BOB GARFIELD: It has been largely unnoted this week that Schwarzenegger's election means so-called "liberal" Hollywood has produced yet another Republican office holder. In fact, though the acting community is viewed as almost monolithically on the political left, history shows that Republican thespians perform much better -- as candidates, anyway -- than their Democratic colleagues. On the Media's John Solomon explains why.
JOHN SOLOMON: California State Senator Sheila Kuehl is one of the nation's few openly lesbian elected officials, but she is a member of an even rarer political minority group -- former actors who have been voted to office as Democrats. Kuehl, who played Zelda Gilroy on the early '60s TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, is only the third such Democrat elected in modern American history. Previously, theatre actress Helen Gahagan Douglas was sent to Congress from Los Angeles in 1944; Ben Jones, Cooter on The Dukes of Hazzard, represented a suburban Atlanta district in the U.S. House from 1988 to 1992. Yet, beginning with song and dance man George Murphy who was elected to the U.S. Senate from California in 1964, the Republican Party has fielded a larger cast of elected performers. Ronald Reagan followed in Murphy's footsteps, going from winning "one for the Gipper" to winning more than one for the GOP. In 1986, Fred Grandy left The Love Boat to go to Congress. Sonny Bono joined him there in 1994. Clint Eastwood successfully ran for mayor of Carmel, California. And Fred Thompson just finished serving 8 years in the U.S. Senate before returning to acting as, ironically, an elected district attorney on NBC's Law and Order. Sheila Kuehl suggests one reason for the Republican advantage is that Democratic actors need to build a political resume before party leaders and voters feel they are qualified for office--
SHEILA KUEHL: --whereas many Republican candidates who get elected can be more personalities or-- simply anti-government. And sometimes a lack of experience is considered a plus in a Republican campaign. One is thought to be, you know, fresh and unspoiled, as it were.
JOHN SOLOMON: Geography is another explanation. According to Ron Brownstein, author of The Power and The Glitter, which examines the relationship between Hollywood and Washington. Democratic actors working and living in Los Angeles and New York often find their ambitions blocked by the lines of Democratic politicians also interested in running. And there are not many places in the middle of the country where a liberal Democratic actor can realistically win, because they can be tarred with Hollywood's culturally decadent reputation. Ron Brownstein.
RON BROWNSTEIN: It, it may be a little easier for the Republicans than the Democrats to, to make the jump, and it's for a good Hollywood reason, in that it's playing against type.
JOHN SOLOMON: Also politically damaging to liberal celebrities is that activism on the coasts can make them appear more extremist in the heartland, even among moderate Democratic voters. That's according to the Dukes of Hazzard's Ben Jones, the only former actor elected as a Democrat outside of Los Angeles.
BEN JONES: The nature of the issues around Screen Actors Build politics and things like that sort of push these folks to the left -- to not a moderate or centrist Democratic Party viewpoint, but on the left fringe. Warren Beatty and Barbra Streisand, people who are always talking about running for president and have high political profiles, couldn't get elected dog catcher in this neck of the woods in Virginia.
JOHN SOLOMON: Most Democratic actors who have run recently have lost decisively. Ralph Waite, Pa in The Waltons, was soundly defeated by Sonny Bono. Actor Barry Gordon, also a former SAG president, lost a California congressional race in 1998. Nancy Culp, banker Jane Hathaway on the Beverly Hillbillies, tried unsuccessfully for Congress from Pennsylvania. It didn't help that co-star Buddy Ebsen campaigned for her GOP opponent. It is likely that the Republicans will continue to recruit in Hollywood. Democrats, on the other hand, have actively solicited celebrities' financial resources and public support. But the party has not made as much of an effort to sign them up as candidates. Sheila Kuehl.
SHEILA KUEHL: It would be a useful thing for the party to think seriously about who might be a good candidate and begin to speak to them.
JOHN SOLOMON: Kuehl nominates Tom Hanks and Martin Sheen as actors warranting special attention. Indeed, that could be the problem. It may be that the most politically attractive Democrats have been having too much success to change careers. Until Schwarzenegger, there had not been an actor who turned to the ballot box while still really thriving at the box office. In fact, after Ronald Reagan became governor of California, movie director William Wyler remarked to a Democratic colleague, "If we had only given him a couple of good parts, he'd never be in Sacramento now." But Schwarzenegger has bucked that trend and proved as popular at the polls as he is on the big screen. Perhaps that will spur other popular actors to change roles as well. That is, if Martin Sheen is willing to accept a demotion to senator. For On the Media, this is John Solomon. BROOKE GLADSTONE:With actors taking over states and political chat shows to weigh in on foreign policy, some politicians and pundits may resent encroachments on their turf. Well, turnabout is fair play, so On the Media presents NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr as Dirty Harry. [DIRTY HARRY STYLE MUSIC UP AND UNDER] [WOMAN CALLING OUT IN DIFFICULTY] [SOUNDS OF STRUGGLE]
MAN: What you doing, pig-head sucker?
DANIEL SCHORR: Every day for the last ten years, Loretta there has been giving me a large black coffee. Today, she gives me a large black coffee --only it's got sugar in it. A lot of sugar. I just came back to complain. Now, you boys put those guns down.
MAN: [LAUGHS] Say what?
DANIEL SCHORR: Well, we're not just going to let you walk out of here.
MAN: Who is "we," sucker?
DANIEL SCHORR: Smith, and Wesson and me. [GUNSHOTS, PEOPLE SCREAMING] [PLATE GLASS SHATTERING]
DANIEL SCHORR: Go ahead, make my day. [GUNSHOTS, PLATE GLASS SHATTERING, GUNSHOTS] [MEN RUNNING, GUNSHOTS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, NBC's new merger and the news, or lack thereof, from Afghanistan.