TV news is as influential in the nation’s capital right now as it has ever been. On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 12 of the 20 political reporters most followed by the U.S. Congress work at CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC or MSNBC. Members of Congress and their staffs rely on television news and the Twitter accounts of the reporters they recognize. Digital news is also breaking through, with Mike Allen (Axios) being one of the top three most followed journalists by members of Congress, and one of the four top journalists who work at new media publications (Axios, POLITICO and Vox). Out of the top 20 most followed accounts, only four work at traditional print publications (The Washington Post, The Hill and The New York Times).
Folks, let’s just get right to it and call the effort to “reform” Michigan’s system of reapportioning its Congressional and legislative districts for what it is — an abomination.
Hard to imagine that anything could be as badly researched, poorly thought-out and ineptly written as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s flawed effort to create a “part-time” Michigan Legislature, for which petitioners are supposedly now in the field trying to collect signatures to put on the statewide ballot.
Fact is, though, the allegedly “grassroots” group calling itself “Voters Not Politicians” (VNP) has produced a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that is even worse. Even progressive Democrats yearning for something (anything!) that would overturn the current system (whereby Republicans have been in charge of drawing Michigan’s maps for the past two decades) are embarrassed by what their own side, as an alternative, has produced.
Why are we talking about this, anyway? Because VNP wants to scrap the system Michigan has used for 180 years to reapportion its Congressional and state legislative districts, a process that has often produced blatant gerrymanders, by both major parties. Instead, VNP wants to make Michigan the seventh state to use some form of what might be called an “independent commission” to redraw the maps every 10 years, after a decennial census. The rest of the country relies on either its Legislature or some form of commission with input from politicians to do the remaps.
But what VNP has come up with is a side-slapping laugher.
In a nutshell, even if the Board of State Canvassers approves what VNP has submitted to the Secretary of State, even if petition circulators then collect the requisite 315,000-plus valid signatures to get on the statewide ballot in 2018, even if voters approve the proposal, the state can look forward to astronomical costs in trying to put it into effect, a new state bureaucracy on steroids, a Secretary of State (whoever it is) with unaccountable new powers, and literally years of litigation seeking to overturn the new set-up, stretching all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But wait! What exactly IS this atrocity, anyway? Here is the basic outline:
— The VNP language sets up a 13-member, “independent citizens” redistricting commission to handle the task of drawing lines, and spells out who — and who cannot — be on the commission. Yes, there can be four Democrats and four Republicans on the commission, but the balance of power will be held by five supposed “independents.” Keep in mind that, in Michigan, the law does not require anybody to register to vote by party.
— A commissioner can not have been, in the past six years, a candidate or elected official to a “partisan” federal, state, or local office. Also prohibited are officers, precinct delegates, or any member of a leadership body for national, state or local political parties during the past six years.
— A person cannot be a commissioner if s/he has been a consultant or employee of a federal, state, or local election official or candidate, or of a political action committee (PAC) or “like organization.”
— No person can be a commissioner if s/he has been an employee of the Legislature or of a statewide elected official, a registered lobbyist, an employee of a registered lobbyist, or an unclassified employee of the state.
— No person can be a commissioner who is RELATED to any of the people in the above list by “two or three degrees of consanguinity or by two or three degrees of affinity.”
— Nobody can be a commissioner who has been convicted of a felony in the past 10 years, nor can a commissioner hold a partisan political office for five years after the date of an appointment (Remember, federal courts have already ruled that only the U.S. Congress can be the arbiter of who its Members are).
— The new “power behind the throne” of the redistricting process will be Michigan’s Secretary of State, whoever that turns out to be in 2020-21. Why? Because this constitutional amendment gives the SoS full authority to determine how random samples will be drawn from a list of more than 10,000 voters. No requirements appear in the text of the proposal that empower the Legislature to provide by law how the sample will be drawn from the massive pool, and implemented. Nor does the text of the proposal even require that the SoS promulgate administrative rules on random sampling and weighting of the sample.
— The deadline for applications to serve on the commission will be July 1, 2020. The proposal requires the SoS to ensure that 50% of applicants who move to the next stage of the selection process come from individuals who return those randomly drawn unrequested applications that the SoS has mailed out to voters s/he has selected. Left out of the VNP text is whether the names and addresses of individuals receiving the mailed applications are subject to FOIA. Does this permit political parties and interest groups to contact these randomly drawn individuals and encourage them to complete the application process? It goes without saying that any applicant to be a commissioner will be required to give voter registration address, age, gender, race, perhaps sexual preference, and whichever political party (or “no party”) they identify with.
