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Celebrity Politics

Vox: How to Deal With the Age of Celebrity Candidates

In the excitement over a potential Oprah Winfrey presidency, there is an obvious eye-rolling response: We already elected a celebrity with no political experience to the White House, and look how well that’s working out.

And yet there is a reason many are drawn to Oprah’s candidacy — and it’s a primary reason Donald Trump succeeded. In an era of nonstop politics-as-entertainment media, there’s something appealing about a celebrity candidate known for being an inspirational problem solver on television, who makes us feel like great things are possible. Like a president should.

Each in their own ways, and for very different audiences, both Trump and Winfrey play variations on what we think we want in a president — somebody who will tell us a great story, and who exudes authoritative decisiveness.

The problem here is that the actual job of being president (understanding complex policy trade-offs) is very different from the public role of playing president (reveling in broad, inspirational generalizations).

At this point, Oprah has already downplayed the thought of herself running for president multiple times, and I truly hope it stays that way. The idea of celebrity presidents is kind of appalling, but it’s easy to see how we got here. The president is, in many ways, a figurehead who has to capture the public imagination. Think of the way Ronald Reagan steamrolled through his elections or even how no-one could hold a candle to Barack Obama’s presence and charisma.

The author goes on to propose a system where a given political party not only makes presidential nominations official at party conventions, but they will also collaboratively assemble a Cabinet for their potential candidate. Then, when the general election ramps up, people are not voting for a single person; they are voting for an administration. While this may never happens, it’s an interesting take on how we move our public discourse back to issues that really matter rather than get caught up in cults of personality.