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Impeachment caps a dark and dysfunctional decade in American politics – NBC News



WASHINGTON — It’s only fitting that the decade is coming to an end with an impeachment vote against the president of the United States, because it’s been a dark ten years in American politics.

And it’s gotten progressively worse, especially in the last three years.

Dec. 18, 201902:05

Consider this timeline of controversy, gridlock, outrage and resentment in our politics:

  • The rise of the Tea Party (2010)
  • The Health Car War (2010-present)
  • Mitch McConnell’s “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” (2010)
  • The Tucson shooting (2011)
  • The debt-ceiling debacle (2011)
  • The Birther movement led by one Donald Trump (2011)
  • The shooting of Trayvon Martin (2012)
  • Barack Obama’s campaign nuking Mitt Romney over Bain Capital (2012)
  • Romney’s 47-percent comment (2012)
  • Benghazi and its political aftermath (2012-2016)
  • The Newtown shooting (2012)
  • Government shutdown (2013)
  • The rise of Trump (2015-present)
  • Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination (2016)
  • “Lock her up!” (2016)
  • Trump’s “American carnage” inaugural address (2017)
  • Trump’s 15,000 and counting false or misleading claims (2017-present)
  • Trump’s controversial Muslim/travel ban (2017)
  • The rise of the Resistance (2017)
  • The Mueller investigation (2017-2019)
  • The congressional baseball shooting (2017)
  • Charlottesville (2017)
  • The Helsinki press conference (2018)
  • Trump’s comments after John McCain passed away (2018)
  • Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination (2018)
  • Pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats and journalists (2018)
  • The 35-day government shutdown (2019)
  • Trump’s all-but certain impeachment (2019)

Add them all up, and it’s easily the darkest decade in politics since the 1960s. And think of anyone in their 20s right now — it’s all they’ve seen.

They weren’t old enough to remember when Democrats and Republicans came together after 9/11 (even though it later led to the disastrous Iraq war).

They weren’t old enough to vote in the “Hope and Change” election of 2008, when both political parties had popular presidential nominees.

And they wouldn’t believe you if you told them that Obama threw an inaugural ball in McCain’s honor after that election.

One other characteristic that has defined the past decade: When given the choice, political actors have typically pursued the more populist/radical/confrontational option.

That was especially true on the right earlier in the decade, and it’s become more true on the left in the last few years.

And it’s come amid growing polarization in our political media, the rise of social media, and the decline of local news.

And it’s all contributed to a dark and dysfunctional decade in our politics.

It’s Impeachment Vote Day

The U.S. House of Representatives today will vote to impeach a president for only the third time in U.S. history, per NBC’s Geoff Bennett.

The two articles of impeachment: 1) Abuse of power and 2) obstruction of Congress.

The House gavels in at 9:00 am ET, and the House Judiciary Committee chairman (Democrat Jerrold Nadler) and ranking GOP member (Doug Collins) lead six hours of debate, with time divided equally between Democrats and Republicans.

Barring any delays, NBC’s Alex Moe and Bennett believe the final vote on the articles of impeachment will occur between 6:30 pm ET and 7:30 pm ET.

And as it just so happens, Trump is scheduled to speak at a rally in Battle Creek, Mich., beginning at 7:00 pm ET.

Trump’s six-page tirade

On the one hand, you have to give credit to President Trump and his allies for fighting this impeachment to a near draw when it comes to public opinion.

Love him or hate him, one of Trump’s top political assets is how he wears down — and outlasts — his opposition.

On the other hand, however, you have to acknowledge just how dishonest and disturbed his defenses have been in this entire episode.

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And that was underscored by his six-page letter yesterday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “In a rambling six-page letter, Trump accused Pelosi of having ‘cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment’ and said she was ‘declaring open war on American Democracy’ by pursuing his impeachment,” per NBC News.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … at least 21

At least 21.

That’s the number of false or misleading claims counted by the Washington Post in President Trump’s letter to Nancy Pelosi yesterday.

Those falsehoods include: His characterization of the 2016 results, his description of his call with the Ukrainian president, and some of his boasts about his administration’s policy and economic record.

2020 Vision

Susan Collins announces she’s running for re-election: It’s not a surprise, but it’s still significant: Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced this morning that she’s running for re-election.

“The fundamental question I had to ask myself in making my decision was this: in today’s polarized political environment, is there still a role for a centrist who believes in getting things done through compromise, collegiality, and bipartisanship?” she wrote in a letter to supporters, per NBC’s Frank Thorp.

