Ben Affleck announced Wednesday that he will not be running for Senate in Massachusetts, finally putting to rest the speculation swirling around the actor and his potential foray into politics. Rumor had it that Ben (raised just outside of Boston) was considering running for the seat that will be left vacant if Senator John Kerry is confirmed as Hillary Clinton’s replacement for Secretary of State.
Although I’m a fan of much of Ben Affleck’s work, I’m glad he decided to sit this one out. Partly it’s because I am a fan. If he were busy performing his legislative duties, we might not have Argo, which he directed and starred in. That movie was great! But mostly, I’m glad he’s not running because, with few exceptions, I think actors should stick to acting and leave the politics for the politicians.
Affleck was rumored to be eyeing John Kerry’s seat, which Kerry won in 2008, and wouldn't normally be up for a vote until 2014. This will be the fourth time in a six-year period that residents of the Bay State will vote for a representative to the upper house of Congress -- twice the normal rate. Each state has two senators that are elected for six-year terms on a staggered schedule. However, Senator Ted Kennedy’s death in 2009 led to a special election for his seat, which got us Scott Brown. That seat was up for its regular election in 2012, and won by Elizabeth Warren. All this turnover is perhaps even more reason that Massachusetts needs a serious candidate for the job.
Celebrities who win elected office usually do so with their star power. They bring out non-conventional voters eager to elect them into office simply because it’s the cool thing to do. Two recent examples of this are Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, who were elected as governors to California and Minnesota, respectively. Their wealth, fund-raising capabilities, and sheer popularity gave them executive power in their states, but once there, they didn't do too well. Both fell out of favor with their constituents before too long.
There are many reasons that celebrities might fail in office. One might be that as entertainment stars, they rarely come up against opposition. They are surrounded by fawning fans, courted by Hollywood executives, and catered to by assistants and agents. I can imagine a newly elected actor going into a chamber meeting and scratching his head, thinking, “What do they mean by ‘no’?”
On the other hand, you have Ronald Reagan, who began his career as an entertainer and went on to be one of the most popular presidents in American history.
So what’s the difference? Maybe it has to do with why they decide to run. Is it a publicity stunt, or a sincere desire to become involved in the process? It might also have to do with their expectations once in office. It isn't just photo-ops and parties -- it’s a lot of hard work, and there’s bound to be some tough challenges to overcome and unpopular decisions to be made.
One thing is certain: Whether you’re a celebrity or an ordinary citizen, you should seriously consider and understand what you’re getting yourself into when you put your name on the ballot.
What do you think about celebrities entering politics?
Image via Medill DC/Flickr