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In Defense of Celebrity Politicians

June 7, 2010
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The spate of statements and Tweets coming from celebrities commenting on the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill has got me thinking again about the thorny topic of entertainer/politicians.

We often hear people claim they’d never vote for an entertainer simply because they’re an entertainer, which makes me wonder if their status as entertainer hinders them from any decision-making capabilities crucial to politics.

Everyone’s heard of some entertainer at one time or another claim that if so-and-so won whatever election they’d repatriate to another country, and, granted, that’s pretty silly—especially when they renege after so-and-so wins.
Still, if anything, there are more similarities than differences between the entertainment and politics:

Both are often in the press and need to be able to articulate. Both depend on their appeal to a large number of people for their jobs. Both enjoy the perks of kickbacks and riders, the only difference being that taxpayers generally don’t provide them for entertainers.

Dismissing a candidate simply because of their occupation, I think, says less about the candidate and more about the voter. A lot of entertainer-politician animosity, for example, comes from the Republicans, which shows a large degree of ignorance since some of the most notable entertainer-politicians were Republicans, too–Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, Jesse Ventura ran as an independent but is usually identified with the right, even Ted Nugent and Charlton Heston are celebrated for their political actions–is the right just ignorant of its party history? Its track record in the entertainer-politician category is pretty damn notable.
Then again, when I think of entertainer-politicians, I (and I suspect many others) generally think of the left–Al Franken, Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, Jane Fonda, Janeane Garofolo, Warren Beatty–even the politician-turned-entertainer Al Gore–and I think the reason I think of the left is because this crowd tends to be very outspoken.

But being outspoken isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, given their celebrity status, entertainers are more apt to be called out on a mistaken belief or corrected for their misrepresentation of fact. Being in the spotlight, entertainers are more likely have their political beliefs scrutinized, which should give them more of an incentive to defend and refine those beliefs. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but they are in a better position to get slapped down every time they shoot their mouth off–which, really, is a good place to be for anyone running for office. Remember the backlash over the Dixie Chicks’ criticisms of Bush? Or the flak routinely doled out to Sean Penn? Or when Mel Gibson made a jackass of himself and apologized for it three days later? How many other people stir up a firestorm of controversy when they say something stupid?

Even if you take someone like Michael Moore, whose political beliefs are always under attack, and rightly point out that despite the constant scrutiny his positions stay the same, you should dismiss him or his politics or both–not what he does for a living. Attack the politics, not the profession.

So I’m back to wondering why people dismiss entertainers. If anything, they’re in a unique position to test their political beliefs and get immediate feedback if/when they screw up–in fact, I’d feel better if everyone were held to the entertainers’ standard.Ce

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