Stop hating on celebrity politicians

8 April 2022

12:52 PM

8 April 2022

12:52 PM

I recently had the chance to peek behind Dr. Mehmet Oz’s curtain, and what I saw made me view the TV doctor-turned candidate for Pennsylvania’s US Senate seat in a new light.

As I waited for Oz to appear, I decided to take the pulse of the patient crowd. The first woman d’un certain âge (I’d estimate the average age in the room was 62 and majority female) said she was absolutely decided in her support for Oz. She enjoyed watching his show for years and came to the political rally more as a fan than a voter. But then she revised her unequivocal vote to say, “Well, if Trump endorses him. I’ll vote for whoever Trump picks. There’s no question.”

The next person I talked to was of an identical demographic and also a big fan of The Dr. Oz Show. “I like how he’d always do the natural stuff,” she said, referring to Oz’s affinity for endorsing homeopathic remedies such as “miracle” red palm oil, saffron extract and African mango seed. This woman had already encountered Oz at a campaign stop a month earlier and was attending this second “Dose of Reality” event “to see if he’s different this time. To see if his message has changed. I’m not quite convinced yet. I want to see if he’s acting,” she said.

The fact that this woman never questioned whether Oz was acting was curious. Nonetheless these two encounters gave me an insight: people still love Trump, a quintessential celebrity-turned-political leader. As I wrote before, both Oz and his lead contender, Dave McCormick, are doing their darndest to prove themselves as Trump stalwarts. A handful of Trump 2024 hats at the Oz rally and one bold sweatshirt emblazoned with badass biker Trump reminded me why this is a smart strategy.

Though a lot of people fiercely love Trump now, they still instinctively mistrust celebrity politicians. Dr. Oz, despite his main rival having a comparable number of skeletons in his closet, is this race’s whipping boy. That’s because when people reach celebrity status, their world no longer exists in the same galaxy as the rest of us. They become subject to a degree of scrutiny we’d never apply to someone we actually know. (Ever read the comments under an article about a celebrity on the Daily Mail? “Harsh” is putting it mildly.) We rarely grant the same grace and forgiveness to those in the public eye as we do to our own.

So when a celebrity throws his hat into the political ring, the public magnifying glass becomes all the more powerful. Though that 60-something housewife may have adored Dr. Oz when for 12 years she invited him into her living room, the second he announced his candidacy, she became suspicious of his character. Indeed, attack ads taking aim at Oz for being a “Hollywood liberal” emphasize his celebrity status, as if Hollywood, apart from breeding liberalism, is itself a dirty word, despite Americans taking delight in its products to the tune of $32 billion a year.

But here’s the thing: anyone (save for maybe the odd Rand Paul type) eager to work so hard and spend so much time and money for the chance to govern millions of strangers must have a special personality. And since we know “politics is Hollywood for ugly people,” why do we react with such disdain when one of the non-ugly people seeks a lateral career move?

Remember, it took years for people to warm up to Trump. How many times was he laughed at for flirting with a run for political office, largely because he was a celebrity and not to be taken seriously? To compete on such a level as Oz and McCormick, one must have the characteristics of a great performer, that is, exuding confidence, charm and conviction, regardless of what you’re saying or believing. Just look at how Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has become the world’s darling and hero, when a mere six years ago he was the star of a sitcom.

The fact that people are deriding Oz for being a celebrity when all politicians are basically actors is absurd. Oz knows this; he frequently likens himself to Ronald Reagan and Trump. His Emmy Award-winning performance background makes him more qualified to lead in Congress, not less. When I saw him speak, Oz’s ability to work the crowd was masterful. It’s obvious from his skill of crafting unscripted arguments that he’s insanely smart and understands conservative rationale. It’s easy to see how his sharp mind, combined with his remarkable emotional intelligence, which he uses to connect with people and put them at ease, have made him such a compelling personality and star.

Do I know what Dr. Oz really believes, and do I trust him? No. But I don’t know what, if anything, any politician really believes, other than in his own ego. And I can attest that Oz does believe in himself, and he knows what Republican voters in Pennsylvania want. If his ego is as big as your average celebrity’s, he’ll do anything in his power to keep his seat in Washington, which is to the advantage of his constituents.

Even if he doesn’t believe them personally, Oz is solid when it comes to professing conservative principles and values, and he argues them articulately. (That woman I interviewed said at the end that she was satisfied: Oz “told me what I wanted to hear.”) He pledged to me in a personal interview, on the record, that he would “of course” protect life from conception, that he’s “100 percent” anti-abortion except for in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. He said he doesn’t want the federal government legislating on the Second Amendment. He also believes from a medical professional’s perspective that the welfare state has increased our national health crisis, telling me:

People who don’t have jobs lose their dignity; they get depressed and disproportionately turn to drugs. This is an epidemic now with 100,000 deaths last year, again, because people feel there’s no purpose. The best solution for poverty and homelessness is a job. The best solution to depression is a job. Purpose brings you most of the fruits of life — that’s why I think paying people not to work is a horrible thing to do to Americans.

Dr. Oz may be a principle-less puppet like the rest of them, but his celebrity, employed properly, could make him extra effective in the political arena. Rather than dismiss a famous person from politics out of hand, we should celebrate the strengths that launched that person to stardom (and made us all fans before he decided to seek political office) and leverage them to our advantage.

I watched as a roomful of people — men, too, and even some Democrats — fell under Dr. Oz’s spell, nodding and clapping along to his mesmerizing message. If Sebastian Gorka and Charlie Kirk and Tomi Lahren and Dana Loesch can pawn “Relief Factor” and “Super Beets” and still be taken seriously, and Donald Trump can take down Vince McMahon in WrestleMania XX and become president, then Dr. Oz can be my guest to peddle conservative policy to Democrats on Capitol Hill if he wants.

Oh, and for the record, when asked, Oz did acknowledge personally partaking in one elixir even the staunchest cynics can get behind. “I usually just drink the tequila straight up, out of the fridge, with a lime,” he revealed with a good-natured smile. “It’s 66 calories for one ounce, and agave is a little sweet, so you don’t have to add carbs to the tequila. It actually works pretty well. It’s refreshing.”

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