— Yes, the petition’s language stipulates that, in drawing maps, the commission should use such court-mandated criteria as equal population, geographical contiguity, compactness, and consideration of local government boundaries. But it also requires that districts be created that “reflect the state’s diverse population and communities of interest,” which the VNP language says should include populations that share undefined “cultural or historical characteristics and economic interests.”
— Each commissioner will be paid 25% of the compensation of the Governor. In 2016, Michigan’s Governor was scheduled to be paid $159,300. Rick Snyder returned all but $1 of his salary. Gubernatorial salaries are determined by the State Officers Compensation Commission (SOCC) which, after imposing a 10% pay cut in 2010 and a subsequent pay freeze over the past seven years, has recommended a pay increase to $177,600 for the governor. That would translate into an annual $44,400 salary for each of the commissioners, which is far more than legislators’ pay would be if Lt. Gov. Calley’s constitutional amendment is approved next year.
— Although the Michigan Supreme Court could still review any challenge to a plan adopted by the commission, if the high bench doesn’t believe the commission’s blueprint meets constitutional requirements, it must remand back to the commission any decision for further action. “In no event,” the petition’s language states, shall any other body, even the Supreme Court, be allowed to adopt a redistricting plan for the state. Only the commission will be allowed to do that. Furthermore, the petition’s language makes plain that the commission cannot be tampered with by the Legislature or the Governor. The commission’s “responsibilities, operations, functions, contracts, consultants and employees” cannot be altered by any branch of state government.
There is more, much more, in VNP’s whopping eight-page petition language, but suffice to say that this proposal appears to be the product of what might be called The Second Progressive Era of American politics. In other words, selection of commissioners is to be made on the basis of the applicants’ demographic characteristics. If the First Progressive Era of the early 20th Century emphasized that selection of commissioners should be based on testing of special skills or expertise of the applicant, the VNP criteria stipulate that the personal biography and physiognomy of the applicant should be paramount. How far should this be extended? Perhaps whether the applicant is right-handed or left-handed should be a factor, or myriad other considerations.
It’s no surprise that the Board of State Canvassers has taken more than three weeks even to schedule a meeting on the VNP enterprise. Opponents of VNP shouldn’t worry — no matter what happens from here on out, what is embodied in the VNP proposal makes the Donald Trump White House, by comparison, look like a smooth, well-oiled machine.
We’re unlikely ever to see VNP maps. This effort is born to fail.
by Elizabeth Clemens
Walter P. Reuther Library
July 21, 2017
Despite a century of progressive innovation in Detroit, it is a sad reality that the events of July 23-27, 1967 are among the city’s defining moments. The five-day period of civil unrest and extreme chaos caused physical damage to the city and emotional trauma to its people. Decades later, the aftereffects of the damage and trauma linger on.
The violence was not totally unexpected. Rumors of an uprising had been swirling throughout the city for the better part of the summer. Radicalism was on the rise, and talk of self-determination and separatism had become more commonplace. Though Detroit thought of itself as a progressive, “model city” when it came to race-relations, African Americans still lagged behind in nearly every respect. Economic opportunity had largely passed them by, urban renewal projects had devoured their neighborhoods, and in areas such as housing, education, access to medical services, and employment, imbalance with their white neighbors remained. A rocky relationship with the police department, which was 95% white, only fueled the resentment of a disenfranchised community.
The spark that set off the civil unrest was the arrest of 82 African Americans in a random raid on a “blind pig,” an underground drinking establishment, on 12th Street in the early hours of July 23. Outraged by the treatment of those arrested, someone threw a brick at a police cruiser. Soon after, a clothing store window was smashed and the looting began. Police did little to contain the situation at first, partly because they were short-staffed and partly because they thought the event would be contained in the area and wind down on its own. By morning, it was clear that this was not the case.
Despite the efforts of the police, looting and fires were widespread. African American business owners frantically marked their shops with phrases like “soul brother” in the hope of being spared, in most cases to no avail. People quickly realized that stolen goods were the least of their worries as flames soon consumed entire city blocks. At 4:30 p.m., the Detroit fire department issued Signal 3-477, a code created during World War II but never before used. This order to muster all able-bodied firefighters to duty drew men and equipment from 44 other communities. Fires continued to spread throughout the five-days of unrest, with the bulk of them set within the first two days. That Monday proved to be the most destructive, with 483 fires reported.