“I have concluded that the answer to this question is ‘yes,’ and I will, therefore, seek the honor of continuing to serve as Maine’s United States Senator.”

Here’s the significance of Collins’ decision: Given that Democrats need a net pick up of at least three Senate seats to take back control of the chamber, it’s hard to see how Democrats win the Senate without defeating Collins.

Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities — from easiest to hardest: Colorado, Arizona, Maine, North Carolina.

And remember, the GOP has a pick-up opportunity in Alabama.

On the campaign trail today

It’s a quiet day before tomorrow night’s Dem presidential debate… Julian Castro, who didn’t qualify for the debate, stumps in the Los Angeles area… Michael Bloomberg holds a health-care roundtable in Medford, Mass… Cory Booker stumps in Nevada… And President Trump holds a rally in Battle Creek, Mich., at 7:00 pm ET.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Pete Buttigieg pitched himself to California Democrats last night in Hollywood, and his speech touched on some old Barack Obama themes — of hope and change. NBC’s Priscilla Thompson reports on Buttigieg’s remarks: “I refuse to be told that my hope is a function of my age. Because the truth is, my hope for more unified America is a function of my experience as a result of what I saw in my own city – written off at the beginning of this very same decade we’re living in now as a dying city that now stands tall, is growing for the first time in a long time, seeing jobs added neighborhoods lifted up the thousands lifted from poverty. It’s the hope that I cultivated in the dust of a war zone in Afghanistan among fellow Americans who I had nothing in common with besides the flag on our shoulders, different races, different backgrounds, different politic definitely different politics, but we learned to trust each other with our lives, because we had to.”

NBC’s Maura Barrett followed a YouTube livestream that Tom Steyer held with young Democrats and picked up on how this may become commonplace for the senators in the 2020 race: “I note the details regarding how the virtual town hall was conducted as speculations swirl around how senators who are also running for president while potentially sitting on an impeachment trial in January might continue to campaign. Obviously, this won’t be a problem for Steyer, but Cory Booker’s campaign manager floated the idea of tele-town halls on a press call last week and other campaigns are looking for creative solutions; the virtual town hall or other solutions utilizing new technology might something we see more of, come January.”

The Lid: Commercial break

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at new polling on the reach of Michael Bloomberg’s TV ads.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Bookmark NBC’s impeachment live blog for today.

Adam Schiff is raising questions about how Vice President Mike Pence’s office described his call with the Ukrainian president.

Protestors rallied yesterday to show their support for impeachment.

House Republicans are running ads on impeachment, but Democrats are trying their best to change the subject.

Trump Agenda: My Man Mitch

Mitch McConnell says he’s not “an impartial juror” in the impeachment trial.

The House Rules Committee approved six hours of debate on the House floor today before the impeachment vote.

The House has passed a $1.4 trillion government spending bill.

Paul Manafort was hospitalized after a “cardiac event.”

2020: Biden releases his medical history

Joe Biden has released a three-page summary of his medical history.

Voting rights advocates are worried about a recent voter purge in Georgia.

Pete Buttigieg finally started going after his rivals. Is it working?

POLITICO delves into Pete Buttigieg’s Harvard days.

Both Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg are trying to crack the code of how to win in California.

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The Saturday Debate: Are attack ads bad for politics? – Toronto Star



“Political attack ads call all of politics into disrepute, ultimately undermining trust in all politicians and eroding citizens’ confidence that democracy is the best system for choosing our leaders,” writes Peter Loewen. On the other side, “what voters need to know is not just what’s desirable but what’s possible, and how,” writes Rick Salutin. “It’s useful to see candidates pick each other and their proposals apart. Ads are just one way of doing that.”


Peter Loewen

Incoming director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

Negative politics — and its favourite tactic, attack ads — erode trust in our democracy, polarize voters, and cause enmity between citizens. Attack ads are not good for our politics.

Of course, in the short term, attack ads may be good for politicians. Attack ads can convey important and true information about an opponent’s past statements, their current policy positions, and even their future actions. In short, they may be informative.

Precisely because attack ads are cast in a negative light, they may attract more attention from voters, causing them to attend more closely. Humans, after all, are hard-wired to pay attention to that which makes us anxious or threatens us. Attack ads may also lead voters to think the stakes in an election are higher and that the divisions between parties are greater than they really are. In sum, they may be motivating.

Attacks ads may well work to serve the ends of one politician over another. In the business of getting votes and winning elections, then, they may be good for politicians. But are they good for politics?

