Posted by: Chris | April 13, 2010

Celebrity and Presidential Politics

I read an otherwise unnoteworthy essay on the Atlantic from 2006 on Hillary Clinton yesterday which contained this interesting aside (printed long before anyone announced themselves for president):

Clinton is one of perhaps three senators whose celebrity transcends the bounds of the capital and suffuses the broader culture. John McCain and Barack Obama are the other two…

Is it merely coincidental that those three senators were the three who came closest to the presidency in 2008?  If it is more than coincidence, have the various changes in the political media over the past 10 or so years made celebrity a greater boon for candidates than before?  And, to succumb to the Politico impulse, does any of this affect Palin’s chances in 2012?



  1. Celebrity’s been an important factor in the past. Kennedy was aided by it. Nixon was hindered. And I know that despite having a tenuous grip – if it even counts as a grip – on the history of Presidential politics.

    You sound a little like a TED Conference here, Christoph. Yikes.

  2. The tone was intentional (and also unavoidable, given the subject). Vis Kennedy and Nixon, you are incorrect. Nixon had a huge name recognition edge (being a two term VP and prominent Congressman before that vs a recently elected senator). You might be misappropriating the apocryphal debate performance story, but even that doesn’t really explain why Kennedy won. Nixon was fighting an ebbing tide, trying to succeed a two-term Republican president at probably the height of the New Deal coalition’s power. Well, that and voter fraud.

    You might argue that Kennedy’s youth/charisma allowed him to cruise through the primaries and silence his opponents within the party, but youth/charisma doesn’t equal celebrity (remember Hillary and McCain are on that list). Either way, he was still an unknown outside political circles and had hardly “transcended the bounds of the capital and suffused the broader culture” prior to running for President, so you are wrong basically no matter how one interprets your remarks.

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