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  AND THE OFFICE GOES TO... CELEBRITY POLITICIANS.  
   
 

Arnold's running for governor.

The entire idea seems like some kind of cosmic joke, both ridiculous, like the plot of a bad Schwarzenegger comedy, and completely sensible, coming from a state that's launched the political careers of Ronald Reagan and Sonny Bono. But a closer look at the

 
 

supermodel-thin distinction between the business of entertainment and that of high politics reveals Arnold's gonna spawn the one thing Hollywood loves most: Sequels.

"For a long time, celebrities have lobbied politicians and spoken out about various public matters," said Darrell West, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Brown University, as well as author of 'Celebrity Politics.'

Former President Bill Clinton is one of the architects of the blurred line between pop culture and politics. Whether discoursing on boxers and briefs on MTV or blowing a mean sax on the Arsenio Hall show, Clinton was a savvy suitor of celebrity culture. And it was Oprah Winfrey, the cappo di tutti capo of celebrity culture, to whom Al Gore's campaign turned during the crunch days of the election in search of female voters.

As Salon.com's David Skinner observed in 2000: "Gore talked, endlessly it seemed, about Tipper Gore. Oprah asked how he had reacted to the news of Tipper's depression. He did what he had to, he said, which was to 'feel the love and start the healing.' He touted his wife's work in protecting American kids from those "albums that are inappropriate," something the Gores played down in 1992. He once gave Tipper a bracelet, he told everyone, inscribed, 'To the bravest person I know.'" Gore's appearance on the show suggested an Oprah endorsement. If she can make a book a bestseller, why not make a man president?

Though the blinding celebrity spotlight was plugged in long before Schwarznegger announced his run on the politically friendly "Tonight Show," he is hardly the first celebrity to have angled his star wattage to rise a rung on the social ladder to political office. Former Senator Fred Thompson, who, like Al Gore, hails from Tennessee, recently joined the cast of NBC's "Law and Order" as District Attorney Arthur Branch. Before that he appeared in 17 motion pictures, including 'Cape Fear' and 'In The Line of Fire.' One assumes that he prefers socializing with cast members like Sam Waterston, who once played Abe Lincoln in a TV movie, than the scoundrels in the United States Senate who try act like regular folks in front of voters. At the very least, craft services is an improvement over the standard Senate Cafeteria fare of fried chicken, macaroni and 'Freedom Fries.'

The Hollywood-Washington nexus also sports Clint Eastwood, who was, for a time, the mayor of Carmel, Calif., as well as Sonny Bono, who served in Congress and as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif. Celebrities and rich businessmen in California often spend their time and money promoting state-wide ballot initiatives, which are exactly what Schwarznegger is referring to when speaking of his own "political experience."

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has taken to Albany with former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo to lobby the New York State Legislature to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. In the upcoming election, Simmons will work alongside WWE Entertainment's Vince McMahon to "Smackdown the Vote."

Besides copious amounts of available cash, celebrity politicians have the name recognition that the regular shlubs are hustling for. Who besides citizens of Arkansas heard of Bill Clinton before 1991? And who (in California and beyond) doesn't know about the Terminator?

In an e-mail interview, Prof. West says "we shouldn't be surprised" that celebrities are seeking political office. "It is the age of celebrity politics. You no longer need to be a politician to seek

 

 

 
 

political office. Indeed, during some time periods, it is an advantage for a candidate to come from outside the political mainstream. In an era of citizen cynicism, voters sometimes see famous people from outside the world of politics as white knights untainted by partisan political dealings."

So, who are the next celebrity politicians?

Russell Simmons seems angling for city or statewide office in New York. Barbara Streisand has spent thousands on politics and could be a candidate for all manner of office. Robert Redford has been mentioned as a Senate Candidate in Utah for years now. Alec Baldwin has always had an eye on a Congressional or Senate seat in New York, although his acrimonious split with ex-wife Kim Bassinger might make things messy. Bullworth star Warren Beatty, the architect of the Hollywood-Washington Democratic fundraising link, weighed in on a third party run in the 2000 election, but ultimately decided against it: Could he still have a future in Washington?

SAG President Melissa Gilbert, who made many hearts flutter with her revealing dress at the Golden Globes this year would be a fetching candidate for the Senate in the future. The regal Candace Bergen, who is no stranger in donations to Democratic women candidates, would be a wonderful match for the Senate as well. How about Michael Douglas, who played An American president as The American President? How about the brainy Jeff Goldblum for Congress? Or even Hollywood's Everyman Tom Hanks?

The possibilities are endless, the tabloids are at the ready and we, the public, are willing to consider it. Horror of horrors: Celebrity politicians are here to stay.

 

*BT*

Ron Mwangaguhunga was born in Uganda and currently
lives in Brooklyn. He has written for Paper, NY Press
and National Review Online.