There are two groups of people who maintain more of the American public’s spotlight than any other group: Celebrities and Presidents. It makes perfect sense that the two parties would eventually become intertwined. One group runs the country, and the other group entertains it. Where is the dividing line? With technology, social media, and an increasing press presence via satellite, celebrities and presidents, are only a click, swipe, or remote control away from almost every single person in the United States of America. As early as 1964, when Ronald Reagan and George Murphy hung up their acting hats and headed for the Senate, celebrities and politicians have been straddling the fence (Bio). Did they use their celebrity to gain positions in office, or did their positions in office gain them more celebrity? Can the same be said of Donald Trump’s emergence into the political scene? Can Trump’s celebrity be good for the White House and America?
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Entertaining celebrities in the White House
Rubbing elbows with celebrities at the White emerged most prominently during the 1920s when Calvin Coolidge became the first U.S. President to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association, or WHCA, meeting. The WHCA consists of journalists who cover the White House and the President of the United States of America. The History Channel reports that, “In later years the parade of celebrity performers became even more impressive as the likes of Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Barbra Streisand appeared onstage.” (Cohen). In the ensuing decades, the celebrity invitations became the highlight of the WHCA meetings. In recent years, controversial figures in music have been invited. Musicians like Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Prince have all made visits to the White House. Before the death of Prince, the artist played a private concert for sitting President Barack Obama, alongside Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and Bon Jovi. When comedian Mark Russell performed in 1983, a legacy began of inviting stand-up comics each year. It is during these times that America witnesses the first intermingling of Hollywood and Washington.
John and Jackie Kennedy
When the Kennedy’s arrived on the scene at the executive mansion in 1961, it was clear that things were going to be changing at the White House. The attractive couple were young, virile, artistic, and refined. JFK would become one of the most iconic presidents in history. He had become a champion for civil rights, and affirmative action. Jackie would become a fashon icon, having women all over the world imitate her style. After extensive redecorating, and collecting of antiques, a focus was placed on bringing the best that life had to offer into the presidential home.
- She focused on culture in all its aspects from the culinary arts to the performing arts. She gave encouragement to budding artists and focused attention on those who had already achieved.
- She had a guide book to the White House published, emphasizing its history, and the number of visitors who entered its portals increased to more than a million a year.
- She brought almost as many changes to the White House social functions as she did to the mansion’s decor, and she set precedents with the food and entertainment served at official functions. (Smith)
Jackie was not the only part of the dynamic duo to enjoy ushering celebrity into the White House. John often hosted celebrity visitors and was very engaged with the public. “He also was one of the best presidents at promoting himself in the media, especially on television, which was becoming a huge force in the country” (Walsh). Jackie and John also made sure to associate with social activists, and civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. John not only accommodated Jackie’s whims, but also enjoyed them whole-heartedly. The First Couple threw parties in honor of foreign dignitaries, composers, and an array of other influential celebrities. Of all the infamous characters that the Kennedy presidency encountered, none had the impact that Marilyn Monroe had. The “Happy Birthday” serenade that provided one of the most iconic moments of his presidency and made a profound statement on the White House in general (Walsh). His relationship with Monroe threatened to ruin Kennedy. Rumors of an affair with the actress had an effect on his life, both personally and politically.
While many presidential candidates have become enamored with bringing the celebrity spotlight into the political arena, there were, and are, some celebrities who have chosen quite the opposite. In the 1990s, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger became heavily involved with the Republican Party, and “in 2003 he was elected Governor of California in a recall election” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Before his entrance into politics, Schwarzenegger was a world-champion bodybuilder and one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors. His film repertoire includes blockbusters such as:
- Conan the Barbarian (1982)
- The Terminator (1984) and its sequels (1991,2003,2014)
- Commando (1985)
- Predator (1986)
- Total Recall (1990)
- True Lies (1994)
His political career was not entirely successful despite his best efforts, but he was reelected for a second term as governor 2006. Schwarzenegger faced tremendous challenges during his political stint, including an enormous state budget deficit upwards of $26 billion in 2009 (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Schwarzenegger had proven that celebrities had the capability of entering politics and gaining the acceptance of voters.
Another celebrity-turned-politician is Sonny Bono. Named Salvatore Phillip Bono at birth, he began his singing career in the 1960s. A 2016 Biography.com article on Bono notes that Sonny Bono took on an eclectic array of professions including waiter, truck driver, and construction worker, while focusing on his career in entertainment. It wasn’t until Bono met Cherilyn Sarkisian, better known as Cher, that he began to realize his dream of becoming a famous singer (Bio). The couple produced many hits and became television superstars with The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour as noted by Biography.com.
After his singing and acting career began to fade, and a very public divorce in the late 1970s, Bono began to develop a strong interest in politics. He began his political career by winning the mayoral election in Palm Springs, California. In the 1980s, Bono did not stop at local government.
