Carter: Enough celebrity presidents, please


There’s a meme going around, similar to the political cartoon you’ll see below in print, pointing out the hypocrisy of some Democrats when it comes to the 2020 presidential race. It goes something like “Democrats: We can’t have a television billionaire with no political experience as president! Also Democrats: Oprah for President!”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that “Oprah for President” came after a rousing speech at last Sunday’s Golden Globe awards. The former Baltimore television news anchor didn’t deny she was considering a presidential run like she has in the past, but didn’t confirm it either. Various reports seem to indicate her people are encouraging her to do so.

It’s the latest in a string of celebrities in the past year who have made overtures — seriously or jokingly — toward a White House run like Kanye West, Katy Perry, Will Smith, Tom Hanks and my personal favorite, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, since Donald Trump won the 2016 election.

Sadly, Oprah could win if she ran. Heck, she probably would win.

Republicans would have a hard time arguing that she was unqualified when putting her up against President Trump. (Which is to say neither is particular qualified.) Regarding Trump’s business acumen — often cited by his supporters in place of his lack of political background — he’s had a few hits, a few home runs and a few swings and misses in his investments, but he’s done an incredible job of building his brand. But he had a good head start when he took over his father’s already successful real estate businesses. Oprah was born into poverty in Wisconsin and is a self-made billionaire, worth $2.8 billion, according to Forbes.

Both should be lauded for their business successes and marketing their brands. But does it make either — or any of the above named celebrities for that matter — qualified to be president?

The presidency of the United States shouldn’t be treated like the presidency of the sophomore class where the prettiest girl, the most popular jock or the person who promises “pizza and ice cream for lunch, every day!” should be the victor. And, yet, here we are. The 2020 election could very well be Reality TV star vs. Daytime TV star.

I just want to know how we got here. And can we please stop the ride, because I’d like to get off.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Television changed politics, particularly presidential elections. The 1960s debates are a watershed moment in the power of television, marking the first time Americans could watch the debates on TV. The story goes that those who listed on the radio thought Richard Nixon had won the debate; those who watched on TV thought the younger, seemingly fitter John F. Kennedy had won. After the debate, Kennedy made a leap in the polls and ultimately won the presidency.

And it’s television that brought both Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey into our lives, our homes, our living rooms, to the point their respective fans believe they have a deep, intimate connection to them.

Americans, now, it seems, don’t want a politician, they want a personality in the White House. Someone who they’d like to have a beer with, not someone who can explain and understand policy. Someone with charisma.

But charisma and experience in the public office with the ability to comprehend complex policy like tax reform, health care and immigration don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Celebrities can be many things to many people. They can inspire people through their words, as Oprah did last Sunday night at the Golden Globes. But having an infectious personality and giving a rousing speech isn’t enough to qualify you to run the country.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of good politicians out there, people who have spent much of their adult life trying to solve the problems of their communities by leading. People who might actually make a pretty good president, even if they don’t have their own television show.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.

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