If you read my recent stories about presidents, you may have noticed a common thread in our nation’s 240-year history.
Almost all the presidents were elected after they had served in political office. Most had been in the U.S. House or Senate, or as governors. A few others were military leaders, and some had backgrounds in business. Even though Ronald Reagan was originally an actor, he had served eight years as California governor before aiming for the White House.
Now and then, celebrities get the itch to run for office, often at the local level. In California, one of Reagan’s fellow actors, Clint Eastwood was mayor of Carmel for a while. In the same state, Arnold Schwarzenegger served two terms as governor. Pro wrestler Jesse Ventura was governor of Minnesota. Until his recent resignation over sexual misconduct, longtime Saturday Night Live comic Al Franken served in the Senate, also from Minnesota.
Cher’s former husband and singing partner Sonny Bono was a two term U.S. House member. TV series actors Fred Grandy (Gopher on “The Love Boat”) and Ben “Cooter” Jones (“Dukes of Hazzard”) served in the House from Iowa and Georgia, respectively. Talk show host Jerry Springer was mayor of Cincinnati for a couple of years before audiences started shouting “JER-RY! JER-RY!”
Attorney Fred Thompson comfortably weaved between dual careers of acting and serving as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee. Although he has yet to run, former basketball star Charles Barkley has long shown interest in being governor of Alabama. Similarly, former quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning, and country music’s Tim McGraw have hinted they might enter the political fray some day.
That’s a fairly short list of past and potential celebrity politicians, but the number seems to be growing. President Donald Trump of course, made his fortune in real estate, but his starring role in “The Apprentice” probably got him more votes in his successful quest for the presidency.
Now comes word that talk-show host, actress, and producer Oprah Winfrey is a possible contender in the 2020 presidential race. Movie star and former pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has also indicated some interest, and universally well-liked Tom Hanks has even been mentioned as presidential material. There’s a good chance the next White House race will be strong on star power, with relatively little political experience on the ballot.
This got me to thinking. Have we missed out on some major presidential talent in the past, by wasting our votes on boring old senators and governors? Who are some of the TV and movie stars who could have kept us out of conflict, while enriching our bank accounts?
I’ll start with Moe of the Three Stooges. What foreign leader would dare mess with the U.S. while dodging eye pokes and pies at the negotiating table?
Bob Hope was said to have been approached by both Democrats and Republicans during his long career, but always joked that he “couldn’t take the pay cut.” He certainly spent a lot of time in war zones, and one would hope he would have worked hard to keep the peace.
Harrison Ford played the president in “Air Force One,” famously sending a terrorist to his demise with the iconic line, “Get off my plane!” I don’t know if he had any political skills, but he was off to a good start in the war on terror.
George Burns was awfully good playing God in the “Oh God” movies with John Denver, passing along great advice. Seems like being president would involve far less responsibility after being in charge of the whole world.
Now and then, folks in the news business enter the political arena. “The most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite was often asked to run, but never took the bait. Maybe he figured he should stay put, while folks still trusted him.
When I was a kid growing up in the family store, I always idolized the local candidates who would drop in to campaign. I vowed I would run for something when I grew up. Frankly, there’s been no demand for me to do that, but if there was, I would have to decline. You see, my wife is too honest.
Do you remember that worshipful, admiring gaze that Nancy Reagan always displayed when her man Ron was speaking at the podium? He could do no wrong in her eyes. Surely, Mr. Reagan had some faults, but you would never know it from watching Nancy.
My wife, honest to a fault, could never pull off that act. As soon as I promised to rid my district of crime, pollution and poverty, she would stand up and yell, “Don’t listen to him! He won’t even pick up his socks!”
Hmmm. Maybe she should run for something.