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.
Biden and Putin to hold video call on Tuesday, will discuss Ukraine
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a video call on Tuesday to deal with military tensions over Ukraine other topics.
Biden wants to discuss U.S. concerns about Russia’s military buildup on the Ukraine border, a U.S. source said on Saturday, as well as strategic stability, cyber and regional issues.
“We’re aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion with Putin,” Biden told reporters on Friday as he departed for a weekend trip to Camp David. “I don’t accept anybody’s red lines,” he said.
The two will also talk about bilateral ties and the implementation of agreements reached at their Geneva summit in June, the Kremlin said on Saturday.
“The conversation will indeed take place on Tuesday,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. “Bilateral relations, of course Ukraine and the realisation of the agreements reached in Geneva are the main (items) on the agenda,” he said.
More than 94,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/large-scale-russian-offensive-possible-january-ukraine-says-2021-12-03 that Moscow may be planning a large-scale military offensive for the end of January, citing intelligence reports.
Biden will reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the U.S. source said. The exact timing of the call was not disclosed. The White House declined to comment.
The U.S. president on Friday said he and his advisers are preparing a comprehensive set of initiatives aimed at deterring Putin from an invasion. He did not give further details, but the Biden administration has discussed partnering with European allies to impose more sanctions on Russia.
Moscow accuses Kyiv of pursuing its own military build-up. It has dismissed as inflammatory suggestions that it is preparing for an attack on its southern neighbor and has defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it sees fit.
U.S. officials say they do not know yet what Putin’s intentions are, adding while intelligence points to preparations for a possible invasion of Ukraine, it is unclear whether a final decision to do so has been made.
U.S.-Russia relations have been deteriorating for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and U.S. intelligence charges of meddling in the 2016 election won by now-former President Donald Trump.
But they have become more volatile in recent months.
The Biden administration has asked Moscow to crack down on ransomware and cyber crime attacks emanating from Russian soil, and in November charged https://www.reuters.com/technology/us-seizes-6-mln-ransom-payments-charge-ukrainian-over-cyberattack-cnn-2021-11-08 a Ukraine national and a Russian in one of the worst ransomware attacks against American targets.
Russia has repeatedly denied carrying out or tolerating cyber attacks.
The two leaders have had one face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January, sitting down for talks in Geneva last June. They last talked by phone on July 9. Biden relishes direct talks with world leaders, seeing them as a way to lower tensions.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russian Foreign Minister ” https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/blinken-urges-russias-lavrov-take-diplomatic-exit-ukraine-crisis-2021-12-02 Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm earlier this week that the United States and its European allies would impose “severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine.”
(Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in WashingtonEditing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)
Meet the recipients of the new Women in Politics scholarship – The Signal
Dalhousie award created to encourage more women to enter male dominated field
Having more women at the decision-making table is important for Claire Belliveau.
“If we have male dominated rooms, we’re going to have male dominated issues, as easy as that,” said Belliveau.
Belliveau, along with Charlotte Bourke, are the first recipients of the new Women in Politics scholarship at Dalhousie.
Belliveau is in her fourth year at Dalhousie, studying political science and law, justice and society. She has been involved in politics since she was 18, working for Environment Minister Tim Halman. Belliveau is the community outreach co-ordinator at Halman’s constituency office.
Being a young woman in politics has not always been easy for Belliveau. She recalls instances where people questioned her abilities due to her age and times when male peers would take credit for her ideas.
Despite these challenges, Belliveau has found support among other women in the field. One thing she found interesting was how women in politics support each other despite party alliance.
“It’s so nice to see how much these women want to see other women succeed, in a male dominated field,” she said.
Belliveau would like to pursue a career in government as an analyst, contributing to policy development in education and the environment.
Bourke is also a fourth-year political science student with an interest in environmental politics. Her main research interests are social and environmental policies and she is studying ways to create fairer climate adaptation plans.
Bourke is unsure about her plans after graduation, but she knows it will involve politics, social issues and the environment.
The scholarship serves to encourage, support and inspire young women in their political aspirations. It was established by Grace Evans and Sarah Dobson, co-authors of On Their Shoulders: The Women who Paved the Way in Nova Scotia Politics.
The book addresses the gender gap by showcasing the first and only 50 women at the time, to have served as MLAs in the province. The book highlights the importance of female representation in municipal politics and all proceeds go towards funding the new scholarship.
In 2021, women and gender-diverse people make up only 36 per cent of the legislative assembly in Nova Scotia.
Of 55 MLAs, 19 are women, one is gender-diverse and 35 are men.
“People often don’t want to enter a realm where they can’t see themselves reflected. I think it’s hard for young women to become interested in politics if they don’t see their peers there,” Evans said.
The scholarship will run for as long as there is funding. Every year, two students will be awarded $1,000 each.
