CHELLMAN: Reject celebrity candidates

Voters must prioritize governing experience and commit to dismissing “outsider” candidates


Oprah herself offered an important comment to the national conversation about celebrity presidents — she doesn’t want to run. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

There were many memorable moments at the 2018 Golden Globes, but Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille Award stood out most of all. At a time when our national discourse is too often demoralizing, Winfrey offered a glimpse of rhetorical compassion and inspiration as she accepted a lifetime achievement award. Contrary to the dominant political commentary following the speech, however, she did not demonstrate the makings of our next president. No matter how tempting it is for Democrats to run “beloved” celebrities against Donald Trump in 2020, we must reject celebrity presidential candidates now and always. The presidency demands political experience, and any “outsider” president erodes the dignity and efficacy of our nation’s highest office.

Just last Thursday, Oprah herself offered an important comment to the national conversation about celebrity presidents — she doesn’t want to run. “I don’t have the DNA for it,” Winfrey told InStyle magazine, and we should take Oprah  at her word. There is a fundamental difference between an inspirational celebrity and an inspirational politician — only the latter has the expertise to turn hope for a better future into real social and political change. Oprah is only the most recent addition to a growing collection of television personalities, entrepreneurs and other non-politicians reportedly considering runs for president in 2020. This month, CNN included Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kanye West and ABC’s “Shark Tank” star Mark Cuban in a list of possible celebrity candidates. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also been fueling suspicions of a 2020 run for months, hiring political advisors and making campaign-style tours of the country. 

The election of Donald Trump has had a considerable impact on our political culture, but I think there are two particular effects for which we need to brace ourselves. First, celebrities are considering running for president. In the Oval Office today, we have a man who has spent the greater part of his privileged life hamming it up on reality TV and using his name to sell low-quality goods at high-quality prices. Most people are more qualified to be president than our semi-literate Commander-in-Chief. For those with the time and capital to actually consider a presidential run, the low bar that the President sets must seem simple to leap over. But we must remember that being more qualified than Trump does not make one qualified. We must set the actual bar for presidential preparedness high enough to account for the presidency’s deeply challenging blend of diplomatic, legislative, military, economic, social and symbolic demands. 

Secondly, we’re also looking for celebrity candidates. Normally, the political musings of Tim Tebow or Kid Rock wouldn’t merit a second thought from voters or political commentators. But the spectacle of the Trump Presidency has either made us crave similar spectacles in the future or fear further celebrity candidates to the point of paranoia. Giving non-politicians such massive and consistent coverage — either supportive or critical — only stokes the flames of our sensationalized politics. 

It doesn’t help that we are starved for hope — starved for the sort of inspiration that comes from a president who sings and sheds tears with us — which could never come from the current administration’s greasy-fingered vulgarities

We should implore our overconfident elite to be realistic, like Oprah, when considering their qualifications for political office. Perhaps Oprah’s poor polling numbers might further inspire celebrities to stay in their lane. For voters, however, I propose two paths forward. First, start following politicians the way we follow celebrities. Applaud Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-Calif.) confident interrogation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from last June, or reflect on the poignancy of Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) call to action in our “moral moment.” There are so many possible presidential candidates who pair inspiration with the governing experience we need.

We must make a pledge to expect more from our presidential candidates. As celebrity candidates continue to emerge in the next couple of years, it will be up to us to be disciplined in our insistence on experience. It will always be tempting to follow those who speak the loudest, those who spend the most or those with whom we are already familiar. But for the sake of our nation — from our stability at home to our respect overseas — we must ignore the allure of “electable” celebrities and appreciate the individuals who dedicate their lives to the work that actually prepares a person for the presidency. 

Jack Chellman is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at 

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