Star Power in Politics

By: Esther You

Considering the fame and name recognition celebrities have, it is not unlikely to hear buzz about celebrities seeking public office.  In actuality, a politician is a celebrity in his or her own right so it isn’t must of a departure.  For example, take Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-Busch who is running for the vacant South Carolina congressional seat.  Her brother, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert gave her a shout-out on his show February 6, 2013.  While plugging his sister’s congressional bid, Colbert insisted on giving her no “free air time” and that he would “maintain pure objectivity” during her run. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/02/07/stephen-colbert-touts-sisters-congressional-campaign-video/) Comedians are known for poking fun at family and friends, so it came as no surprise when Colbert even threatened to reveal secrets from her middle-school diary if she were to win and come on his show.

Colbert himself is no stranger to politics, a former 2008 presidential candidate and super-PAC founder.  House leaders also recently announced Stephen Colbert will be the “surprise guest” at this year’s House of Representatives Democratic Issues Conference, so it is clear he’s not planning to shy away from the political limelight anytime soon.

And let’s not forget about the other flock of celebrities who are considering or have considered running for political office.  Actor and director Ben Affleck recently turned down an offer to run for John Kerry’s Senate seat in Massachusetts.  But who knows if he may run for office down the line.  Affleck may just have been busy this time around  working and promoting his widely acclaimed movie “Argo.”

Although she has not officially announced her run for the U.S. Senate , actress Ashley Judd is seriously considering a run for the Senate seat in Kentucky, her home state.  She faces some stiff competition if she decides to run, including current representatives Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader.  But once again, Judd already has name recognition from the entertainment world that could give her a political boost.  Judd also has the political substance to back up her run.  She is an international activist on women’s issue and AIDS prevention and she’s made her politics stance clear.  Judd is a vocal supporter of President Obama and helped register voters for the 2012 Election.  The actress also received a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2010.

While it may seem odd to see a celebrity make the career switch over to politics, it is not a foreign idea.  After a successful career in action movies, Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger served as Governor of California for two terms from 2003-2011. Actor and director Clint Eastwood made a much talked about and unforgettable mark on the 2012 Presidential Election when he started talking to an empty chair as if it was President Obama during his speech at the Republican National Convention.  But believe it or not, there was a time when Eastwood was in office.  In 1986, he was elected Mayor of his adopted hometown, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

And arguably the most famous celebrity turned politician is none other than our country’s 40th President, Ronald Reagan.  After appearing in 53 films over two decades, he served as Governor of California in 1966 and was again re-elected in 1970.  Reagan went on to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 1980 and took office the following year.  President Reagan survived an assassination attempt soon after taking office and made history when he appointed the first woman-,Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, to the U.S. Supreme Court.  He led the country through the Cold War, helped the U.S. economy gain its footing following the recession in the early 1980’s, and was affectionately known as the “great communicator.”  While in office, Reagan took to the fight against communism, by giving aid to anti-communist movements abroad.  President Reagan also launched an initiative designed to protect America from Soviet nuclear missile attacks.  Reagan was an actor, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he felt was right for the country when he was elected President of the United States; the fact that he was a celebrity did not detract from his duties as President.

And while some people may roll their eyes when they hear about a celebrity thinking about running for office, there is a lot of past precedent behind the idea.  As long as the candidate for public office truly cares about their constituents, the practice should not be discouraged.  It is a fundamental American principle that the door is wide open for anyone to run for office, regardless of whether or not they are a “celebrity.”  The public perception of a celebrity running for political office should not be diminished by the fact that they worked in the entertainment industry, or may be viewed as lacking political substance, or less qualified for the job than someone with a law degree or political background.  The most important quality for someone seeking public office is the genuine desire to help and serve their constituents, and to leave the state or country better than you found it.

Sources:

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120903/NEWS02/309030013/Ashley-Judd-makes-no-apologies-Democratic-activism

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2012/12/05/166588340/celebrities-and-the-senate-would-ashley-judd-stand-a-chance

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/08/stephen-colbert-democrats_n_2644984.html

http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ronaldreagan

http://www.biography.com/people/ronald-reagan-9453198?page=1

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/reagan-legacy/

http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/12/04/ashley-judd-actor-politicians/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/02/07/stephen-colbert-touts-sisters-congressional-campaign-video/

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