Sunday, July 23, 2006

Why we'll (probably) never have a celebrity run for President

I'll eventually meander to my point. First there's the whole real life example that got me to thinking, plus I can't resist a detour through why I like term limits, and then I'll close with some necessary swearing just to prove how hip and culturally relevant I am.

There's an interesting debate going on at Hammer of Truth about the viability of the announced Presidential campaign of Doug Stanhope. They tell me Stanhope is a celebrity, although I haven't really heard of him. The kind of guy that you tell me where I've seen him and I say, oh yeah I think I know who you mean. I look at his face on his website and no bells ring. To test my cultural relevance, I checked the Billboard Hot 100 and would recognize three of the artists of the top five songs if I saw them on the street - better than I predicted - so maybe I am an average pop culture consumer.

Stanhope's announcement rubbed me a number of wrong ways. Yes I have officially achieved the state of old fuddy duddy - swearing in public communications offends me. It works for Enimem, but I doubt Mr. Mathers would consider running for President. If you can't get through a paragraph without getting bleeped, I don't want you representing my party.

Going out of your way to insult Jesus also is the mark of the loser. Now, you don't have to be a Christian to be a good public servant. I take great pride in recruiting not one but three Pagan priests to run for office here in NC. Not to mention the large number of openly atheist Libertarians I helped put on the ballot. It's everybody's country, not just for us Christians. But consider that fully 7/8ths of the voters self-identify as Christians. Then consider just how intensely stooopid it is for a candidate to insult them. I realized later that even more offensive to me than insulting my God is the implication that voters who "buy Jesus" are dumb. Anybody who is so arrogant as to openly say voters are dumb is automatically disqualified from serving in public office in my book.

But my problem really isn't with Stanhope. After all, he is a comedian just trying to do his job, even if I didn't laugh at this particular joke. And he did succeed in his secondary goal - I now know who he is. Doug is probably a great guy and I'm glad he is on our side. If your first myspace friend is Dave Attell, you are almost certainly my kind of people.

No, my problem is with otherwise intelligent people getting all excited about this campaign and trying to convince me that Stanhope's E-list celebrity status will somehow help the Libertarian Party. Some even invoke the name of Kinky Friedman to prove their point. Now that's just hype gone crazy. Kinky isn't just already a celebrity in Texas, he's a national icon. You might as well compare Stanhope's celebrity to William Henry Harrison's. It's just as relevant.

Now of course there is an obvious counterexample, Stanhope's friend and supporter Penn Jillette. Penn would be a fantastic candidate for us. He's 100 times more famous, already gets paid to articulate common sense stands on today's issues and can get through a speech without swearing. But he'll never run for President. If you don't believe me, there's an episode of Babylon 5 where he explains his position on the question in great detail.

The question reminds me of my old friend and boss Howie Rich, when Howie convinced me to change my position on term limits. Until then I took the purely theoretical Libertarian view that no citizens should be arbitrarily barred from public office, not even incumbents. But Howie pointed out that with career politicians the seniority system takes control of the legislative hierarchy. What incentive is there for someone who has earned success on their own merits in some other aspect of life to go into politics, where they have to toil away on the back bench for years and years just to get anywhere no matter how good they are? And you wonder how we ended up with a President who managed to lose money on both an oil company and a baseball team?

Later personal observation confirmed Howie's view for me. I found that it takes right about six years for the average NC state legislator to completely lose touch with anything that goes on outside their little building. Oh sure, some of them were that way before they went in and a blessed few manage to get through a whole career remembering who they serve. And now that some states have term limits, we can see that the program has delivered on its promises of the benefits of a citizen legislature. At least term limited legislators are much more likely to want to get out of town and back to their real lives, instead of just siting around indefinitely having fun spending other people's money because they have nothing better to do.

Of course we already have limited our President's terms. But the same principle explains why Penn Jillette will never run. Why the hell would he want to be POTUS when he already has a much better job? I know if I was a Vegas headliner I wouldn't be giving that up for nothin'.

