Celebreties as Politicians–A Fad Run Amok
We have a long tradition in the U.S. of entertainers becoming politicians. Most (in)famously, of course, this was illustrated by Ronald Reagan’s transformation from an actor in B-grade movies to Governor of California and, eventually, President of the United States. (Those were also B-Grade roles, in my opinion.) Reagan wasn’t the first. Helen Douglas, a Broadway singer and actress, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1944. George Murphy, a song and dance man (no comment about all politicians fitting that category–it’s too easy), served in the Senate from 1964 to 1970. And Shirley Temple, the child star of the Great Depression, grew up to become Shirley Temple Black, Ambassador to the United Natons. (Unlike many a celebrity-turned-politician, she actually studied politics and international affairs and earned real qualifications for the job!) But the list is much longer: Clint Eastwood, semi-fair actor and much better director, took a turn as a small town mayor in California. So did the singer, Sonny Bono, who went on to become a Republican U.S. Representative before dying in a skiing accident. The TV wrestler James Janos (who went by the pseudonymn Jesse “The Body” Ventura) became Governor of Minnesota. Former minister turned TV mogul, Pat Robertson, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, losing badly to Sen. Bob Dole (who, in turn, was trounced by Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign). TV personality (or whatever) Jerry Springer became the mayor of Cincinnatti, Ohio. And, of course, body-builder/actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is now serving his second term as Governor of California.
But in the upcoming election cycle (to the extent our nation even has a cycle, now, instead of permanent campaigning!), the trend seems to be in danger of becoming a flood! Fred Thompson, the actor, served one term in the U.S. Senate (R-TN) before returning to acting. Now, he is campaigning for the Republican nomination for U.S. president.
The comedian and liberal radio personality, Al Franken, is campaigning as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN), although Franken faces a crowded field of Democrats vying for the chance to take on Coleman.
Progressives in Flint, Michigan are trying to draft filmmaker and author Michael Moore to run for Congress.
Before his return to PBS, there was a “Draft Bill Moyers for President” campaign. (The veteran journalist and author did serve as Communications Director in the Johnson White House, which might be some qualification!)
It is rumored that the Country & Western singer/songwriter, Tim McGraw, a Democrat, is considering running either for Governor of Tennessee or for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. (Would he finally have to take off his hat? And what about that very steamy video that he and his wife, Faith Hill, made a few years back for one of their duets?) What’s next? Willie Nelson running for Governor of Texas? (I can see it now–Gov. Nelson introduces legislation that would make Texas the second state, after California, to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. The problem is that Gov. Nelson self-medicates!)
And now there are rumors that Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman, a favorite of mine, is considering running on a Democratic ticket for the Senate in his home state of Mississippi. (If elected, he would become the first African American senator in the Old South since the days of Reconstruction.)
Now, I like some of these people. And Franken, Moore, and Morgan would surely be better than the dregs they are opposing. But I find this trend disturbing, no matter which Party or office. What does acting, singing, dancing, hosting a TV show, etc. do to prepare someone for political office? It might help them campaign, but does it help them govern? Don’t we already have enough blurring of politics and entertainment without this kind of thing? Doesn’t this reinforce the preference for style over substance in politics–and doesn’t that erode real work for the common good, the very purpose of civic life?
Like most people, I like or dislike entertainers based on their talent or lack thereof, plus whether I like their style or genre. I like some of Sean Penn’s movies and not others–and this would be true whether or not I agreed with his politics. I like most of Bruce Willis movies–despite his conservative Republicanism. My views on things are not influenced by what Barbra Streisand (on the left) says about them, anymore than what James Wood (on the right) says. Fame does not grant someone political expertise.
I am not saying that entertainers should keep quiet about their political views–I believe in free speech for everyone. Nor would I forbid them to run for office (on what grounds?). But I wonder that we in the U.S. are so quick to elect entertainers. Their collective track records once in office are not that good.
Strange times. Will it end with us having candidates audition for office??
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