How to Fix Politics: Celebrity Edition

The American political scene is in sorry shape. If you’re reading this blog– or indeed, if you have a pulse– you likely agree with this, so I won’t belabor the point.

The standard prescription is to get out and vote. While it’s important that people vote, the idea that ‘our problems would melt away if only everyone got out and voted’ is troubling, because if you vote and feel you’ve done your duty yet voting doesn’t actually do much, it’s ’empty calories’ of a very dangerous sort.

As I get older and (I think) wiser, I find the choices voters get are hardly choices at all. We only get exposed to– let alone get to vote for– candidates that have passed through a huge gauntlet of vested interests. Candidates who won’t rock the boat too much, candidates who will “play ball”, candidates who have essentially sold out, beholden to and dependent on their party, media alliances, and funders. “Get out and vote” is hardly a viable prescription for change when we can choose to vote for Goldman Sachs or Goldman Sachs.

The Powers That Be have always been able to vet candidates to some extent, but in the past few elections it’s gotten particularly stark: before, a wildcard like Perot might’ve snuck in, but (love him or hate him) witness what happened to Ron Paul when he tried to circumvent the gatekeepers’ gauntlet.

It’s a hard, complex problem. But I see a way to short-circuit a lot of this gatekeeping. Convince more celebrities to run for office.

It sounds like a joke, but I’m entirely serious. Celebrities already have their own power base, their own media exposure. They don’t need to mortgage their ideals to get access to voters. They get a (mostly) free pass through the gatekeepers’ gauntlet, and many would stand a good chance at getting elected going head-to-head against the sorts of candidates the major parties field.

Clearly we wouldn’t want any old celebrity running for president, but there are celebrities who would genuinely be great candidates. Matt Damon, Jon Stewart, Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio– all potential candidates who would be more electable, likely more competent, freer to speak their minds, and much less likely to respect sacred cows on both the right and the left than anybody the standard party nomination process can produce. And perhaps we see the past with rose-tinted glasses, but it seems like the celebrities we’ve already elected have done pretty well by us.


I’m sure I missed a lot of celebrities who would make good candidates. Who are they?


4 thoughts on “How to Fix Politics: Celebrity Edition

  1. Hmm, interesting. I was expecting robots (or, you know, electing me benign dictator as we discussed long ago).
    I think it would be more honest; celebrities already swim in sensationalism, and the ones you named are able to function in that soup and still do good. Plus, it would be amazing to have an ARTIST in power!!
    I think you’re right about more freedom–Jesse Ventura was crazy (and we got silly bumper stickers while he was in office in MN), but he was the one who started the Light Rail, and he just said whatever he wanted to, and I think we were more forgiving. Maybe we view politicians more like we view priests; likewise, it would do us good to view our religious leaders more like clowns (sacred clowns, not mockingly).

    Do you see any downside to celebrities in politics that we don’t currently experience?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Rose. I think you’re absolutely right about the artist thing. The temperament of the average politician vs the average celebrity is much different— and though I wouldn’t put it wholly in the celebrity’s favor, I’d put it significantly so.

    Jesse Ventura was blasted from the right and left, and he blasted right back— my dad likes to joke that, for such a big guy, he sure had a thin skin… but at least you could tell exactly what he was thinking. I can’t say he was perfect, but I think he was a lot more honest and effective than governors since.

    Perhaps there’s some comment to be made about Al Franken and sending clowns to Washington. I’m actually really impressed with how he’s done there. I was expecting quips and I think we’ve got substance.

    I think celebrities in politics only ‘works’ if we can get the cream. Most celebrities are *not* cut out for office, and the danger is this strategy might work too well— the pool of electable celebrities is much larger than the pool of celebrities who would make good candidates. But at the same time, Desperate times, desperate measures and such, perhaps.

  3. You speak of the ‘political gatekeepers’ and all the lying, bullshit, selling out and other typical things that goes along with getting the green light from them to enter the arena.

    I’m not so sure celebrities will be a viable way around that. Don’t you think there’s an equivalent gauntlet at work in Hollywood? ie, to become a hooj big-name ‘Celebrity’, an actor(ess) would have to deal with a number of selection pressures imposed by agents/studios/whomever-else-is-involved that would weed out some of the very qualities you’re looking for?

    That being said, these people make their living -acting-. If they decided to treat it as just another role, espousing responsibility and the general appearance of being fit to govern, would we even know it’s a con?

  4. Definitely. I wouldn’t say Hollywood selects for optimal qualities for holding office (though, of all the professions in the world, I’d say it’d be in the top quartile for selecting them).

    I think the key is, the selection process is more open to letting some mavericks in. I.e., not every celebrity would make a good politician, but there exist celebrities who (1) are electable, and (2) wouldn’t let themselves be bought-and-paid-for if elected. The same cannot be said for our traditional pipeline of elected officials, due to the vetting process.

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