted much attention. A gaggle of Bushes coming out for Romney will not upset anyone’s apple cart, nor will Obama plaudits from Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore or Walter Mondale.
Marginally more interesting, and exponentially more absurd, are the kudos the candidates have been gathering by the bucketful from Hollywood royalty.
Meryl Streep, who just won an Oscar for playing Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” is backing Obama, so if the president needs a vote of confidence from the former British Prime Minister, Streep might be able to fill in pretty convincingly.
The president also has the vote of Kiefer Sutherland, who plays that scourge of America’s enemies, Jack Bauer, on Fox’s “24.” Bauer has saved the lives of numerous fictional presidents in his long run as the brutal if conflicted character, so maybe he’s a good man to have in your corner.
Ben Affleck, Will Smith, Brad Pitt and Jim Carrey have also expressed support for the president.
Romney, for his part, has Clint Eastwood and Jon Voight on his side—both men were at the Republican National Convention, and stumped for the candidate with varying degrees of success. The gravel-voiced Eastwood created a whole new meme, in fact—the Presidential Empty Chair.
Romney also garnered approval from someone that most people under 60 would never even have heard of: clean-cut crooner Pat Boone. Of course, this is not surprising, since the 77-year-old Boone is a staunch “birther”—his rants on Obama’s supposed Kenyan roots make Donald Trump look moderate.
Just in case Romney wants to trumpet his underdog status—he and running mate Paul Ryan do bill themselves as “America’s Comeback Team”—he also has “Rocky” on his side, legendary actor Sylvester Stallone.