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Measure of a Man
February 6, 2014 9:10 AM   Subscribe

2003 American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken is running for Congress in North Carolina. Aiken is a long-time political activist, and his campaign seems serious and sincere, as shown by the heartfelt five-minute video announcing his campaign. But the odds are against him in a district which voted for Romney by a twelve-point margin, and being a gay father is a possible liability in a state which recently voted to ban gay marriage. (But of course, electing entertainers to political office is an American tradition.)
posted by showbiz_liz (55 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
So now he wants to win Political Idol, huh?
posted by hal_c_on at 9:14 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


He's walking the walk so I don't mind him talking the talk.
posted by Renoroc at 9:17 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


I really hate the dismissive tone that the media rushes to assume with stories like this (like that snotty "Of course he is!" framing by NPR, of all people). I admire Clay and his candidacy appears to be pretty sincere. Hasn't there been more than enough evidence that people with "real" political credentials fuck things up more often than not? One would think the influx of a few outsiders to the system would be cheerfully welcomed.
posted by jbickers at 9:20 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


(like that snotty "Of course he is!" framing by NPR, of all people)

I believe that was meant to be sarcastic and making fun of the people who dismiss him based on the Idol stuff.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:21 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Too bad I'm out of his district by a couple of feet. I'd really love the chance to vote for him.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:21 AM on February 6


entertainers to political office is an American tradition

I can't believe that list left off Sonny and Cooter
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:28 AM on February 6


I understand that people may be skeptic about this... in Brazil we elected a Big Brother winner for parliament: Jean Wyllys, awesome solid guy, pro gay rights, anti drug war, won the "best congressman" popular award for two years straight.
posted by Tom-B at 9:29 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Bully for him. In my eyes, this is a heck of a lot more impressive than other celebrities who join the bandwagons of "Go Vote, Lazy Kids of America!" or even stand beside a particular candidate to draw support.

Speaking of local support, here's a local news station article on him, including pull quotes from an interview he did with the station. The article also notes that one of the Democratic candidates, Businessman Houston Barnes, withdrew his candidacy, saying he will endorse Aiken.

The article also quotes ABC political analyst Rick Klein:
Klein says Aiken's reputation could be hard for the new candidate to get past, especially in a conservative district made more conservative with recent redistricting.

"I think his fame will box him in but more than that. You're going to see an intense scrutiny over everything he has said, tweeted, or hinted at over the years. People are going to dredge that up and they are going to play hardball with Clay Aiken," Klein said.
Another local news station pulled a comment from the NC GPO:
The North Carolina Republican Party was hesitant to criticize Aiken Wednesday, saying only in a release that voters "have no clue" on his positions on issues from the Affordable Care Act and government spending to gun control and abortion.
And a comment about the current Republican Congresswoman, Renee Ellmers:
Ellmers also will face a primary challenge. Conservative talk radio host Frank Roche, of Cary, says she isn't conservative enough to represent the district, which Republican lawmakers redrew in 2011 to be more favorable to GOP candidates.
It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out. If the GOP base is split over being "conservative enough," it could help Aiken's campaign if he is the Democrat running for election.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:31 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt in my mind that Clay Aiken will win.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:32 AM on February 6


Why do I confuse Clay Aiken with Ryan Seacrest? (Upon reading Wikipedia, it's probably because I mentally filed them both as "a guy from American Idol," which I've never watched. But that doesn't explain why I thought they were both younger than me, when it turns out they're older. I might have a defective Celebrity Lobe.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:32 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Everything I've heard about Aiken has only made me more excited about the campaign. Even if it's a fiasco, he will bring money and attention to the race, which is an unmitigated good. Ellmers is floatsam from the 2010 wave who won re-election only because she was drawn into a very safe district thanks to the NC legislature---a high-profile candidate like Aiken is the Democrat's best shot at dislodging her.
posted by Bromius at 9:33 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


“The district where I’m running is represented by a congresswoman who I believe went to Washington with good intentions,” Aiken said. “But even though she knew that voting for massive cuts to the military was bad for our country and for our district, she voted for them anyway, 10 times, after her party leaders told her to. And when her party leaders told her to vote for the government shutdown, she did, 21 times, even though she said herself it would be a disaster for the economy, and then she complained that she needed her paycheck.”

This is a pretty good slam.
posted by troika at 9:35 AM on February 6 [33 favorites]


in Brazil we elected a Big Brother winner for parliament: Jean Wyllys, awesome solid guy, pro gay rights, anti drug war, won the "best congressman" popular award for two years straight.

And Italy had Ilona Staller (Wikipedia/SFW), who continued to make hardcore pornographic films while a member of parliament, and is famous for delivering political speeches with one breast exposed.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


troika, good quote. He already has the debate rhetoric ready to go.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on February 6


If he can unseat someone who is obviously worse, fine.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:36 AM on February 6


We live in a world where you can go from:

  • loser on a singing competition to
  • closeted celebrity to
  • rumored to have fisted a male escort to
  • out-and-proud gay dad to
  • political candidate

    all in just over a decade. Truly interesting times.

    (I think this is actually awesome.)

  • posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:39 AM on February 6 [14 favorites]


    FWIW, Al Franken has proven himself a surprisingly skilled politician and effective legislator for someone who was best known for wearing a hideous sweater and saying affirmations into a mirror on Saturday Night Live. Why not Clay Aiken?

