Ben Affleck and Hollywood Don't Belong in Congress

Hollywood actors and directors shouldn't try to transfer their celebrity from the entertainment arena to the political one.

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Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., laughs with actor Ben Afleck during a rally at the state capitol in Harrisburg, Penn. on the Believe in America Tour on Friday, July 30, 2004.

I loved Argo. Really. And Ben Affleck, the film's star and director, deserves accolades—including official awards—for his work depicting the declassified details of how a small group of Americans was rescued by Canadian diplomats during the hostage crisis in Iran. Pursuant to declassified documents, we now know that Hollywood film industry people colluded with the CIA to convince Iran that the would-be hostages were part of a Canadian movie crew scouting out the Middle East for places to shoot.

But while Hollywood and official Washington indeed came together for a critical and successful mission, the nexus ends there. It does not mean that someone who is successful in the film industry is automatically qualified to serve in national politics. So why is it such news that Affleck has ruled out a run for the Massachusetts Senate seat likely to be vacated by Secretary of State-designate John F. Kerry?

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After telling Face the Nation that "one never knows" about a political run, Affleck cleared things up on his Facebook page, announcing, "I love Massachusetts and our political process, but I am not running for office."

It would be easy to accuse Affleck of the sort of self-aggrandizement so common in Hollywood (and yes, Washington, too), since he has no background in politics or public policy. And we're not talking about a hypothetical run for the state House of Representatives or a city council—this is the U.S. Senate we're talking about here, the place that produced our current president and which has launched the presidential campaigns of many others. These are the people who decide whether we go to war, whether and how to reform Social Security, and which persons should be approved to sit in the United States Supreme Court. It's not a place for newbies—or it shouldn't be.

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True, Americans have elected indisputable boneheads to local and even federal office before, and Affleck does not appear to be a bonehead at all. He obviously is aware of things happening in the world and has spent some time thinking about them. But the chit-chat about an Affleck run for the Senate isn't about his views on international events and public policy; it's about transferring celebrity from the entertainment arena to the political arena. We have unfortunately come to a point where being famous has become a category in and of itself, no matter what someone did to achieve fame. Serving in the Senate for more than 50 years, as the late Sen. Daniel Inouye did? Dressing in too-tight clothes and screaming insults to another so-called "real housewife" on TV? Playing professional sports? They'll all win you some sort of celebrity, but that doesn't mean you came pivot from one milieu to the others.

Hollywood and Washington conspired effectively to get a group of Americans out of Iran, but that's because each side was doing what it knows how to do. The film industry side created a fake movie with a fake shooting schedule, and the CIA provided the false identities and international know-how to get them out. It worked because it was one of the rare cases when the two dramatically different worlds could overlap. Sending actors and directors, even the most talented ones, to the U.S. Senate is not a real solution. It's just another Hollywood story.

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