“There’s not a lot of scholarships, to my knowledge, geared specifically towards poli sci students, let alone women in poli sci,” Bourke said.
Evans said they are looking to expand the scholarship beyond funding to create a network of people. She and Dobson have been working in politics for a few years and have made many connections they would like to share with the recipients.
Receiving the scholarship was rewarding for Bourke, who felt like all her hard work was being acknowledged.
“It’s kind of just like a relief and a push forward to be like, oh wow I am being recognized, this is really cool, people actually think that I’m good enough, or they actually want me here. It feels sort of welcoming,” she said.
Belliveau was honoured to receive a scholarship designed to encourage women, like herself, who want a career in politics.
“It was just really motivating, especially from Sarah and Grace, knowing how much they care about young women in politics, knowing how much they care about the history and seeing more young women join the field,” she said.
“They’re acknowledging how important it is to have those voices at the table.”
For both women, winning the scholarship has given them a boost of confidence.
Belliveau said it has pushed her to apply for other opportunities, something she hopes other young women in politics will be encouraged to do as well.
“Apply for every scholarship, apply for fellowships, apply for the jobs you don’t think you qualify for because … men are doing it and they get them all the time, so why shouldn’t you?” she said.
“So, take advantage of everything you can and just enjoy the ride, stand your ground and don’t be afraid to speak up.”
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Playing Politics With Democracy? – Forbes
On December 9 and 10, President Biden will host the first of two Summits for Democracy to “set forth an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today.” How do Americans see the threat to democracy in the US now? And do partisans see the health of our democracy differently?
In October, Grinnell College asked them this directly. Fifty-two percent said American democracy was under a very serious threat and 29% under a minor threat. Only 14% perceived no threat. Other polls with differently worded questions produce similar impressions of a democracy in need of serious rehabilitation. In a November poll, Monmouth University pollsters found that 8% thought the US system of government was basically sound and needed no improvement, 35% basically sound but needing some improvement, 26% not too sound and needing many improvements, and 30% not too sound and in need of significant changes. And a late October–early November poll of 18–29 year olds from Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) finds that 7% of them describe US democracy as healthy, 27% somewhat functioning, 39% as in trouble, and 13% as failed.
In 2018, 2019, and again in 2021, Public Agenda, as part of the Daniel Yankelovich Democracy Initiative, asked people identical questions about democracy’s health. In the May 2021 poll, 14% said American democracy was doing well, 50% facing serious challenges but not in crisis, and 36% in crisis. The results were similar to their 2018 and 2019 polls.
In all of these new polls, Democrats were more positive about democracy’s health than were Republicans. In the 2021 Public Agenda survey, Democrats were less likely to see a crisis than Republicans, 25% to 48%. However, in their 2018 and 2019 polls taken during the Trump years, far more Democrats than Republicans said the system was in crisis. In the October 2021 Grinnell poll, 71% of Republicans compared to 35% of Democrats saw the threat as major. In the Monmouth poll, partisans in both parties thought improvements were necessary, but twice as many Republicans as Democrats (38% to 15%) said the system was not sound at all and needed significant changes. In the Harvard IOP poll, 18–29 year old Democrats were more optimistic about democracy, too. There is a clear disconnect between Democratic elites in the media and academia who regularly opine about a US democracy’s decline and the views of rank-and-file Democrats.
This pattern is reversed when we look at questions about the events of January 6 and subsequent investigations as the new edition of the AEI Polling Report shows. Democrats profess much more concern than Republicans about what happened that day and are more eager to see the work of the January 6 congressional committee continue. In a mid-October online Morning Consult/Politico poll, 81% of Democrats compared to 18% of Republicans approved of the special congressional committee to investigate the events that occurred at the US Capitol on January 6. And in a mid-October Quinnipiac University poll, 40% wanted to hear more, but 56% said enough was already known about what led to the storming of the Capitol. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats wanted to hear more compared to 22% of Republicans and 38% of independents. Still, it is significant that nearly four in 10 (38%) Democrats said enough is known already, indicating some fatigue with the investigation.
There are some obvious reasons Democrats would feel better about our democracy than Republicans. They control both chambers of Congress, there’s a Democrat in the White House, and expressing confidence in American democracy is a way of showing support for the party and the president as the polls above suggest. And Democrats will continue to hammer away at anything to do with Donald Trump.
The polls suggest that concerns about democracy have not diminished people’s willingness to participate in the system — at least in terms of voting. Eighty percent in the Grinnell poll said they would definitely vote in the 2024 election for president and other offices and only 7% said they probably would not. What’s more, 91% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans in the survey said that it was very important for the United States to remain a democracy. Five percent nationally said it was fairly important, 4% just somewhat, and 3% not important. When you care deeply about something as Americans do about democracy, you worry at its erosion. But today, this concern has a deep partisan overlay.
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