Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Name Recognition in Political Candidacy

When the media-fueled frenzy of a Mike Ditka candidacy for U.S. Senator of Illinois ended last week with Ditka announcing that he would not run, I let out a sigh of relief. 

Still, my brief respite from bad news ended later that week when I read that California Governor, former body builder, and still-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger called that state's Democrats "girlie men" for not passing his budget.  Schwarzenegger has capitalized on his easy recognition as a movie star in his campaign and in his tenure as governor of California.  On the campaign trail, he integrated many of his well known movie lines into his public appearances, such as this comment on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno:" "I can promise you that when I go to Sacramento, I will pump up Sacramento." 

I think it can be easily argued that Arnold got elected as governor because of his huge celebrity status, despite several accusations that he had fondled and sexually harassed various women over the course of his career, and despite that both of his Democratic opponents, Grey Davis and Cruz Bustamante, were far more experienced.  (Ironically, Schwarzenegger's allusions to his body builder status are derived from a recurring sketch that "Saturday Night Live" cast members Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon performed, where the men poke fun at the body builder type, clearly inspired by Schwarzenegger.  Basically, Arnold in using the language of these characters, is cheerfully acknowledging a skit that makes fun of him).

Which brings me back to Ditka: had Mike Ditka declared his candidacy, he would be running against Barack Obama, a man who was editor of the Harvard Law Review, a community organizer, a scholar and professor, and a senator representing the Hyde Park area of Chicago in Illinois.  To run Ditka would risk this man who has a history of saying and doing obnoxious things, owning a restaurant, and coaching football, win as Arnold did, on his easy name recognition, over the incredibly qualified and well-liked Obama.  My opinion is that Ditka would not have had a chance; Obama is just too fundamentally appealing, but it was an insult to the importance of public office to suggest him over other more qualified candidates in the first place. 

Illinois avoided catastrophe, but unfortunately, California endures their's, day by day by day...

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