I reached for the Rolaids when I read that Dr. Oz is considering a run for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. It was bad enough that he served as a guest host on Jeopardy. Now he wants to share his wisdom representing Pennsylvania in the Senate. What party? Republican, of course. The Republican party serves as a great springboard for celebrities who want to enter politics. Remember Donald Trump?
Dr. Oz isn’t the only celebrity considering a political career. Matthew McConaughey, the actor I enjoyed so much in Interstellar and U-571 is an example. He is considering running against Texas Governor Greg Abbott and was polling ahead of Abbott in September. Would McConaughey be a better governor than Abbott? (Better not ask me—despite McConaughey starring in The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I would opt for the actor over Abbott, regardless of his prior experience.)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson considered running for president in 2020. Will the former professional wrestler and current actor run again in 2024? Why not?
The list goes on. Howard Stern announced he was running for governor of New York in 1994, Cynthia Nixon ran in 2018, and Roseanne Barr investigated running for president in 2012. More recently, Donald Trump has encouraged former football great Hershel Walker to run for Senate from Georgia. And don’t forget Kanye West’s short-lived run in 2020 and Caitlyn Jenner’s interest in serving as California’s governor. (Is there any actor or celebrity not thinking about running for California governor?)
What is it that drives celebrities to believe they would make effective political leaders? One suspects that narcissism is involved. Hubris also seems in play. It takes a massive ego to assume that you can be a successful president with absolutely no prior experience in government or policy.
Sometimes, inexperienced politicians who are elected become successful despite their lack of experience. Sometimes they are lucky—the crises that arise during their terms are manageable. In the case of celebrities elected to legislatures, opportunities to screw-up are fewer. To expose yourself as an obviously incompetent legislator, you must get caught taking a bribe or doing something stupid. It happens, but most celebrities elected to Congress are more likely to blend in than to implode.
In thinking about celebrities running for office, I often blame voters. If celebrities did not stand a chance of winning elections, they wouldn’t run, would they? If there are voters out there who would seriously consider voting for, say, Kanye West, there will be celebrities ready to run. That’s sad.
In maligning voters who think TV or movie stars might make good governmental leaders, it is important to note that many career politicians are potentially worse. Depending on who you talk to, Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer are examples.
Celebrities are frequently seen as attractive alternatives to career politicians who are corrupted by lobbyists, campaign contributions, and “the swamp” in Washington. It is assumed that someone who already has money and fame might be immune to the temptations of Washington or a state capital.
Another issue involved with celebrities running for office rises from the fact that they are frequently successful. There are exceptions to the rule.
Not everyone will agree, but many of us view Ronald Reagan as a case in point. (It’s important to remember, however, that before Reagan ran for president, he served as California’s governor for two terms,) Several celebrities have also run for the Senate and served with distinction. Al Franken, the former Saturday Night Live comedian who was elected to the Senate from Minnesota comes to mind. Some would also cite movie star and former body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger as well.
What do you think about celebrities in politics? Linda Hamilton, who played Sarah Conner in The Terminator and Terminator II, is originally from Salisbury. Would I prefer her representing the First District in Congress over Andy “Handgun” Harris? Yes, I would. Still, I don’t like celebrities running for office. There’s already a circus in town.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally, golden doodles.