Regardless of media efforts to keep news of the violence quiet to prevent copycat flare-ups, anarchy quickly spread from 12th Street. By late Sunday, looting had reached Mack Avenue on the East Side, roughly five miles from where it had started, moving Gov. George Romney to call in 400 state troopers and activate the Michigan National Guard. West of Woodward Avenue, from Highland Park to the Detroit River, 8,000 Guardsmen accompanied first responders and patrolled areas of turmoil. Though trained in handling weapons, they were unequipped to deal with urban conflict. The mostly white Guard overreacted to intense situations on the West Side, which led to needless casualties and death.
The intervention of the State Police and National Guard, as well as a curfew instituted between 9:00 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., were not enough to prevent the situation from escalating. On Monday, July 24, Gov. Romney requested federal troops, and soon members of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were stationed around Detroit’s East Side. Many of the men were familiar with intense combat situations from active duty in Vietnam. The fact that the East Side came under control much sooner than the West Side has been attributed to the soldiers’ experience in the field, their racial integration, and their lack of live ammunition.
As tanks rolled through the city and widespread food shortages took their toll, the chaos began to dissipate. Sniper fights, fires, and small outbursts of violence continued sporadically until July 27, when the conflict officially ended. In the end, the civil unrest of 1967 proved to be one of the most destructive civic events in the nation’s history, exceeded only by the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 and the New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War. Over 465 people were injured and 43 people lost their lives, the youngest being a 4-year old girl. Property damage exceeded an estimated 50 million dollars, with 2,509 stores burned or looted and 388 families displaced by the fires. Though 7,231 people were arrested, few were ever prosecuted as the sheer number of people made it impossible to process everyone. Perhaps more damaging was the effect the unrest had on race relations in the city. A sense of unease and mistrust settled over the area, and although the drain of population out of city started over a decade before, the event encouraged the exodus of the middle class, both black and white, to the suburbs.
The Reuther Library has many resources to help you understand the unrest of 1967, contributing factors to the event, and the lasting results. The papers of Jerome P. Cavanagh, Detroit’s mayor at the time, document the events in detail. The papers of the Detroit Commission on Community Relations (DCCR), Dan Geogakas, Maurice Kelman, and Mel Ravitzall provide a deeper understanding of the events and the underlying causes, while the papers of New Detroit, Inc. and Focus: HOPE deal with what came afterward. To hear an account of the unrest from the viewpoint of law enforcement, an oral history of Detroit Police Commissioner Ray Girardin is available. To schedule an appointment to look at film footage of the unrest, or for any other inquiries regarding audiovisual holdings, please contact the Reuther’s Audiovisual Department at email@example.com. For a more visceral understanding of the events, consult our Social Forces, Foundations & Change image gallery for over 100 images taken by Detroit News photographers or click here for a selection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs from the Tony Spina Collection.
Elizabeth Clemens is an Audiovisual Archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library
Probably not ever. But there they are, set forth for the 1931-32 public school year in Monroe County, Ohio. That’s where my mother-in-law got her education; by all indications, it was a solid one.
What brings this to mind is her first-grade report card, which my wife and I stumbled upon in advance of a family reunion last weekend in the Buckeye State. That’s where Loraine Bigler and her eight siblings grew up. Powhatan Point, to be specific. On a farm, to be even more precise. The Bigler kids and their widely spaced neighbors attended a one-room schoolhouse till they entered high school. Imagine that – a lone teacher instilling knowledge and character in charges ranging from age 6 (actually, 5 in Loraine’s case, thanks to a December birthday) to 14. Somehow, it worked.
Maybe there’s no mystery. Success took a skilled and tireless teacher, as it does today. And children whose lives were rooted in hard work and discipline, which may be less common. Still, it stands to reason that the focus of education in that era played a big part. Grades were given for reading and writing and ’rithmetic, of course, along with agriculture, civics and the aforementioned thrift. But the bulk of the report card – the two inside facing pages – measures growth both broader and more personal. Under the heading of “Citizenship” are nine focal areas, starting with “Manners” (“courtesy to teachers,” “kindness to associates” and something often missing in our public discourse today, “cleanliness and civility of speech”) and ending with “Punctuality.”
In between are what we might once have defined as all-American values: respect for law, order and authority; truthfulness and self-control; effort to do the best work; interest in community welfare; and, under “Reverence,” “attitude toward things sacred.”
There are also seven grading areas that deal with purely personal matters. There’s neatness of dress (including “clothing clean” and “shoes clean”); neatness of person (“face clean,” “nails clean,” “hair brushed”); even posture, among others. The list ends with “weight.”
