Thursday, November 3, 2005

White House & Red Carpet

Due to several factors through the course of the last two weeks, I have started thinking about that permeable line between celebrity and politics. An hour or two spent with the cable news networks will clearly demonstrate that, in 2005, it is breached more frequently than a Louisiana levee—more often than the classified status of CIA operatives married to war critics.

California, and its star-culture, is at the root of this phenomenon. Going back to Governor Ronald Reagan, celebrities have long been welcomed to the table of state and local politics. (See also: Congressman Sonny Bono, Mayor Clint Eastwood, and of course, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.) I mean, when Gary Coleman thinks that he can run for Governor and honestly have a shot at winning, the aforementioned line is not just blurred; it ceases to exist.

And while celebrities are campaigning for California public office, California’s non-celebrity public officials are working to squeeze their way into the limelight. Whether it’s Governor Jerry Brown partying with celebrities while dating Linda Ronstadt, or Governor Gray Davis teaming up with celebrity friends to serve the homeless at Christmas, it seems politicians are always in search of the next photo-op (or movie role).

It would be easier to dismiss if it only happened in California, but Minnesota elected pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura to its highest state office. Maybe it’s just a fluke, but maybe it just one more step down that long road leading to more celebrity politicians.

Darrell West is a professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University, the author of “Celebrity Politics,” and the nation’s most-cited expert on the phenomenon. He believes that it can be attributed to campaign costs, weak political parties, the role of the media and America’s growing disdain for traditional politicians.

Among Americans, there is a growing reliance upon the news as a source of entertainment. The logical progression leads us to elect entertainers as our public officials and newsmakers. We don’t like politicians but we do like Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, so we vote for Arnold.

But this might not be a bad thing. Last week, the Senate narrowly rejected Ted Kennedy’s bill to increase the minimum wage to $6.50/hr. In a 51 to 47 vote, Republican senators voted to keep the federal minimum wage at $5.15/hr., where it has stayed since 1997. It should be noted that senators have given themselves pay raises equaling more than $25,000 each since the last minimum-wage increase. So maybe, just maybe, electing singers and actors and professional wrestlers is better than letting these crooks run the show. And besides, Jay-Z is due for another promotion soon.

So with this column begins the Campaign to Elect Shawn Carter for President (given a few conditions). Russell Simmons is to be his running mate, Bill Gates his campaign manager, Paris Hilton his press secretary, and Angelina Jolie his Chief Advisor on Foreign Affairs. Once elected, he must vow to appoint Martha Stewart Chairwoman of the Fed, and Henry Rollins will be the new Secretary of Defense. Oprah will take over the Education Dept., and lead inner-city literacy initiatives, while I sit at home and watch the news all day. Just to see what happens next.

-From Pulse
November 3, 2005