It’s been two weeks since the topic last surfaced, so let’s revisit the buzz – make it, dead horse – that has actor and political activist George Clooney running for governor of California in 2018.
Clooney played an unsavory Pennsylvania governor in 2011’s “The Ides of March.” So obviously, he lusts for higher office. By that logic, Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”) should be running for Congress in South Carolina this fall, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) should be on a national ticket in 2016.
The Clooney speculation – which he has tried to quash – began with a story mid-June in the U.K.’s Daily Mirror newspaper, citing an unnamed “friend” of the film star who had this to say about the actor’s relationship with the Golden State’s ruling party: “George is hugely popular with the Democrats, and where better a place to put him than as the governor of California, the home of Hollywood. It has always been a huge stronghold for the party and one that has a proven record for getting politicians into the Oval Office.”
About that “proven record” and the pipeline from Sacramento to Washington: It worked for Ronald Reagan – six years after he skipped town. Jerry Brown, the man Clooney would succeed, gave it three tries – two of them as a sitting governor – and no dice.
Clooney’s “friend” needs a refresher course on California politics, just as those U.S. news outlets that ran with the story should consider the source: This is the same British publication that Clooney has been warring with about a report on his fiancée’s mother opposing their marriage and that has had the Obamas headed for a divorce and Sarah Palin snorting cocaine off a 55-gallon oil drum.
Then again, what if Clooney were actually serious about relocating to Sacramento?
It’d be a sign of life out of an entertainment community that’s been unusually quiet since President Barack Obama’s re-election – and pretty much missing from state politics since the muscular fellow with the Austrian accent folded up the smoking tent.
In 2014, as is the norm in election years, Hollywood remains easy pickings for high-wattage Democrats. Later this month, for example, Obama will attend a fundraiser at the Los Angeles home of “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes – Obama’s 18th monetary visit to Hollywood since taking office.
But that’s behind-the-scenes stuff. What stands out in 2014 is a lack of celebs putting themselves in front of the cameras. Meryl Streep isn’t on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court picketing for reproductive rights. Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t keynoting White House summits on climate change. Salma Hayek isn’t speaking out on a lack of compassion toward border-crossers. Seth Rogen did lecture a Senate committee on Alzheimer’s research funding back in February – not that many senators bothered to attend.
Why Hollywood’s lower profile? You can blame it, in part, on unsexy midterm elections. Absent a Democratic president with star power at the top of the ticket, stars choose not to come out. Indeed, the 2010 midterm saw a drop-off from the celebrity-studded affair that was Obama’s first presidential effort.
But that’s no excuse for celebrity activists not taking an interest in what’s at stake in November, especially with the Democratic-controlled Senate in peril. Besides, there’s a track record. In 1986 – the second Reagan midterm election and Democrats aiming to retake the Senate – Barbra Streisand held a concert at her Malibu estate that raised $1.2 million for Democratic causes. (Streisand, no fool she, turned the civics lesson into her third live-concert album.)
Perhaps many a celebrity, like many a Democrat these days, needs a dose of political adrenaline – thus the president’s trotting out of matters near and dear to liberal hearts: climate change, immigration reform, the awfulness of uncooperative House Republicans.
But how many celebrities care enough about California to convert their activism into an actual statewide candidacy?
There’s no questioning Clooney’s commitment to humanitarian causes – in particular, the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.
However, California governors aren’t elected to solve civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa. As Brown has proved in his first term, success comes from sticking closer to home and dealing with the warring factions that constitute Sacramento’s tribal politics.
Underneath the glamour and glitz of celebrity candidacies is a reality: A gubernatorial contender needs a ready set of beliefs and a record of activism that’s relatable to the average California.
Clooney, devoted liberal that he is, passes the first test. What he’d actually do, if chosen to lead California, is a blank script.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be contacted at email@example.com.