A growing number of news outlets are reporting on the speculation of Ashley Judd's possible Kentucky Senate campaign next year, as a novice Democratic politician in her home state. Without any confirmation from her, there is already a buzz surrounding the likelihood of a Hollywood star in the next election cycle. Most folks aren't even surprised by the predictions, and now the media is presenting campaign advice from other celebrities as news.
Times have changed when talking about famous people and politics. It used to be that when a celebrity promoted a party, I presumed that we were talking about a big social event at some club (with the obligatory VIP section). These days, however, I assume that we are talking about an actual political party, and I don't think I'm alone.
The line between celebrity and politician is becoming progressively blurred. We are seeing more and more well-known personalities using their celebrity to promote parties, causes, and even individual candidates. If this last election cycle is any indication, this field of influence is expanding. Over the past few years as media has focused on the expanding role of celebrity, it now seems "natural" to see and hear about how and who celebrities are supporting in local, state and national politics.
Extending this process further, I think it's likely to expect that more celebrities will be following the paths of other successful politicians like former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former comedian and current Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.
Recent elections have proven that political values are still shifting. In my opinion, now more than ever, America needs more diverse politicians; for me, that has more to do with race and ideology than celebrity status. I actually do welcome the voices of celebrities at the public table in the democratic process, but evaluating them as potential representatives bears an entirely different analysis.
Here's the thing: Ashley Judd and I are in the same political party; we are obviously both interested in politics; and I even "like" Ashley Judd (as much as you can like someone that you don't really know). But you know what? I have no idea if she is really nice at all.
Moreover, I have no idea what she is like as a policy advisor or a leader. I'd gladly pay $10 bucks to see her in a good movie, but I wouldn't vote for her just because she is a well-known (and dare I say well-liked) celebrity. Without question, she is a good actress; but I don't know where she stands on issues that I care about like marriage equality, immigration, or criminal justice reform.
If I really think about it beyond just Ashley, I can't think of too many celebrities that I would be excited to see running for office as my representative. For the most part, celebrities are famous for entertaining us and not for their deep thinking or commitment to a definitive policy. These ideas are not mutually exclusive, but I don't presume political leadership as a factor of fame.
Furthermore, these days it seems like most celebrities are making well-publicized choices with their lives that I certainly don't connect with or support. A stroll on the red carpet or an endorsement deal means less to me than a record of advocacy.
Look, I'm all for famous folks participating in the political process, but I'm not eager to see celebrities evolving into candidates for political office on the foundation of name recognition alone. In my humble opinion, the fame associated with celebrities feels more like a distraction than a fresh opportunity to address real issues.
Plus, I'd like for my representatives to have more than just an MTV movie award for best kiss in a horror film. If you really want to impress me, show me a history of public service beyond entertainment and vanity indulgences for media attention. If you really want to represent voters in this country, I'd like to see a reflection of policy development and implementation. I'm not a stickler on defining what that public service has to be for candidates, but I do know that it shouldn't just be based on your fan base and volume of Twitter followers.
I like to feel like I know the character of my politicians and that has nothing to do with a character on a screen. Others might feel differently, but I'm willing to argue that real characteristics that I have prioritized should trump celebrity status as valued qualities in tomorrow's leaders. Without a doubt, candidates that I'll be supporting are going to have to earn my vote with service more than a mere history of entertaining me.
Paul Henderson is deputy chief of staff and public safety director by the mayor of the City of San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee. Prior to joining the mayor's office, Mr. Henderson served as chief of administration and prosecutor for the district attorney of San Francisco. As a trial attorney with nearly two decades of courtroom experience, Mr. Henderson successfully handled all types of cases in the criminal justice system, ranging from nonviolent misdemeanors to serious felonies, including homicide. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHendersonSF.
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