The voters of California (an extremely blue state) seem to have caught a bad case of Gonorrhea Lectim (pronounced: "gonna re-elect him") when it comes to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sadly, for Democrats, the Governator "will be back." This would have been a more interesting race, though, if Warren Beatty had thrown his hat in the ring as a Democrat. Think: Battle of the Hollywood Stars!
But Beatty ultimately decided not to run. This seems to be a pattern among showbiz Democrats. There's a real dichotomy between the ultra-liberal entertainment industry, and the fact that almost every Hollywood star that goes into politics is Republican. Consider the following list:
Helen Gahagan Douglas (D) -- theater actress elected to a House seat from California (1945-1951). Ran for Senate in 1950, defeated by Richard Nixon (trivia: she coined the nickname "Tricky Dick" during this campaign).
Ronald Reagan (R) -- started life as a Democrat, but became California Governor (1967-1975) and US President (1981-1989) as a Republican.
Nancy Kulp (D) -- played banker "Jane Hathaway" on The Beverly Hillbillies, ran unsuccessfully for the House from Pennsylvania in 1984 (trivia: Buddy Ebsen, her co-star "Jed Clampett," actively campaigned against her, for her Republican opponent).
Clint Eastwood (R) -- mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea (1986-1988). [OK, he was only mayor of a small California town, but the list just wouldn't be complete without him.]
Fred Grandy (R) -- "Gopher" from The Love Boat. Served in the House from Iowa (1987-1995). Ran for Iowa Governor in 1994 and lost (trivia: was Best Man at the wedding of David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon).
Ben Jones (D) -- "Cooter" from The Dukes of Hazzard. Elected to the House from Georgia (1989-1993), then ran unsuccessfully for the House once more from Virginia (2002), before giving up (trivia: owns a restaurant named "Cooter's").
Ralph Waite (D) -- "Pa" from The Waltons, ran unsuccessfully (1990, 1998) for the House from California.
Fred Thompson (R) -- elected to the Senate from Tennessee (1994-2003), served one-and-a-half terms (was initially elected in a special election, to fill a vacant seat), then quit (trivia: has the distinction of being the only person to simultaneously be a sitting Senator and also have a major TV show role, on Law & Order).
Sonny Bono (R) -- Cher's old sidekick. Elected to the House from the Palm Springs district in California (1995-1998). Was previously mayor of Palm Springs.
Jesse Ventura (Reform) -- Governor of Minnesota (1999-2003), from the Reform Party.
Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) -- got elected Governor of California (2003-present) in the freak recall election, and appears to be headed for another term (trivia: cannot run for president, under current rules, since being an immigrant disqualifies him).
Notice that you have to go back to the 1940s -- and include two people who ran and lost -- to get even four Democrats on that list. On the Republican side: a two-term president, a senator, two representatives, two governors, and mayor of a tiny seaside town. From the 1960s onward, Democrats have: Cooter. Seriously, Hollywood is the most liberal bastion in the entire country, and all they can come up with is Cooter? That's it? Cooter?!?
To be fair, Hollywood Democrats are not completely on the sidelines politically. They make political statements and movies (George Clooney, Michael Moore, Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn, Martin Sheen, etc.); they champion causes and voter initiatives (Rob Reiner seemingly won't be satisfied until cigarette smoking is a capital offense); they have started political blogs (our own Arianna Huffington, after she lost the governor's race to Arnold); and they do their share of campaigning for Democratic candidates. Some, like Beatty, even publicly flirt with the idea of running, only to demur when it comes time to announce a candidacy. They can't quite bring themselves to throw their hats in the ring, for some reason.
Some fan groups have even tried to enlist their favorite stars into the political arena, without notable success. There was a swell of support for Bruce Springsteen to jump into the Senate race in New Jersey, but the Boss decided he wasn't Born to Run after all, quoting General Sherman's famous line: "If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve." Jerry Springer (former mayor of Cincinnati) was rumored to be considering a run for Senate from Ohio, but then decided against it. Oprah Winfrey recently even sicced her lawyers on a fan trying to convince her to run for president.
The imbalance of Republicans to Democrats in show-business politicians was pointed out to me when Arnold first ran for governor. He won largely because he jumped into the race with an enormous advantage: name recognition. Nobody in the entire state had to ask, "Who is this Arnold Schwarzenegger fellow?" They already knew him from his movies.
Some would say that it's actually a good thing more showbiz stars don't run. I personally think they'd be about average as politicians -- some would do a good job, some would screw up -- just like any other group of people. Republicans would deride the entire concept, of course, but they don't have much of a leg to stand on, since the most popular Republican president in decades was an actor.
Some Democrats wouldn't even welcome such candidates. Ben "Cooter" Jones was quoted five years ago saying: "Warren Beatty and Barbra Streisand, people who are always talking about running for president and have high political profiles, couldn't get elected dog catcher in this neck of the woods in Virginia!" Jones then went on to lose his election.
Now, please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying Jones was wrong about the electability of ultra-liberals from the entertainment industry to nationwide office, and I am not calling for any one single person to jump into any specific race. I just think it's interesting that there is such wide disparity between the percentage of liberal Democrats in the entertainment industry, and the high percentage of Republicans among those who leave the industry to run for office.
This may be changing, slowly. The two races to watch this year are the independent Kinky Friedman, and Democrat John Hall. Musician Kinky Friedman is doing surprisingly well in his campaign for Governor of Texas, currently polling second to the Republican candidate (and ahead of the Democrat). In New York, John Hall has a decent shot at a House seat. Hall, formerly of the band "Orleans," made news in 2004 when he forced the Bush campaign to stop using the Orleans song Still the One at campaign rallies.
Here's another surprise, from the world of country music. Tim McGraw was recently quoted in Time magazine when asked about running for Governor of Tennessee, or US Senator:
"It's innate in me to be a Democrat -- a true Southern populist kind of Democrat. There's not a lot of those anymore. I'm not saying I'm right or wrong. That's just the way I feel. The issues that matter to me are the social safety nets for people, health care, middle-class concerns. We need to take care of the middle class and the poor in our country. The chasm is getting larger between haves and have-nots, and that's something we need to close down a little bit."
Finally, there's my favorite choice for a Democratic candidate: Al Franken. Anyone who has seen Robin Williams' new movie Man of the Year is already considering the question: could a comedian win the Presidency? Well... maybe, maybe not. But Franken has set his sights a little lower, publicly discussing how he's positioning himself for a Senate run from Minnesota in 2008. I truly think he could win, and I would love to see Senator Franken in action. C-SPAN meets Comedy Central!
Because he's good enough, he's smart enough, and doggone it, people like him.