Again, imagine the uproar such grading areas would spark today, when unkempt appearance and childhood obesity are so commonplace. This is not to say anyone should ever be shamed if they fall short, only that there’s good reason to set — and meet — standards.
Does lamenting their disappearance make me an old fogy? I hope not. After all, I started first grade 29 years after my mother-in-law did; by the time I reached high school, in the late ’60s, “conformity” was a dirty word and “question authority” was a something of a mantra. As a journalist, holding those in power accountable is an article of faith. But toeing the line in those old-school ways seems like a worthwhile concept in young people’s formative years. Civics and thrift are worthwhile matters throughout our lives.
Come to think of it, so did high marks for “dependableness” and “workmanship” and even “punctuality.” It took more than just those things to make America great in the first place, but without them, it’s impossible to remain that way.
Today, the foreign policy of the United States hasn’t seen a strategic crisis this profound since 1947, when President Harry Truman summoned the American people to fight Soviet ambitions in Europe. The Cuban missile crisis was more dramatic and the agony of Vietnam more wrenching, but since Truman, American presidents have believed that a global, outward-looking, order-building foreign policy was the necessary foundation for U.S. strategy and a peaceful, prosperous world.
No longer. President Donald Trump, backed by a substantial segment of the American public, has distanced himself from some of the key foreign-policy assumptions and policies of the postwar era. Longstanding pillars of American strategy—free trade, alliances in Europe and Asia, defense of human rights, commitment to international institutions and the rule of law—have come into question as the new president denounces today’s global architecture as a bad deal for the U.S.
Responses to the shift have ranged from bewilderment to outrage. Mr. Trump’s exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a carefully negotiated trade agreement intended to lock the major Asian trading states into a relationship with the U.S. that would exclude China—shocked free-trade advocates and Asia experts. His repeated descriptions of NATO as obsolete and his refusal (until his recent trip to Poland) to endorse the mutual-defense commitment at NATO’s heart left many wondering whether Mr. Trump still considers the alliance essential to U.S. security. A drumbeat of news stories pointing to alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has further muddied the waters, with many concluding that the president’s Russia policies have more to do with his personal concerns than with the national interest.
What explains this reversal in America’s priorities? A chorus of observers has identified the problem as “populism.” As they see it, ignorant voters, angry about domestic economic conditions and cultural trends, were beguiled by empty promises of prosperity and driven by racism and xenophobia to back an agenda isolating the U.S. from the rest of the world.
But populism is nothing new in American politics. In 1947, when Truman, George Marshall and Dean Acheson laid the foundations of postwar U.S. foreign policy, populism was every bit as strong a force in our politics as it is now. Determined to engage with the wider world but also deeply aware of their political situation at home, Truman and his team acted pre-emptively to head off a populist revolt. They modified their rhetoric and policies to address the concerns of a skeptical public and found ways to make their assertive Cold War policies appealing to, among others, angry heartland populists.
This is something that foreign-policy leaders in both parties have failed to do in recent years, and the election of Mr. Trump was in large part a consequence of that failure. His populist attacks on the sacred totems of establishment foreign policy probably attracted more voters to his candidacy than they scared off, and the Trump administration now threatens to undo many of the historic accomplishments of the Truman years.
For those of us who continue to believe that the policies and institutions devised after World War II served the U.S. well and remain essential today, the question is what to do now. In a best-case scenario, Mr. Trump’s impressive foreign-policy team would convince their chief and his more populist advisers that Trumanism makes sense, and the president would work to make this case to his political base. Failing that, the best alternative is to convince the American people themselves that Trumanism is a better choice for the U.S. than Trumpism. Whatever the case, those of us who want to conserve the achievements of postwar American policy will need to do what Truman did: meet populists on their own turf and engage them.
In the winter and spring of 1947, as the White House followed the dismal economic and political news from Europe, Truman and his team knew that American public opinion stood firmly opposed to any big new overseas commitments, including foreign aid. Republicans had captured control of Congress, and an angry GOP majority that included the communist-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was intensely skeptical of foreign involvement and entangling alliances.
The Truman team was clear about its own strategic priorities. The U.S. needed to block Soviet expansionism in a shattered Europe at a time when the continent’s traditional great powers had collapsed and could neither defend themselves nor rebuild their economies without massive American help. The U.S. also needed to take on the global role that the British Empire had played at its zenith: The dollar would replace the pound as the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. Navy would replace the British fleet as the guarantor of freedom of the seas, and American power and diplomacy would replace the British in building international institutions to manage the global economy and the emerging postcolonial world.
