ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Mixing Celebrity and Political Power is Bad for America

The old saying goes “Politics is show business for the ugly” but I don’t think it applies anymore—at least not in its old form.

Today, politics is show business. Period.

It’s not something that started with Trump either, though he is a Day-Glo orange example of what I’m talking about. Washington, Hollywood, the major news broadcast and cable news outlets—they are all part of the entertainment industry now.

It happened over a long time, perhaps it began (or at least began to pick up speed) with candidate Bill Clinton in his Ray-Bans mediocrely blowing his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show or talking about his underwear preferences with teenaged girls on MTV. Politicians and candidates have been showing up on late night talk shows with increasing frequency. The appearances have not usually been serious moments but opportunities for Democrats to show their base how “cool” they are and for Republicans to set themselves up for subsequent mockery under the guise of showing what “good sports” they are.

The latest red laser dot to excite the Right’s inner feline is Kid Rock’s possible U.S. Senate bid.  Who knows if it will really happen, but in our current climate it should surprise no one if it does.

“Presuming Kid Rock doesn’t get caught in bed with a little boy, or beat up a woman between now and August 2018, he’s going to win the nomination if he gets in,” says Dennis Lennox, a Republican political consultant in Michigan. “I think there’s no question about that. I think he’s the prohibitive favorite if he gets in.”

Lennox is underestimates the allure of the bandwagon here. I think today’s Republican is quite capable of rationalizing a little domestic violence or pedophilia to get a win over a Democrat. Were that hypothetical to become reality, it is easy to see those whom Erick Erickson refers to as the “beat the left” Republicans spinning conspiracy yarns about how it was all an elaborate set up or simply playing the “what about Anthony Weiner?” card to negate the scandal. The pundits who pander to such people for clicks would write buzzword laden think pieces affirming that low moral character is a feature not a bug.

I have nothing against Kid Rock, mind you. I applaud some of what he’s done to support our troops deployed overseas and the work he has done within his own community. Assuming he meets all the Constitutional qualifications he’s got as much right to run for the U.S. Senate as does Mitch McConnell or Alvin Green.  The problem Rock’s candidacy raises for me is the people celebrating his potential victory over a Democrat without any regard to his substance. An R beating a D is all that matters. Whether that helps substantially push back the intrusive federal government is irrelevant.

Political activists increasingly resemble sports fans who are more excited about slobber-knocker hits than they are about whether their football team wins the game, or people who only watch auto racing for the crashes. Slaves to the highlight reel.

What people forget (or never realize to begin with) is that celebrity is completely arbitrary. That is especially true today in the era of internet sex tapes and Froot Loop journalism. Privately people have argued to me that the mixing of celebrity and politics is a good thing. The politicians who we’ve been electing haven’t succeeded so why not try something new. To me that argument is like the ones which justified Obamacare by citing only the problems in the health care industry. The existence of a problem is not proof that any proposed change is a good one.

Others have said to me that it exposes the ridiculousness of people in power. I disagree with that. I think it conflates power and celebrity. It affirms in people’s minds that being famous is connected with being authoritative. The Right is eager to say “shut up and sing” to political celebrities until they find one that even superficially holds their views. Then they greet him or her with palm fronds and Hosannahs.

It’s time to grow up and pick candidates and leaders for something other than just who they irritate or how much they entertain us on the campaign trail.


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