Ep. 27: The Rise of the Political Amateur

July 20th 2017

ATTN: Staff

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Kid RockDwayne "The Rock" JohnsonCaitlyn Jenner: These names could (potentially) end up on a ballot. Jenner and Kid Rock (born Robert James Ritchie) have both recently declared interest in possible political runs, while The Rock is being encouraged to run by fans.

Celebrities—or just political outsiders—running for office is not a new idea: President Donald Trump, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor Jesse Ventura and President Ronald Reagan are four notable examples, but others including tech billionaires and business tycoons have run or floated the idea.

In the book "Actors, Athletes, and Astronauts: Political Amateurs in the United States Congress," published in 1990, author David T. Canon explains that since the 1930s, "political amateurs have comprised roughly one quarter of the House of Representatives." They are often "elected in periods of high political opportunity, such as the 1930s for Democrats and 1980s for Republicans."

The idea of the political outsider can sound appealing to the public—and it's a recurring trope in pop culture—considering the general distaste for anyone seeming like a Washington insider. (President Barack Obama even positioned himself as an outsider during his run.)

But Vox's Julia Azari is wary of political amateurs. In a piece published last week, Azari wrote:

"Imagining a political outsider coming in and curing what ails politics is fun and romantic, and it’s not new. On its face, this idea seems very democratic — what could be closer to the ideals of democracy than casting the bastards out and infusing political leadership with new blood, with people who know life outside of the profession of politics? Like many things, this is intuitive but incorrect. Political amateurism presents a threat to democracy."

What is it about a political amateur that presents such a threat?  Azari cites several studies, including one that found that those that know little about politics are less likely to understand key tenants of a democracy, like freedom of speech or freedom of assembly.

"In a classic study of political knowledge, Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter found that those who know more about politics are more likely to embrace democratic values like political tolerance. These differences are, of course, observed within the general population, not among people who are interested enough in politics to think about running for office. But it’s possible these differences would be present at that level. And we are not currently without evidence. What we’ve seen so far from an administration that lacks political experience is an accompanying lack of regard for democratic values, especially ones about legitimate opposition and criticism of the government."

ATTN:'s Head of Editorial Mike Vainisi doesn't see such a dire outcome. He believes that political amateurs can be successful leaders if they surround themselves with people who understand the political process and are willing to work within it. He explains why on this week's "Got Your Attention."

The group also chats about the "chocolate challenge," why a veteran was fired from Home Depot, and busting myths about addiction.

Podcast notes:

Read more about the stories we did (and didn't) talk about this week on "Got Your Attention."

What is the "Got Your Attention" podcast?

If you've ever wondered how the staff pitch and select the stories that you read or watch on ATTN:, we're giving you an inside listen. ATTN: Media is excited to announce "Got Your Attention," a podcast where ATTN: staffers compete to have their pitches accepted by our host—while also unpacking some of the week's most important headlines.

The game is simple: Three ATTN: staff members—Finishing Editor Erol Thompson, Senior Editor Sarah Gray, and Senior Social Trends Editor Omri Rolan—pitch their best stories to our host and Head of Editorial Mike Vainisi. If Mike picks their story, they get a point, and the four discuss the story.

Tweet at us at @attn, @sarahhhgray, @Omri_Rawrlan, or @mvain. Or send us a tip or topic suggestion to tips@attn.com.