We are taught as children that anyone can grow up to be president of the United States.
And while many argue the point, I believe it’s true. The U.S. has fewer class distinctions and fewer obstacles for the ambitious — be they entrepreneurs, politicians or artists — than most developed nations.
But just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.
And unless voters figure out that fame is no substitute for competence, we are in danger of being ruined by dilettantes and neophytes.
In New York, actor Cynthia Nixon is running for governor. Her credentials are that she’s liberal and well known for playing Miranda in “Sex in the City.”
Twenty years ago another actor who ran for New York governor as the Green Party candidate tried (unsuccessfully) to be listed on the ballot as his TV character. “Grandpa” Al Lewis wanted — and needed — to remind voters of the character he played in the 1960s show “The Munsters.”
On the national scene, there’s buzz about presidential 2020 runs from Oprah, Kanye West, The Rock and other celebrities. And the list of celebrities who have run, are running or might run for Congress is longer than one of those weekend cable TV marathons.
In the current environment, in which science, expertise and experience are demeaned daily, it’s worth asking whether voters prefer fame to proficiency.
No doubt, U.S. voters rejected expertise and experience when they, first, nominated Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president and, second, elected him president.
Trump is the first U.S. president who entered the White House with no experience in government or the U.S. military.
If you wonder whether military experience is relevant, consider the career of Dwight Eisenhower. His critics claim that his long Army career left him unprepared for the White House. But those 30-plus years helped him develop knowledge of Washington, as well as skills in diplomacy, negotiation, accountability, budgeting and personnel management.
So while Eisenhower was elected largely because of his fame and popularity, his successful military career provided skills for the job — more so than work in the entertainment industry.
Some may object to that claim, using the example of Ronald Reagan. But Reagan served both in the military and as governor, and he was active in union, state and national politics for decades before being elected president.
The example of Reagan does underscore the fact that in recent decades, we have had numerous celebrities who have run for Congress, governor and the White House. Increasingly, Americans opt for celebrity over expertise and experience.
Many Americans proudly sneer at candidates with such attributes, calling them elites and blaming them for what they think is wrong with America.
Unfortunately, some of those elites sneer right back. Consider the recent comments of 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“…So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward …” she said, proceeding to suggest that Trump won the votes of racists and misogynists, and the oppressed wives of misogynists.
When politicians advertised as smart and seasoned insult the voters who cost them an election, it’s easy to discount the value of knowledge and experience.
But we shouldn’t. In other fields, Americans appreciate both. When we sign up for open-heart surgery or are driving over a bridge, we want to believe responsible experts are behind those endeavors.
Yes, it’s true that our government is designed to be run by citizen lawmakers. That was one of the foundations of our government. No kings for us; Americans would serve their country in public office and then return home.
But from the start, many of our greatest patriots spent most of their adult lives in government. And it’s worth noting who those first Americans selected as president. George Washington had served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, as commander of the Continental Army and as president of the Constitutional Convention.
He was an experienced expert about American politics.
As celebrities saturate our media trying to sell us health products, insurance, makeup, real estate and the latest fashions, let’s draw the line at politics. Let’s make clear we value expertise over bombast and choose character over fame.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.