Only one possible motive remains for any real celebrity to want to be our candidate. That person would have to be a zealot. Or put it nicely, someone who really believes in public service. Someone like Ralph Nader. Which gets us to another long held theory of mine - anyone who truly wants to be President is almost certainly too mentally unstable to be trusted with that much power. But that's a conundrum I am willing to live with if the candidate is credible enough.

We thought Harry Browne's bit of celebrity would help us. We found out he wasn't nearly famous enough. Aaron Russo is as famous or more than Doug Stanhope, but that wasn't enough to overcome our justifiable fear of putting a wild man at the top of our ticket.

Now, Doug Stanhope might be the perfect candidate for another long time pipedream of mine: the Fuck You! Party. "Want to send the politicians a message they can't ignore? Vote Fuck You!" If there's any chance to get the nonvoting half of the country back in the voting booths this is it, I'm telling you. I've done enough research to know there are absolutely no prohibitions against obscene party names in any state or federal laws regarding advertising or printing ballots, so you'd have 'em over a barrel if it ended up in court. One of those fun things I'll do when I win the lottery.

I'd be thrilled if we could get a real Libertarian with real celebrity and at least a modicum of gravitas to run for President. But I ain't holding my breath. In the next two years I expect to work for the best candidate available, whomever that might be.

Disclaimer: I am currently the Treasurer of the George Phillies campaign.


Blogger Titanium Girl said...

I think you have some valid points.
I like Stanhope alot but would like to meet all of the candidates in person - then I would make my final decision. I had the pleasure of meeting Mike B. in person several times and he won me over with his speaking ability, charm and ability to state his opinion in a matter of fact way.


11:14 PM  
Blogger Sean Haugh said...

Thanks E. The more I think about it, the calmer I get, and thus the more open to seeing what he has to offer. He certainly has plenty of time to develop his message

2:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The F U Party! Best laugh I've had in a long time!

2:24 AM  
Anonymous Chuck Moulton said...

You certainly have a lot of valid points as always, Sean.

I think there may be a generation disconnect though. I had never heard of Aaron Russo before he threw his hat into the ring for president and I did some research. Harry Browne was also unknown to me (not that I was paying much attention back then). I had never heard of Kinky Friedman before his governor campaign. I knew who Jesse the body Ventura was and I knew who Arnold Swartzeneger was of course. I know who Doug Stanhope is.

I don't think Doug Stanhope is an A list or B list celebrity. He's probably somewhere between C list and E list. I'd put Aaron Russo and Harry Browne far lower in celebrity terms though.

The Man Show had a pretty large following. Anyone watching TV past midnight has probably seen Doug Stanhope on Girls Gone Wild commercials.

The average voter probably won't know who Doug Stanhope is (just like the average voter wouldn't know who Kinky Friedman or Harry Browne was without the media attention after they got involved in politics).

The average male in the 18-30 age range probably either knows who he is or (more likely) would have some vague recognition that could be jogged into an "oh yeh! THAT guy!"

He's no Penn Jilette. But he's no William Henry Harrison either.

I think it will be an interesting candidacy. Perhaps it will spur the people who don't like him into getting another exciting candidate into the ring as well.

6:03 PM  
Blogger ESun67 said...

Isn't the beauty of the whole LP thing the candidates who might try ? If ten really diverse people ask the body for the nomination we'll benefit as a Party. I'd love to see the Party ask it's entire membership to weigh in during the course of the 08 convention via a digital plebiscite. Keep it non-binding and it would certainly gain the interest of the MSM. I mentioned something similiar to Chuck M. at the convention's opening ceremony. He was pretty busy that weekend though.

I love your schtick Sean and look forward to your posts. I didn't see the FU Party coming, and appreciate the HoT caution while not dismissing them at the same time. Good show.

10:20 PM  
Blogger ian said...

On term limits, I don't really understand them. If indefinite incumbents become so out of touch with the voters, then you would expect the voters to not vote for them.

The Fuck You! Party is a great idea. It is only a matter of time before something like this emerges in a country with proportional representation. Some of those Eastern European countries have some pretty crazily named parties (Self Defence and the Attack Coalition being my two favourites), so the FU!P wouldn't be too much of a leap.

4:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found a blog entry I thought was related to your curve ball at the end (we'll see if I can leave a link).

1:07 AM  

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