Star-filled foreign policy

Editor's note: This column explores the intersection between celebrity and politics.

When their party was out of power, Democratic policy experts — particularly foreign policy wonks — had to resign themselves to stodgy exile in dreary think tanks. The highlight of the week? Somebody reading his or her memo on the Bulgarian exchange rates. And afterward, questions.

But that was before Hollywood stars added foreign policy advisers to the entourage.

Consider the cases of David Pressman and John Prendergast. Pressman has a job that more than 50 percent of the world's population — that's the female share — would die for. He serves as George Clooney's expert on the cause closest to the star's heart, Darfur. (Talk about access.)

Pressman, who worked in the Clinton State Department under Madeleine Albright, has arranged personal trips by the superstar into the war zone. (Pressman once pushed the barrel of a young soldier's gun out of Clooney's face on a trip to Sudan. He's still accepting words of thanks from fans near and far.)

Meanwhile, Prendergast, another Clinton administration alum, has taken celebs including Angelina Jolie, Don Cheadle and Tracy McGrady into that most troubled continent of Africa to meet with refugees displaced by various wars. And during the presidential campaign, he volunteered his time, accompanying actress Maria Bello on the stump for Barack Obama.

Now, with Obama headed for the White House and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton bound for Foggy Bottom, knowledgeable sources say Pressman and Prendergast are eyeing a return to government service.

And they're not the only ones who might give up their glitzy private sector jobs to go back into the Capitol trenches.

"I'm struck by how many people from around the country who have previously served are willing to give up their careers and make personal sacrifices to return to public service," said Michael Feldman, an adviser to former Vice President Al Gore. "That says a lot about the historic nature of the incoming administration and speaks volumes about momentous challenges that this country now faces."

If things work out the way some people in Hollywood hope, celebs also will have a place in the Obama administration as, perhaps, goodwill ambassadors.

The United Nations' program — which has enlisted celebs including Jolie, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton and Giorgio Armani to draw attention to humanitarian and human-rights causes — could be used as the model, according to one source.

Imagine politically involved Hollywood stars, like Matt Damon or Brad Pitt, working as roving domestic and international representatives for the U.S. government. Or just imagine this: Sean Penn on a mission to North Korea. (Everyone says Kim Jong Il loves the movies. And there's nothing Penn, who recently interviewed Raul Castro, likes better than an international pariah).

Even when it comes to Barack Obama, there is such a thing as too much change.

The president-elect, who spends more time on his BlackBerry than a junior agent at Endeavor, told ABC's Barbara Walters this week that he doesn't want to give up his hand-held.

He isn't the only one who has expressed concern about this.

As a candidate, he used his BlackBerry to stay in touch with advisers and key supporters, like celebrities. "One of the things that I'm going to have to work through is how to break through the isolation and the bubble that exists around the president," Obama told Walters. "And I'm in the process of negotiating with the Secret Service, with lawyers, with White House staff."

Walters followed up: "You might have a BlackBerry?"

"Well, I'm negotiating to figure out how can I get information from outside of the 10 or 12 people who surround my office in the White House," Obama said. "Because, one of the worst things I think that could happen to a president is losing touch with what people are going through day to day."

On election night, Oprah Winfrey told a television reporter that she stayed in contact with Obama during the election by e-mail, and she hopes he doesn't change his e-mail address. (Imagine if the Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin cyber-hackers cracked that account.)

During the campaign, a British newspaper claimed that Clooney was giving foreign policy advice and style tips to Obama via BlackBerry. The actor denied it. (And some might suggest that Obama should be giving Clooney the style advice.) The actor also denied being in touch with the politician electronically — and said he would hand over $1 million to anyone who could prove it.

If Obama's personal assistant, Reggie Love, turns up driving a new Porsche, maybe we'll know someone collected on that bet.

Daunt can be reached at tina.daunt(at)

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