Before long, Bono set his sights on national office. He made an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1992. Two years later, Bono was elected to Congress as a Representative from California’s 44th Congressional District. He became a popular figure within the Republican Party, known for his wit and his deeply conservative views. (Bio)
After Bono’s death in 1998, his fourth wife, Mary Bono, ran for his congressional seat and won (Bio). It can be speculated that Bono’s celebrity enabled the Bono name to continue on in a political legacy.
Celebrities in the White House: The Democrats of 2016
This year’s presidential line up is proving to be one of the most controversial yet. The prime candidates for the Democratic Party are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton, a celebrity in her own right, is a former First Lady to President Bill Clinton. Her political career has been marked by time in the U.S. Senate, holding the office of Secretary of State, and her candidacy in the 2008 presidential campaign (Russell). In the caucus and primary results, she placed first in over twenty states (Russell). Clinton’s policy positions include:
- Opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
- Opposes Keystone XL pipeline.
- Wants to raise taxes on capital gains held for one to six years.
Bernie Sanders is another Democratic representative. He has been involved in politics for a very long time, which has been primarily Senate focused since 2007. Sanders was a member of the House of Representatives for sixteen years before becoming Senator of Vermont (Russell). His policy positions are as follows:
- Enacting a single-payer healthcare system through Medicare for all.
- Make public college tuition-free for everyone by taxing financial transactions.
- Raise payroll, estate and corporate income taxes (Russell)
Sanders holds first place in the caucus and primary results in about eighteen states (Russell).
Celebrities in the White House: The Republicans
This year’s Republican candidate is Donald Trump. Trump is a brash business man-turned-celebrity-turned-politician. He began his business career early on and skyrocketed to success with the opening of the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan in 1980 (Bio). His acquisitions include casinos and hotels in New York and Atlantic City, properties in Florida and California, and an airline company. After multiple bankruptcies in his businesses and turbulence in his personal life, Trump switched his attention to television. He starred inThe Apprentice and, later, The Celebrity Apprentice. These shows quickly made Trump a household name, albeit a controversial one.
Trump began his relationship with politics in 1999 when he “…announced the formation of an exploratory committee to inform his decision of whether or not he should seek the Reform Party’s nomination for the presidential race of 2000. However, after a poor showing during the California primary, Trump withdrew his candidacy” (Bio). This brings us to 2015 when Trump announced his intentions to run for president in the 2016 election. Along with possibly adding his own brand of celebrity to the White House, Trump has attracted the endorsements of other celebrities as well. These endorsements include Kirstie Alley, Pete Rose, Aaron Carter, Sarah Palin, and Dennis Rodman (NY Daily News).
There are many who question whether or not Donald Trump is fit for the Oval Office, many of whom are within his own party. Trump has often come under fire for making racially insensitive comments in political speeches. Current President Barack Obama, who is widely regarded as an extremely-strong public speaker as witnessed in his 2012 speech to the DNC, has stated that Trump was “temperamentally and intellectually unfit for the Presidency” (Collinson). Then again, the integrity of presidential candidates has always been and will always be scrutinized. The celebrity element has been a part of the White House, its residents, and politics since the days of old. There have been times when that meshing of worlds proved to be a near disastrous distraction to the most prominent of America’s leaders. On the opposite side of the coin, celebrities have lightened the mood and often provided much needed relief to the severity and gravity of American political relations.
Trump has proven himself to be a staunch businessman, and savvy in life management. Could these qualities possibly transfer over to a successful career in politics and produce a competent leader for the United States? While other celebrities have managed to cross over into politics, they were not always met with positive results. Some people have even stated that leaving the country would be preferable to a Donald Trump Presidency. Ronald Regan managed to make the transition seamlessly. If elected, does Donald Trump have what it takes to be the next President of the United States of America? Or instead, will he simply be just another celebrity in the White House?
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Bio. “Actors Turned Politicians.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, 2016. Web. 02 June 2016. https://www.biography.com/people/groups/actors-turned-politicians
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Russell, Jason. “Your Guide to the 2016 Presidential Candidates.” Washington Examiner. 20 Apr. 2016. Web. 02 June 2016. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/your-guide-to-the-2016-presidential-candidates-2564959
Smith, Marie. “”Entertaining in the White House” (Book).” – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. 1967. Web. 02 June 2016. http://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/life-of-john-f-kennedy/fast-facts-john-f-kennedy
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Walsh, Kenneth T. “A Celebrity in the Oval Office.” U.S. News. 2 Mar. 2015. Web. 2 June 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/ken-walshs-washington/2015/03/02/a-celebrity-in-the-oval-office
Collinson, Stephen “Obama Takes On Trump” CNN 6 Aug 2016 Web. http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/05/politics/obama-trump-unprecedented-presidential-takedowns/