Potato chips are wonderful for satisfying a craving hunger. They are a poor basis for a healthy diet and a long life. Attack ads may help in the short term. In the long term, they degrade our politics.

Here are principal ways attack ads are bad for our politics.

  • First, they call all of politics into disrepute, ultimately undermining trust in all politicians and eroding citizens’ confidence that democracy is the best system for choosing our leaders. A small thought experiment makes this point.

Why, for example, does McDonald’s not run advertisements running down Burger King’s products? Surely, they believe their own are better and that consumers ought to choose them. Why not simply “raise an interesting question” about where exactly Burger King’s beef comes from? At least one reason is that this could erode the total market demand for hamburgers. If Burger King is bad for you, maybe McDonald’s is, too.

Politicians are in a different business, though. The party that takes power does so irrespective about how many people vote in absolute terms. All that matters is the share of votes received. The steady decline in turnout we have seen over the past half century has at least something to do with the persistent negativity of our politics.

  • Second, negative ads likely increase polarization. Politics — even in Canada — is increasingly polarized around issues. This polarization can happen in at least two ways.

One way is that voters take increasingly extreme views on issues, rather than centrist views. This is at least partially caused by political rhetoric that emphasizes stark positions.

The other is that voters are more consistently ideological in their views, so voters who have a certain position on one issue — say abortion — will have a certain position on another unrelated issue — say, capital gains taxes. By engaging negative campaigning on issues, parties increase the stakes of those issues, compelling partisans to get in line with other partisans, rather than entertaining a diversity of opinions. This polarization, as my colleague Eric Merkley has shown, is not limited to the United States.

  • Third, negative advertising and campaigning increases enmity between people. Attack ads that call into question the fundamental motivations and values of politicians cause voters to hold more negative opinions of those leaders. But the effect is not contained. Instead, it bleeds into their evaluations of the people who support those leaders.

Again, as my colleague Eric Merkley has shown, voters in Canada have increasingly negative feelings not only about politicians in other parties, but about the people who vote for them.

One of the great tricks of democratic politics is that it allows us to solve a big problem — who will make and enforce the rules for our lives — in a peaceful way. And by doing it only every few years, it allows us to otherwise go about our lives peaceably and productively.

If negative politics threatens that, it does so by deceiving us into believing that this is a bad way to govern ourselves and by leading us to think that our fellow citizens are not deserving of our respect because we disagree over some small set of issues. This may well be good for politicians seeking to be elected, but it is bad for us and for our politics.

Peter Loewen is the incoming director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.


Rick Salutin

Freelance contributing columnist for the Star

Bad for politics? Attack ads are politics in our system, more or less. We have an adversarial politics, just as we have an adversarial legal system. So there’s a loyal opposition, with the emphasis on opposing. Scrapping attack ads would be like eliminating cross-examinations in court.

Different systems are surely possible. Some countries have “neutral” judicial bodies that investigate and judge crimes. We have places in Canada — Nunavut or the Northwest Territories — that operate on consensus politics without an opposition, the way municipalities are supposed to.

But there’s something to be said for attack strategies in politics. Long ago I studied with a Marxist, Herbert Marcuse, who called his book, “One-Dimensional Man,” an “exercise in the power of negative thinking.” That itself was an attack on a sappy bestseller of the time called “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

It’s too easy in politics to burble on positively, making promises. What voters need to know is not just what’s desirable but what’s possible, and how. They often say that their vote comes down to choosing the least worst option. So it’s useful to see candidates pick each other and their proposals apart.

Ads are just one way of doing that, and they should certainly be regulated. But the plus is that we’ve all seen so many ads, essentially since birth, that we can be judgmental ourselves, and learn things even from dubious cases.

Take the stupid Willy Wonka ad that Conservatives put out before the last federal campaign, with Justin Trudeau’s face ineptly superimposed on a film character. It was like saying, “If we can’t even make a competent ad, why would you trust us to run Canada?” Their own MPs were embarrassed and it got pulled.

Or take the current flood of ads about Ontario’s coming election.

The PCs are running a radio ad of Doug Ford saying, “I hear it all the time, politicians are famous for finding reasons to say no. That’s not me … we are the party saying Yes.”

My first thought was: what a weird assertion, that I’m the Yes man. Who said you weren’t? Oh wait, there are long lists of things he cut, even during the pandemic. (Though he does say Yes to his developer buddies on building Hwy. 413, where they own big plots of land along the way.)