This was all very well in theory, but Truman faced widespread political resistance to this agenda. On the left, many liberals still wanted to conciliate rather than to confront our wartime ally Stalin. On the right, many conservatives were isolationists or unilateralists who had just cut U.S. spending on foreign aid. “Mr. President,” Sen. Arthur Vandenberg told Truman in a meeting at the White House about the urgent need for American aid to Greece and Turkey, “the only way you are going to get this is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.”
Truman and Vandenberg understood something profound about the politics of American foreign policy. While foreign-policy professionals in government, the academy and the media are often motivated by hope—the prospect of building a global trading order, for example, or of making the world more democratic—the public at large tends to be more focused on fear. If the American public had no fears about emerging threats elsewhere in the world, it would be very hard to get public support for an activist foreign policy with high-minded ambitions. Truman took the fears of the public seriously and tried to give them constructive expression: They were a crucial source of the political energy needed to power America’s global engagement.
To this end, Truman and his team summoned the specter of a global communist conspiracy directed by the Kremlin and told the American people that defeating this enemy was its highest priority. Administration surrogates painted a terrifying picture of communist advances across Europe and warned that if Europe fell, America would be next. And it worked. Congress appropriated the funds and passed the key legislation that gave Truman the foreign-policy tools he needed. American public opinion would continue to support a strong anti-Soviet foreign policy through the long years of the Cold War.
The Truman administration’s anticommunist rhetoric was denounced by many intellectuals and academics as crude, naive and counterproductive. George F. Kennan, one of the architects of the administration’s strategy, was so distressed by what he saw as the militarism of America’s subsequent containment policies that he left government and became an eloquent critic of U.S. foreign policy. Walter Lippmann, the most influential foreign-policy pundit of the day, made known his displeasure with Cold War fearmongering again and again. Sophisticated Europeans shuddered at what they saw as an excessively harsh and Manichaean view of communism—even as they gratefully accepted the American aid and protection that Truman’s rhetoric made possible.
Truman’s secretary of state, Dean Acheson, defended the administration’s approach in his memoirs. An official trying to gain public support for foreign policy, he wrote, is not “the writer of a doctoral thesis. Qualification must give way to simplicity of statement, nicety and nuance to bluntness, almost brutality, in carrying home a point.” Acheson estimated that the average American with a job and a family had perhaps 10 minutes a day in which to think about foreign policy. “If we made our points clearer than truth, we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise.”
Today’s advocates of continuing U.S. global leadership and engagement need to keep in mind both parts of Truman’s achievement: formulating a farsighted national strategy to address the issues of the day and then educating the public to support it.
The world is more complicated today than it was in 1947. America’s challenges are more complex and, in some ways, harder to address, even if no single threat is as urgent and overwhelming as the one posed by the Soviet Union under Stalin. But the fears of the American people are also more complex, and a national strategy that clearly addresses those concerns can succeed both in domestic politics and in the world at large.
The threat of jihadist terror on a mass scale, the growing danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of radical regimes, the possibility of debilitating cyberwarfare, the economic and political challenge posed by a rising China, the impact of globalization on American jobs—these are widely shared concerns for millions of Americans. Even in our current moment of populist retreat, such fears, together with abiding popular attachment to trusted allies such as the U.K. and Israel, are strong enough and real enough to serve as the political foundation for a new wave of American global engagement.
The same cannot be said, however, for a cause dear to many in the foreign-policy establishment: There is today very little popular support for the Wilsonian belief that the spread of democracy can solve America’s most urgent foreign-policy problems.
Promoting our values abroad remains important to many Americans, and our foreign policy cannot succeed in the long run without a clear moral basis, but the serious, recurring failures of this project since the end of the Cold War have gravely damaged its credibility. President George W. Bush turned the Iraq war into a war to make the Middle East safe for democracy. President Barack Obama tried to build democracy in the Middle East by embracing Turkey’s Islamist leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and again by supporting the 2011 revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Mr. Obama then sought to make a humanitarian gesture by helping to overthrow Moammar Qaddafi in Libya.
The disasters that have unfolded in all of these countries in recent years have driven home the idea, for many Americans, that foreign-policy experts have no idea what they are doing. It is useful, in this regard, to acknowledge that it’s not just populists who sometimes get foreign policy wrong.
A Trumanist approach—popular but not populist, moral but not moralistic—would start by showing some trust in the foreign-policy instincts of the American people. To take one obvious instance where popular and elite views diverge: Ordinary Americans are inclined to favor a firm, decisive response to jihadist threats, while foreign-policy elites tend to worry much more about the possible effects of American overreaction.
