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.