This week we saw the total implosion of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a personal tragedy which ultimately is a private tragedy involving a real family. Yet combined with his dismal approval ratings as governor, his failure to solve California’s budget crisis and the ongoing gridlock in Sacramento, one has to ask why the obsession with celebrities in politics. The answer is simple, Ronald Wilson Reagan, a former actor to went on to become one of the great presidents. The attraction of political operatives is obvious, Schwarzenegger came to politics with name recognition which was unparalleled and an image based upon his reputation from years of acting in mostly action movies. He was, quite literally, made in Hollywood for public office.
Yet while for some consultants image is everything and indeed to took him to the governor’s office, he entered that office with none of the qualities which make good candidates great officials. Yet targeting people in the entertainment industry brings with it many disadvantages. Schwarzenegger’s image was just that, an image created by the Hollywood publicity machine, when pressed he has very little evolved political ideology when he ran in 2003. Upon entering office he talked about being “post partisan” which had a ring so statesmanship. In fact Schwarzenegger had very little idea how to actually get the job of governor done by getting people to actually work together. His post partisanship was met with partisanship and he simply was not able to match the skill of professional politicians with his name recognition. To be sure he was a great communicator, but communications skills without a refined message are just empty.
Additionally, with Hollywood name recognition come Hollywood egos. We all know there is an entire industry of voyeurs who make their living off the cult of celebrity not only in America but around the world. Name recognition does not in itself mean a person has the qualities and skills needed to be a good public leader. Let’s be honest, celebrities have very well developed egos stroked for years by special treatment in every facet of life and sycophantic handlers who tell them they can do no wrong. All behavior is accepted and indeed encouraged. Nobody can be surprised at Schwarzenegger’s conduct; it has been more than rumored for years. While one’s private life is private and should remain so, we can express outrage at politicians who campaign with photogenic families, profess family values yet embrace none of it in their private lives. Schwarzenegger had his love child before he became Governor of California and is simply, a jerk.
So we can’t leave this subject without looking at why Reagan was an exception to this Hollywierd trend. Part of the answer comes from the era in which he lived. While post World War II Hollywood was celebrity driven, it was a screen created by the studios, not by tabloids who spike the name recognition of Hollywood flakes by how bad they behave and outrageous their deeds. Reagan became active in real politics long before leaving acting and, agree with them or not, had s very well developed political philosophy. Before entering electoral politics he had spent years speaking on real issues across America, not blogging or tweeting incoherent thoughts to adoring fans. We need to realize, Reagan was the exception, not the rule. Will Schwarzenegger’s implosion save us from another Hollywood derived candidacy, not likely? Let’s hope that the voters will however be more critical of star candidates before they achieve office and the candidates themselves choose to live the image and not just leverage their celebrity.