This, too, follows a familiar pattern. The same arguments were made about anticommunism in Truman’s day. But just as you could then be worried about communism without wanting to nuke Russia, you can be deeply concerned about the growth of jihadist ideology and violence today without wanting to start a war with Islam.
Indeed, it is when people think that their leaders don’t share their fears, or are incapable of acting on them, that popular fear often turns to populist rage. If the average American thinks that the political establishment isn’t really worried about terrorism, the public is likely to become more xenophobic, not less. If the public thinks that American trade negotiators don’t put the protection of American jobs first, people are more likely to become protectionist than to study the economics of the issue. If the average American thinks that the political class doesn’t really care about illegal immigration, the demand for border walls will grow, not diminish.
Truman and Acheson could have joined the intellectuals and the pundits who scoffed at the public’s “naive” and “simplistic” views of the communist threat and the other challenges of the day. But they had better sense than that. They understood that connecting their strategic goals with public fears was the key to success—even if there was a certain cost to be paid at times in policy. They preferred a blunt, accessible strategy that the public and Congress would support to a more intellectually sophisticated one that could never take hold in the real world. As a result, they were able to set the U.S. and the world on a course that, for the past 70 years, has yielded an extraordinary stretch of prosperity and peace.
We must hope today that American leaders, from the president on down, can be informed and inspired by the example of that historic success. Truman’s combination of strategic vision and political pragmatism is exactly what the U.S. and our turbulent world need right now.
Mr. Mead is a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College and editor at large of the American Interest.
Appeared in the July 22, 20
News Analysis: Singer Kid Rock’s Senate run underscores America’s long history of celebrity politicians
Rock, who has sold millions of albums worldwide and won several Grammies, announced earlier this month he would run against Michigan incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat in office for over a decade.
The rocker said politics would suit his confrontational nature. “I came into this business with two middle fingers in the air,” he told radio shock jock Howard Stern in 2012, referring to the near universal sign of contempt.
The performer is conservative on a number of issues, including gun control. He said he purchased a semiautomatic firearm with a silencer when former President Barack Obama, an outspoken gun control advocate, came into office.
Rock said in a Rolling Stone article “if all guns were taken away from American citizens, the only ones who would have guns would be the damn outlaws.”
Long before the candidacy of now U.S. President Donald Trump, who was on the reality show “The Apprentice” for years, a number of celebrities have held the U.S. office.
The most famous of those is undoubtedly Ronald Reagan, an actor on television during the 1930s and the 1940s. He entered politics later and became one of the greatest U.S. presidents in history in many Republicans’ view while some of the Democrats strongly disagreed.
Actor and famed bodybuilder Arnold Swarzeneggar was a household name long before he was elected to be the governor of California, serving from 2003 to 2011.
The former seven-time Mr.Olympia winner — the world’s most important bodybuilding competition — starred in blockbuster movies such as “The Terminator.”
Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was the governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003; 1960s singing sensation Sonny Bono was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994; and former comedian Al Franken continued to serve in the Senate, having been elected in 2008.
“There is a long history of celebrities running for office,” said the Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West, “Many of them have been successful. Reagan won the presidency, while many athletes and entertainers have been elected to the Congress.”
“People like the outsider status of celebrities and their pledges to reform politics. That is one of the reasons they are successful electorally. Celebrities are good at highlighting issues and drawing public attention to important causes. Not all of them have a lot of policy knowledge, but some take the time to learn the basics of the issue where they are advocating,” West said.
“The trend of celebrities in politics isn’t anything new, but the post-Trump phenomenon is that a wider range of celebrities feel that they could potentially enter politics,” Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua.
“Ronald Reagan and Sonny Bono had distinguished careers after acting in politics and public service, (but) nowadays it appears that there could be a direct path straight from celebrity to politics,” Mahaffee said.
“However, as Trump has discovered, governing is a far more complex process than leveraging celebrity fame during a campaign,” Mahaffee added.
Some pundits, however, have expressed concern about whether the United States is entering a stage of celebrity politics.
Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, asked on CNN’s website: “Are we now entering an era of celebrity politics? Has all of the distrust in government and frustration with perpetual gridlock generated a moment when Americans would rather have telegenic entertainment stars making decisions about war and peace, rather than those who have spent their lives in politics learning about public policy, negotiation, deal-making and diplomacy?”
“Maybe this will be one of the greatest legacies of the Trump presidency — Americans will prefer presidents who are intriguing to watch over those who can get the job done,” he argued.
