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art/Charley Deppner

Get in the Ring, Celebrities

I had the fortune recently to be able to see Bill Maher's "Victory Begins at Home" show on Broadway. He never ceases to amaze me with his extraordinary lucidity and brilliant analogies. More than anyone else in the public eye, he injects a refreshing dose of well-placed cynicism into our fading democracy, and I can think of few brave enough to be so outspoken about dangerous political subjects within our current ranks of entertainers.

After the show, in a further show of bravery, he had a question and answer session from the audience. One particularly admiring person finished her question with, "I would sleep well knowing that you were president of the United States." Maher kind of gave his trademark "Oh, go on" shrug to that, but I thought to myself, me too. And why is that? Are we so hungry for realism and heart in our government that we want to elect a former stand-up comedian to be our president? Absolutely.

What are sorely lacking in politics today are passionate, fiery individuals that can truly inspire us. We've got a few really great orators in government who can deliver a well-constructed argument with conviction and factual truth, but they are career politicians who seem very far-removed from our daily lives. They live in a world of power plays and talking money, where corruption is almost part of the job description.

Entertainers, though also in a different echelon of our culture, are a lot closer to us. They not only make us think, but make us laugh and cry by appealing to the deepest of our emotional truths. A good entertainer has an understanding of the hard-wired mechanisms that make people tick. We love them more than our politicians. They are almost this country's royalty.

With such immense popularity already at their disposal, why is it that more celebrities don't run for president? Ronald Reagan did it, yes. But he was president of the Screen Actors Guild and governor of the largest state for two terms before becoming U.S. president. I'm talking about celebrities fresh from the pool that have not been already sullied by life in public office.

Many argue that celebrities should not be considered good political candidates solely based on their celebrity status. That's good advice, but what really are the qualifications for serving in public office? What other duty does a senator or president have other than to do right by his or her constituents?

There are many entertainers that I think could have become president. When Johnny Carson was about to retire in 1992, when we were mired in the Clinton/Bush/Perot race, Robin Williams told Carson in jest, "You should run, man!" Johnny Carson also shrugged, but the crowd erupted in thunderous applause.

James Earl Jones could do it in a cold minute. Everybody loves James Earl Jones. We would put the fear of God into terrorists with him at the podium. And there's something I like about the sound of "The Jones Administration."

It's quite a bit to ask of celebrities to become president. For one thing, they wouldn't be paid nearly as much in the office of president as they would in the entertainment sector. Financial reasons aside, they've also seen the careers of their colleagues destroyed recently by their opinions.

But here comes Bill Maher, who has spent the last ten years of his career in an Olympic-sized swimming pool of opinions, and who can debate the pants off just about anyone. For God's sakes, the man wouldn't even need a press secretary to temper and paraphrase his beliefs to the media. His material is more than just funny–it's a lavish, nourishing college-course study in personal and governmental ethics. And he's not afraid to speak the truth about America: That the problem with it is Americans and their embarrassingly myopic behavior toward each other and the rest of the world.

I truly believe that he could argue his way into office by going negative not against his political opponents, but against his voters, because he's so damned right. One can believe that the United States of America is the greatest social contract ever to exist in the history of the world, and at the same time be endlessly cynical about the people that run it and live in it.

People want to be led in the right direction, and this man has more than just complaints, he has visions–such as making a concerted effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil within 10 years and to prioritize resources from the over-fought and unwinnable drug war into fighting the true evils in the world.

There are other people saying these things, but not with nearly as much prominence, honesty, conviction, and downright hilarity. Wouldn't it be nice to laugh with, not at the president for a change?

I don't know. Maybe it's a pipe dream. But I will cheer him on nonetheless. Go get 'em, Bill.

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