From George Clooney to Donald Trump, celebrities have long been known to publicly rally around political candidates whom they admire. Leave it to Anna Wintour, the notorious first lady of fashion, to bring on a surge of controversy with her support of President Obama's campaign for re-election.
While Wintour's support of President Obama is notable, it's not entirely surprising - after all, in 2008 she contributed to the White House Victory Fund, then put Michelle Obama on the cover of Vogue's March 2009 Power Issue. Yet according to the independent fashion blog, Fashionista, for Obama's re-election campaign, Vogue's editor-in-chief seems to be ramping up her efforts to jaw-dropping proportions.
While Wintour spearheading fundraising events such as Runway to Win, that featured a collective of designer names worn by Michelle Obama, seemed to be considered acceptable, a recently released campaign video kick-started an onslaught of media scrutiny. In the video, Wintour details a contest encouraging campaign donors by offering a chance to dine with her, Sarah Jessica Parker and the First Couple at an event held at Parker's West Village town house. With tickets costing $40,000 per plate, it was an opportunity that was sure to turn the heads of many.
|Sarah Jessica Parker and Anna Wintour.
According to Grazia Daily, a UK weekly publication, the video was not only labelled as "inappropriate" but the Republican National Committee (RNC) also repurposed it. By running the current unemployment rates (a rising 7.9 percent among women in America and 16.1 per cent for youth) that were released on the same day as the video, along with mocking commentary aimed at Wintour's glamorous lifestyle, it seems to be a full-throttle Republican effort to drive home the claim that the President is virtually out of touch with the common American. This seems to be the general consensus with much of the British public as well. The Guardian ran a poll earlier this month, asking the public whether they thought glitzy celebrity fundraisers help or harm Obama's re-election prospects. Surprisingly, 68.9 per cent voted on the side of "harm."
That said, the frenzy surrounding Wintour's fundraising efforts may actually be a political blessing for the Democrats. Although the RNC quickly launched a negative attack with respect to Wintour's video, the Obama team quickly countered, citing the fact that Republican candidate Mitt Romney is hardly above soliciting celebrity supporters, such as musician Kid Rock.
David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign adviser, told the Washington Post that "It's kind of humorous that they would take that tack." He continued, "When Mr. Trump went off the deep end again, [Romney] did not rebuke him because he said he needed to get 50.1 per cent of the vote."
But while there's no denying the current unemployment numbers leave something to be desired, Wintour may not be the curse that the RNC would have hoped. Upon a closer examination, Wintour's involvement may actually have the opposite effect. Although the Republicans may be quick to peg Wintour as elitist, she's a fashion icon to well-heeled women, which is quite possibly the single underscored reason (beyond her deep pockets) that Obama's team has pulled Wintour into the spotlight. The dinner at Parker's home that initially whipped up the controversy managed to raise US$2,000,000, with guests such as Meryl Streep and Aretha Franklin.
While conservative media outlets may be quick to attack Wintour and her fundraising efforts, other media find her a well-positioned choice to engage female voters. As Fashionista reports, "While the Republican party continues to alienate women through their attack on their lady parts, the Democrats don't necessarily have the lady vote in the bag," says Jo Piazza, a senior editor at Current. "Fashion could be a way to appeal to some still undecided voters with a XX chromosome."
So despite the Republican's attempt to virtually peg her as Lucifer wearing Louboutins, it appears that Wintour's trademark for generating buzz and setting trends may soon secure the highly coveted female vote for the President.
In an election where a candidate's ability to capture the female vote may be the deciding factor, Wintour's alignment with the campaign may well prove that fashion has the power to transcend economic barriers and unite women. One only has to look at the success of reality television, including Project Runway, and to the popularity of designer-retailer partnerships such as Jason Wu for Target and Christian Siriano for Payless, to see that fashion has the ability to blur the lines between economy and first class. With her well-selected wardrobe, even Michelle Obama has made news on the fashion front, further demonstrating that while style trends may not be an election issue, it strikes a very real and relevant chord amongst key female voters.
Whether it's Wintour, Parker or Clooney, the criticism surrounding Obama's celebrity supporters will not go away. As the Washington Post highlights, while more Americans deal with a struggling economy, what really matters is whether the Obama campaign positions its celebrity supporters in a way that generates the energy of 2008. As Heather Smith, president of the youth-oriented Rock the Vote shared with the Washington Post, there are 25 million unregistered voters under 30, a significant increase from just four years ago. Smith further explained that, "People are worse off than they were four years ago. So it's not just a straight to camera 'go vote' campaign. They need to leverage celebrities to actually talk about the issues."
As Obama's campaign ramps up, Wintour may not be speaking out on the struggling economy, but the devil will certainly be in the details, should her alignment foster the intended positive response among key female voters nationwide.
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