Some Trump administration officials are actively looking for ways to help Kid Rock run and win a U.S. Senate seat in Michigan, according to multiple sources close to the administration.
Two people with detailed knowledge of internal White House political dealings spoke on the condition of anonymity with Independent Journal Review, and cited a heavy curiosity by administration officials over the rap/rock superstar’s flirtation with running for office.
Rock, whose real name is Robert James Ritchie, was one of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters on the campaign trail. Rock recently visited the president in the White House, accompanied by Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent. Three months after that meeting, Rock stunned the political world by launching a Senate campaign website, posting yard signs, and releasing his first policy statement.
The moves seem to be resonating with large audiences online and frustrating Senate Democratic leaders, who are already emailing constituents, warning of the potential of a Senator Rock.
Now, Independent Journal Review has learned that Rock’s potential run has caught the attention of the West Wing.
“Top personnel in the administration have personally reached out, offering anything they can do to help,” according to the operative, “They’re very interested in convincing him to run and asked that we keep them posted on developments. They were very interested.”
Another source, who works in the administration, tells IJR bluntly, “Kid Rock supported us. He’s a Republican. We won Michigan. Makes sense, right?”
When asked to comment further on the offers of direct campaign assistance, the source demurred and said the White House will be “barnstorming for a wide variety” of GOP candidates across the country.
Potential Senator Kid Rock, considering legislation.
As Kid Rock mulls his run, Michigan insiders are betting big on the race. Michigan native and GOP political operative Dennis Lennox tells IJR that Rock could win the GOP primary in Michigan, saying, “It won’t be close.”
“If he gets in, presuming he crosses the T’s and dots the I’s, he will be the Republican nominee,” Lennox says noting that people inside the Michigan GOP know that Rock “had meetings with the White House” but have yet to receive any formal filing paperwork from the musician.
“He needs to get in now and clear the field,” Lennox says, affirming that Rock will present a truly unique challenge to incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
“Stabenow has held this or that political office since 1975,” Lennox added. “They won’t know what to do because Kid Rock won’t play by the conventional rules.”
Whether Kid Rock runs or not, the Michigan seat is one that Democrats can ill-afford to lose as the 2018 midterm election nears. Democrats must defend 23 Senate seats, many of which are seen as vulnerable Republican pick-ups in states that Trump won. Michigan is one of those states and Democratic leadership is already feeling the heat.
As IJR has previously reported, last week, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) both sent emails to their supporters and donors warning of a potential Senator Rock. In an ominous email, Warren declares Rock is the new Donald Trump:
I know a lot of people are thinking: this is some sort of joke, right? Well, maybe this is all a joke — but we all thought Donald Trump was joking when he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower and announced his campaign, too. And sure, maybe this is just a marketing gimmick for a new album or tour — but we all thought Donald Trump was just promoting his reality TV show, too.
Schumer scolded that Rock seeking the Senate seat was not “funny”:
Kid Rock — yes, Kid Rock — tweeted that he’s running for Senate in Michigan. He even launched a Senate website operated by a record label. So, I’ll be honest, we don’t know if this is real, a joke, or a bizarre publicity stunt. But I’ll tell you this: I don’t find it funny.
So should the political world get ready to Rock? We will find out soon enough as a candidate has a limited window of time under FEC regulations to file a committee once he or she has spent or received $5,000. Based on the number of people wearing Kid Rock hats, he has definitely raised enough.
In a first, the 10 most popular governors were all Republicans, according to Morning Consult. The most popular governor in the country was Massachusetts’s Republican Governor Charlie Baker (71 percent approve, 17 percent disapprove in a heavily “blue” state). Runnerup was Maryland’s GOP Governor Larry Hogan (68 percent approve, 16 percent disapprove in another “blue” state); Wyoming’s Republican Governor Matt Mead (67 percent approve, 15 percent disapprove); North Dakota’s Republican Governor Doug Burgum (66 percent approve, 15 percent disapprove); and South Dakota’s Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard (65 percent approve, 25 percent disapprove).
The survey polled 195,704 registered voters nationally online over more than a three-month period. Survey respondents were assigned to their appropriate governor based on their state of residence.The number of Michigan voters polled was 7,220. The margin of error in the Michigan portion of the survey was plus or minus 1 percentage point.
