The American Fascination with Celebrities

Rich Lowry of the right-wing National Review claimed in an opinion piece published in the Daily Item (Jan. 10) that Democrats should take Oprah Winfrey seriously as a candidate for president in 2020. He claims that Donald Trump proved that stodgy, boring, however knowledgeable politicians could be beaten by a political know-nothing with “charisma, performative ability and gobs of free media.” He left out “with the help of the Russian secret service, all the media corporations, and support from the Director of the FBI.”

Of the several reasons raised for the stunning 2016 election of Donald Trump, one has been overlooked: the American obsession with TV and movie celebrities. The Republicans, who are excellent at campaigning, have not missed this weakness in the electorate.

Democrats have never run a celebrity for governor or president and only one, Al Franken, for senator. Will Rogers resisted the temptation at the height of his celebrity to accept an offer from Democrats to be their candidate. Republicans have run two notable celebrities for governor and two for president.

Arnold Schwarzenegger started out as a champion weight-lifter, then became a famous movie star, a successful business man, and finally, a two-term Governor of California. He was a liberal Republican, converting his Hummer to fuel cells and gaining a grant from the federal government to began building a hydrogen fuel plant in California. About 7 years after his marriage to Maria Shriver, he sired a son by a maid in his household. When he left office, he had increased a deficit of $34 billion to $91 billion.

Ronald Reagan as governor of California, 1966-1974, was successful. He began with deficit $194 million which he converted to a surplus $5.5 million by raising taxes 11 times over his two terms. Ronald Reagan as president is a different story. He increased the federal debt 191% despite raising taxes nine times.

Now we have billionaire Oprah Winfrey giving a beautiful campaign speech after receiving a Golden Globe for Lifetime Achievement. She would certainly be an entertaining campaigner. But the office she would be running for is not chief entertainer. It is the presidency of the largest employer in the country: More than two million civilian employees and more than four million total employees. It is a political organization with 15 huge departments containing 523 administrations, bureaus, office, agencies, etc.

Oprah is apparently a brilliant businesswoman who has built a multibillion-dollar corporation. But Donald Trump has already proven that business and politics run on two highly complex systems that are totally different. Business focuses on making money — the bottom line. Business revenues vary with the economic cycles. Corporations can ignore all the harm they do so long as they have enough cash in reserve to cover the legal actions resulting from that harm. Politics focuses on all the good it can achieve for the society with its revenue, which the government controls through taxation.

Oprah Winfrey is an amazing story. She is a genius at entertainment and doing good works outside government.

However, she has no experience running a huge political organization like the U.S. government. She would be a better president than Donald Trump, but then that is a pretty low bar to go for.

Democrats do not confuse campaigning with governing. They have saved America from a depression and a great recession caused by Republicans. But the attention of the US electorate is too easily diverted from history by slick celebrity entertainment.

(Sunbury Daily Item, January 13, 2018)
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