In effect, he’s become his own attack ad against himself. So this week, when he told immigrants not to come to Ontario to rip off “the dole,” you think, that doesn’t sound very Yessy. Or last week: “Folks, I’m gonna tell you something, the worst place you can give your money is to the government.” That’s a pretty big No from Mr. Yes.

The NDP have dropped a pile of ads against Ford and Liberal leader Steven Del Duca. No one who knows them will be surprised that the emotion in the anti-Liberal ads is fiercer than the anti-Ford ones, though Del Duca’s a minuscule player in the legislature — without even a seat — and apparently no money for ads. The NDP have always hated Liberals for usurping what they see as their rightful place as progressive leaders. It’s only human; most of us have been there.

The ads drip with sarcasm and are voiced by what sounds to me like an actor directed to personify a worker. The result reads to me like a middle class actor’s notion of straight-talking workers. It rings like a caricature. The music under it is arch and cute, like “Only Murders in the Building.” The NDP’s always had a problem with a sense of humour. It doesn’t have one but doesn’t know it.

The scripts are worse. They tell people what they should feel: Del Duca is “back for power, not for you.” What does that mean? If you’re trying to make up your mind, it gives you no help. My own experience writing for workers in, say, leaflets for union drives or strikes, is that they want information that’s specific (but concise), not attitudes. Give them info; they’ll provide opinions.

Del Duca’s response, by the way, to those attacks is to say something positive about the other leaders. It’s often smart to march in the other direction.

I’ve run out of space here but I must say, now that I’ve started reacting to these angry, hostile, attack ads, that it’s lots of fun. Keep them coming!

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O'Toole's Tories outliers in Canadian politics for keeping vaccination status secret –



A spokeswoman for New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says all members of the governing Progressive Conservative caucus are fully vaccinated, except for one who is undergoing cancer treatment and had to delay their second shot until later this month.

All but two MLAs in Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government say they’re fully immunized. The two refuse to reveal their vaccination status. 

Mandatory vaccination rules have also been announced for admittance to Nova Scotia’s Province House and Quebec’s National Assembly. 

A similar policy was unveiled federally this week by the board of internal economy, the multi-party governing body of the House of Commons. It announced a double vaccination requirement for entering buildings in the Commons precinct, including the House of Commons chamber itself. 

Nothing has yet been decided for the Senate, which sets its own rules.

The move appears to leave Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole in a predicament: He didn’t make vaccination against COVID-19 a rule to run as a Conservative candidate in the recent federal election and he won’t say now how many of his 118 MPs are fully vaccinated. At the same time, he wants to return to an in-person Parliament when it resumes Nov. 22. 

O’Toole, who contracted COVID-19 and personally promotes the value of vaccinations, says he respects an individual’s personal health choices. 

The most recent analysis by The Canadian Press found at least 80 Conservative MPs are fully vaccinated, while two said they couldn’t be immunized for medical reasons. Two others refused to disclose their status on principle and the others did not respond.

Some in O’Toole’s caucus champion the need to keep their vaccination status private, like backbench Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer. He wrote a recent op-ed saying he rejects “bully tactics” to cajole people into divulging private medical information, but then later confirmed he is himself vaccinated.  

Similarly, Alberta MP Glen Motz posted on his website: “As strongly as I support the use of vaccines in our fight against COVID-19, I am as equally opposed to coerced vaccination.”

Just as the Liberals drove mandatory vaccinations as a wedge during the election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has continued criticizing the Conservatives. He suggested this week that his decision to wait another month to recall Parliament was to ensure all of O’Toole’s team had time to get vaccinated. 

Conservative spokesman Mathew Clancy said the official Opposition doesn’t believe the nine-member board of internal economy “has the jurisdiction to infringe on a member’s right to take their seat in the House of Commons,” but didn’t elaborate on whether it would challenge the decision. 

Carleton University professor Philippe Lagassé, an expert on the Westminster parliamentary system, said the rules weren’t designed to deal with public health, but it’s up to MPs to lay down their own laws in their parliamentary house. 

“The fundamental principle remains the same — this is a collective right and if as a collectivity the House determines that its safety and ability to perform its function needs to be protected against some external force — a disease, or a police officer, or a court — well, then that’s the way it is,” he said.

“The reality is we’re not a pure democracy, we’re a parliamentary democracy.”

He said the issue some Conservative MPs may raise is whether the board of internal economy can speak for the entire House of Commons.

However, if they compel the Commons to vote on the issue, it’s clear the mandatory vaccination policy would easily pass, with the support of Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and NDP members.

Federal parties must also decide whether the Commons should resume all normal in-person proceedings or continue with a virtual component, allowing MPs to participate by videoconference.

