The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'American Idol's' Simon Cowell comes out of the conservative closet

May 5, 2010 |  1:42 pm

Simon_cowell Since I know that my conservative pals are always keeping tabs on such things, they can now get out their lineup cards and enter "American Idol's" always opinionated Simon Cowell on their showbiz conservative team.

Until now, Cowell has appeared largely apolitical, but he's come out with a stirring endorsement of David Cameron for prime minister (via London's conservative tabloid, The Sun) in the big U.K. general election Thursday. 

What makes Cowell's endorsement so intriguing is that, despite his plummy British accent, he's a classic example of an immigrant entrepreneur -- a man who's enjoyed the fruits of America's classless society and is frustrated by England's mass of restrictions and barriers to (noninherited) wealth. It's also interesting that Hollywood is full of people like Cowell who've struck it rich with a great creative notion or a savvy business plan -- and yet the overwhelming majority of them have remained liberals, perhaps because for decades, America's conservative political class has been so unyieldingly hostile to popular culture.

At any rate, Cowell clearly hopes that England, via Tory leaders like Cameron, would emulate America's free-wheeling free enterprise system. As he put it in this condensed version of his endorsement:

Right now it takes twice as long to start a business in the U.K. as it does in the USA. I was recently told that around 40,000 new regulations have been introduced since 1998 -- that's 14 every working day. The problem with this tinkering is the State can stifle and frustrate ambition, rather than encourage entrepreneurs, which is crazy. I believe everyone has the right to be heard and the right to make a better life for themselves. I have seen that the American Dream is a reality -- and I would love to feel the British Dream is also a reality. To enable that, we have to bring back some common sense and make people believe they have a decent chance to build a business or career for themselves.

Some of Cowell's other remarks are pretty laughable, starting with his dismissal of Liberal Democratic candidate Nick Clegg as being a candidate who "is made for T.V.," since all of the politicians vying for prime minister are surrounded 24/7 by political consultants weighing their every move and gesture. (You could argue that Gordon Brown is losing, in large part because he is so grumpy and caustic that he is incapable of coming across well on television.) As for other issues, Cowell also echoes the American conservative complaint that his homeland's legal system is too permissive, saying: "There is a tendency to punish the victim, not the criminal. If someone broke into my house or my mum's house, I worry that the burglar has more rights than me."

I doubt that Cowell's endorsement is going to swing the election for Cameron, who is already leading in virtually every poll. And I'm not sure that voters are going to be swayed by someone who is, to be kind, not exactly a deep thinker. When asked to pick the one book he'd take to a desert island, Cowell unabashedly chose Jackie Collins' "Hollywood Wives," which you could probably argue is, in its own way, another tribute to America's wonderfully classless society. 

But who knows? If England is anything like America, and if Cameron wins handily, maybe there will be the offer of an ambassadorship in Cowell's future. Either way, he's certainly a man who's found a way to make his mark in the world. 

Photo: Simon Cowell arriving at Elton John's Academy Award party earlier this year. Credit: Dan Steinberg / Associated Press