Then again, the very fact that Trump is president at all shows that holding the high ground, though nice, is hardly an insurmountable advantage. Kid Rock is a long shot, but that hardly means he has no shot. As with Trump, name recognition goes a long way. Hundreds of millions of people know who Kid Rock is, and millions of them are Michigan residents eligible and willing to vote for him. As with Trump, an unknown but significant bloc of voters is open to voting for a celebrity who represents himself as bucking the system. However one defines it, the system is in terrible shape, and it’s Trump’s system, but scapegoats for failure still abound, and Congressional Democrats have an approval rating even lower than Trump’s. Kid Rock’s lack of political experience is a selling point no less than a demerit, and his absence of a prior record in office shouldn’t conceal the fact that, as a diamond-selling pop musician, he has a gift for crafting punchy slogans and keeping an audience in thrall. Though he’s fallen from the prominence he commanded in the Y2K period, he still maintains a loyal fan base that’s kept him comfortably afloat in an industry facing dire times.
As New York’s own Ed Kilgore accurately notes, Rock’s libertarian rhetoric of simplifying law codes, tax codes, and health care has an uncommonly high hat/cattle ratio. But simple messages, delivered frequently and repeated with enthusiasm, help win elections far more than fact-checking and bet-hedging. The Michigan Senate election is Stabenow’s to lose, but if she and her party fail to offer clear policy prescriptions (Medicare for all being an obvious example) of their own, it’s possible, if not quite plausible, that she could lose it.
Of course, a lot of other things would have to happen to bring Rock into striking distance, but nothing is certain, and the impossible has become a regular occurrence. Terrorist attacks and war declarations have been known to alter the usual electoral logic: Despite George W. Bush holding the presidency, the 2002 midterms tilted Republican thanks to 9/11 and the bombing of Afghanistan. In a time when even the week ahead is beyond prediction, there’s no way to be clear what the world will be like in November 2018. Only once Kid Rock isn’t sworn in as a senator in 2019 will it be certain that Kid Rock will not be a senator, and maybe not even then — he’s only 46 right now, and who knows how long Stabenow, who will be 74 once her presumed fourth term ends, can remain in office. It seems unlikely that Rock will go away, even if he loses. And win or lose, what happens to him matters. So long as he significantly narrows Stabenow’s margin of victory relative to 2012, his run can be taken as proof that Trump-style barnstorming is a viable election strategy that may well outlast candidate Trump himself.
And misreadings of Trumpian campaigning, if the responses to Rock’s campaign announcement are any indicator, seem likely to outlive Trump as well. Whatever Kid Rock’s vote total (assuming he clears the Republican primary) in the general election may be in 2018, the bulk of it will come not from the trailer parks Rock habitually plays to in his music videos and lyrics, but from the reputable suburbs which form the cornerstone of Republican power before and after Trump’s campaign — suburbs to which, incidentally, Rock is native. For all of Rock’s dirtbag posturing, the artist himself was raised in an affluent household of precisely the sort most likely to benefit from the libertarianism he’s currently campaigning on and least likely to suffer from the bellicose nationalism he’s always professed. (The ex-superstar who actually hails from the poor, white working class is Eminem, who, for the record, despises Trump.)
Looking back, Rock’s music career gives proof to a canny sense of genre and demography. His original explosion into prominence with Devil Without a Cause was self-engineered, the product of a prolonged period of refinement (no other word for it) of his sound and live act. Though Devil was released on a major label, its success owed little to the industry and much to Rock’s capacity for networking and self-promotion, honed over the course of nearly a decade’s worth of dealings with indie and major labels. As the rap-rock wave subsided, the artist would smoothly manage his own transition from nü-metal-adjacency to the country–Southern–classic-rock niche he occupies today. America’s major music labels and the major political parties find themselves in a similar position: Though still dominant as institutions, their ability to dictate preferences to a mass audience has drastically declined. Like Kanye last year, Rock is a pop star keen-sighted enough to perceive this disparity between what the political system demands and what the people want, and egotistical enough to attempt to bridge the gap with his personality.
Even if it’s not good politics, it’s certainly good business. Running for office in an election destined to be a referendum on Trump is a surefire means of raising one’s profile, personally and musically. (Probably the most intriguing aspect of Rock’s campaign rollout is its music-business aspect: “I have recently worked out a unique deal with BMG, Broken Bow, CAA and Live Nation to release music ON MY TERMS. Like politicians write books during their campaigns, I’m planning on putting out music during mine […] It’s not a hoax, it’s a strategy and marketing 101!”) Rock may be wrong, but he’s not stupid. It’s easy enough to mock him, but we tend to underestimate those we mock, and, in the wake of Trump’s election, who can afford to underestimate anyone? It’s crazy for Kid Rock to be running for senator, but for his opponents now to double down on squeamishness and condescension instead of offering voters policy changes that clearly benefit them seems even crazier.