At B.C.’s legislature, there is a hybrid option for the assembly itself and a rule that all MLAs, staff and guests must show proof of vaccination to gain admittance to the building. 

In Saskatchewan and Ontario, visitors must be double vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test result before entry. 

In Manitoba, many continue to participate remotely. Speaker Myrna Driedger said in an email that the legislature hasn’t yet dealt with the issue of vaccination requirements for its chambers. 

In Alberta, Speaker Nathan Cooper said decisions around whether to exclude an MLA from the assembly must be made by the assembly alone. 

“This has been a very complicated and fascinating time to see our democracies wrestle with this very foundational building block of our society in terms of our democracy, and the very real and active concerns around public health,” he said. 

The Alberta NDP, which says all of its MLAs are fully vaccinated, has pushed United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney to ensure the same of his caucus. Cooper said it’s been “widely reported” all UCP members are vaccinated, except for one seeking a medical exemption. 

Kenney has said he favours making sure all MLAs are either vaccinated, or show a negative result from a COVID-19 test to enter the assembly, which begins sitting Monday. 

Lagassé said when it comes to introducing any new set of rules for Parliament, an important question is how long they will last, particularly when it impacts the abilities of the public and parliamentarians to access these spaces. 

“We’ve got to be careful with it, but you almost have to deal with it on a case-by-case basis,” he said. 

— with files from Steve Lambert and Dirk Meissner

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2021

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Politics Was Riddled With Celebrities Long Before Trump – New York Magazine



Helen Gahagan Douglas addressing the World Youth Rally in New York City, March 21, 1945.
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Everett/Shutterstock

Could there really be something new under the sun in U.S. politics? “Celebrities are America’s new politicians,” proclaimed an Axios headline published this week. The piece explained:

Launching gubernatorial bids, making presidential endorsements, founding schools: Celebrities are getting increasingly involved in U.S. public and political life …

As we’ve reported, politics is no longer just the purview of career politicians, as companies and their CEOs throw their weight around to affect policies. Now, movie stars, famous musicians and professional athletes also are using their influence in politics.

It has often been asserted that Donald Trump’s election as president abolished all prerequisites for high-level political candidacy. But are we really starting to see the results of that “paradigm shift,” as Axios suggests? Some of the examples offered fade a bit under scrutiny. Yes, Caitlyn Jenner ran in the recent California gubernatorial recall contest. She also finished in 13th place with one percent of the vote, and even that is inflated since a big chunk of voters skipped the replacement contest entirely.

There is a rich history of celebrities running for office — and winning — long before Trump, but apparently they’re not much of a factor in this current trend. Axios brings up Ronald Reagan only to dismiss him as irrelevant because he had served in lower office before becoming president (though I’d say getting elected governor of California without any prior government service was pretty significant). Arnold Schwarzenegger is cited as a cautionary tale for celebrities with no political experience, as he was widely criticized while serving as governor of California (though he managed to get himself reelected by a landslide). If it’s remarkable that Matthew McConaughey might run for governor of Texas in 2022, perhaps it’s even more notable that ex-wrestler Jesse “the Body” Ventura actually did get elected governor of Minnesota in 1998, a decade before the same state elected TV star and comedian Al Franken to the U.S. Senate?

Stars trying to influence politics without entering the arena themselves strikes me as even more underwhelming. Maybe that’s because I’m old enough to remember much earlier generations of celebrity support for politicians, including the Rat Pack’s famous affinity for Richard Nixon and the host of entertainment and athletic figures associated with the Kennedys. The celebrity factor was kind of hard to miss when former football great Roosevelt Greer, Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson, and authors George Plimpton, Jimmy Breslin, and Pete Hamill wrestled Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after he shot RFK, then singer and TV star Andy Williams made a huge stir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” at Bobby’s funeral.

But the star-turned-politician trend well predates the 1960s. One could even argue it’s among the oldest trends in U.S. politics, if you consider George Washington and the nine fellow generals who succeeded him in the presidency “celebrities.” Here are just some of the figures who earned fame in other walks of life and then converted it into political capital long before Trump traded reality-show sets for the Oval Office.

Actors in politics

Reagan and Schwarzenegger actually had plenty of predecessors in California politics who were first actors. In 1964, Tinseltown star George Murphy was elected to a U.S. Senate seat from the Golden State (he held it for one term before losing to John Tunney, the son of famous boxer Gene Tunney, who in turn lost to S.I. Hayakawa, who was a mere college administrator when he became a celebrity by harshly suppressing a student strike).

In the 1940s, Broadway and Hollywood actress Helen Gahagan Douglas was elected to Congress from California and was the 1950 Democratic nominee facing Richard Nixon in what became one of the most famous (and vicious) U.S. Senate races ever. Douglas, in fact, pioneered the apt sobriquet “Tricky Dick” for the future president. She also allegedly had a long-standing affair with Lyndon B. Johnson, though it’s possible that was just celebrity gossip.

And Shirley Temple, perhaps the most famous child actor of all time, entered politics as an adult. As Shirley Temple Black, she ran for Congress in California in 1967 and later held multiple diplomatic positions.

Outside California, Hollywood actor John Davis Lodge was elected to Congress from Connecticut in 1946, then elected governor in 1950; he was later U.S. ambassador to Spain. TV actor Fred Grandy served four terms as a congressman from Iowa. And while he began his career as a Senate staffer and lobbyist, Fred Thompson was much better known as an actor when he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee in 1994.

Musicians in politics

Jimmie Davis, a country and gospel singer best known for “You Are My Sunshine,” was first elected governor of Louisiana in 1944 and then returned to the office in 1960 as a reactionary opponent of civil rights.

Next door in Texas, another legendary reactionary, W. Lee (“Pass the Biscuits, Pappy”) O’Daniel, was elected governor in 1939 and a U.S. senator in 1941 (beating LBJ in that contest) after becoming famous as a country-music bandleader and radio huckster for the Hillbilly Flour Company.

And going back to California, Sonny Bono (of Sonny & Cher fame) was elected to two terms in Congress before being killed in a skiing accident.

Journalists and writers in politics

One of the more interesting contemporary examples of a celebrity leaping into electoral politics is the likely candidacy of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for governor of Oregon next year. But he isn’t the first celebrity journalist or author to run for high office. If the Douglas-Nixon contest was the nastiest in California history, certainly the second nastiest was the 1934 gubernatorial race between muckraking author and journalist Upton Sinclair (a longtime Socialist running as a Democrat) and Republican pol Frank Merriam. The latter won after huge negative attacks on Sinclair as an un-American who was financed and produced by Hollywood studios and the Hearst newspapers.

It’s notable that Merriam himself began his career as a newspaper publisher. So too, obviously, did Hearst company founder William Randolph Hearst (the model for Orson Welles’s Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane), a powerful figure in California and national politics for decades and, for a while, a serious aspirant for the presidency (especially in 1904). And one less-than-distinguished U.S. president, Warren G. Harding, was also a local newspaper editor and publisher before formally entering politics.

President Theodore Roosevelt was a published author of a book of military history before he entered politics and government, though he was probably not rightly a “celebrity” that early. One of the oddest and briefest political careers was conducted by the controversial novelist and playwright Gore Vidal, who ran a serious campaign for Congress in New York in 1960 and then a quixotic race against Jerry Brown for the California Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 1982. Vidal later played a U.S. senator in the political satire film Bob Roberts.

Athletes in politics

Caitlyn Jenner is hardly the first celebrity ex-athlete to go into politics. She is, in fact, not even the first Republican Olympic gold-medal decathlete to go into California politics. Bob Matthias, who won the gold in the Decathlon twice (1948 and 1952), later served four terms in Congress representing the northern San Joaquin Valley.

Other Olympians who served in Congress include Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado (judo) and representatives Ralph Metcalfe of Illinois and Jim Ryun of Kansas (both track).

Baseball great Jim Bunning served one term in the U.S. Senate representing Kentucky. Football was represented by Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne (a congressman from Nebraska), NFL wide receiver Steve Largent (a congressman from Oklahoma), and NFL quarterback Jack Kemp (a congressman from New York, a presidential candidate, and the Republican VP nominee in 1996). The most famous basketballer in politics was Bill Bradley, the Princeton and NBA star who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and ran for president in 2000.

Other celebrities in politics

The above categories don’t at all cover the various ways people become famous and then get into politics. John C. Frémont was a famed explorer. Herbert Hoover (known as the Great Humanitarian) won global fame as a food-relief organizer during and after World War I before he entered government service. And in our own era, a significant number of civil-rights-movement veterans have made their way into electoral politics (led by the late John Lewis).

The bottom line is there’s no real evidence that we’re entering some sort of golden age of celebrities going into politics, or even that Trump changed everything. He may be the least-accomplished celebrity ever to win high office, but he wasn’t the first and will hardly be the last.

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