    Though if I wanted to base a political bid almost entirely on my widespread fame among the common people, I'd probably do it from a state where actual common people are still allowed to vote.
    posted by Naberius at 9:40 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


    He doesn't know what he's in for. Public office is a life of privation and hardship as other entertainers have found out.
    posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:46 AM on February 6


    Franken is quite a bit different, with a long history with politics, as an observer and later a participant. And his books are quite good, but I can't say how unbiased they are as they match well with my lean towards the left/ the truth. And Franken was in his 50s when he really started his political career, while Aiken is in his mid-to-late 30s.

    I'd compare Aiken more to Jesse "The Body"/"The Governor" Ventura, in terms of political history and know-how, though I could be wrong.
    posted by filthy light thief at 9:47 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


    I used to live in that District. I was born there and lived there until I was 12. Well it wouldn't all be in the 2nd now because of redistricting, but it used to be. His video is really good. He comes across as genuine and like he's taking it seriously, which would seem like the first hurdles for a celebrity candidate, especially in state where folks will still remember Richard Petty's non-campaign for Secretary of State.*

    It's obviously a up-hill battle in a conservative district, but I'm hopeful, if only because Ellmer's comments about needing her paycheck have made me hate her with an irrational intensity.

    *No offense, Richard, you're still the King
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:56 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


    That's my district. His video was pretty good, I thought.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:58 AM on February 6


    Cooter used to be my Congressman. It was groovy.
    posted by thelonius at 9:59 AM on February 6


    In other words I think he has a chance.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:59 AM on February 6


    Gopher used to be my Congressman. It was conservative.
    posted by rlk at 10:05 AM on February 6


    I'd compare Aiken more to Jesse "The Body"/"The Governor" Ventura,

    I totally agree, but I also can't help but point out how hilarious this phrase is.
    posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:09 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


    I think it's nice. He does seem sincere. However, as soon as I got an email about this I went and looked at that district and it's going to be a tall order to get elected there.
    posted by something something at 10:16 AM on February 6


    I just wanted to take a moment to thank MetaFilter for not mentioning Arnold. The entire state of California is still in therapy coping with the trauma of the Kindergarten Cop years.
    posted by Mooseli at 10:24 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


    For whatever reason, I don't think his being gay is going to be that much of an issue in reality. Individual voters either care o they don't, and will either get over it or not, and the ones who can't get past it, frankly, probably weren't voting Democratic anyway. Also, it's not the sort of thing you can make hay out of, because Aiken's not hiding it or ashamed of it. I think a lot of people who "personally disapprove of his lifestyle" are going to vote for him anyway because the livelihoods of their families and communities are more important.

    I might be wrong. I don't know the district. But it looks and sounds like Ft. Bragg is hugely central to people's lives there, so I'd be more afraid if I had put the community out of work indefinintely and then complained about my paycheck. That's a scandal with legs.
    posted by Navelgazer at 10:27 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


    You need to remember he was HUGELY popular here during American Idol. I think that will help him with at least some of the otherwise conservative electorate here.

    It will be sincerely interesting to see how this plays out. In other words I agree with Navelgazer.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:37 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


    His video is surprisingly touching and sincere but people like that get criticized for being naive and inexperienced and therefore unsuitable for Washington.
    posted by Dragonness at 10:38 AM on February 6


    like that snotty "Of course he is!" framing by NPR

    If you actually read the piece, you'll find that the "of course he is" framing is essentially my way of saying "this makes perfect sense, is in keeping with lots of other people who have done the same thing as well as with advocacy he's already done, and doesn't deserve to be made into some particularly silly idea, since show business people are no sillier than lots of other people who run for office." I also pointed out his history of advocacy on actual issues and made the exact point you're making that plenty of people other than show business people have no notable expertise when they run for office.

    Not that I expect it to make any difference, but I did want to point out that based on the headline, I guess, you took it essentially the opposite of the way it was written.
    posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:40 AM on February 6 [13 favorites]


    American government would work a hell of a lot better if people entering politics wouldn't go into it with the stated goal of not becoming politicians. You've already decided to become a politician -- your goal should be to become a good one in a hurry. That means (among other things) knowing what is winnable and what isn't, knowing how to talk to people you might be able to sway, learning to listen to your peers and your constituency, and learning to tell people things they might not want to hear. You should not expect to be paid for giving your opinions -- we all have them, and they are worthless without some means for turning them into realities.
    posted by Killick at 10:42 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


    Bulgaroktonos: Well it wouldn't all be in the 2nd now because of redistricting, but it used to be.

    If -- after the insane redistricting plan the GOP shoved down North Carolina's throat in 2010 -- the Democrats take the 2nd, I will laugh forever.
    posted by Rock Steady at 10:43 AM on February 6


    I literally yesterday stumbled across a Clay Aiken CD in my basement, the one he released right after he was on Idol. I remain amused by the synchronicity, and also that I once paid money for a Clay Aiken CD. (Dude had a powerful voice but man those songs were super-cheesy.)
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:44 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


    Eyebrows McGee: Dude had a powerful voice but man those songs were super-cheesy.

    They really need to have a "Songwriter Idol" contest that runs alongside "American Idol" to prevent the completely predictable pile of glurge that inevitably makes up every Idol winner's first album.
    posted by Rock Steady at 10:50 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


    Yeah the rest of you need to Google that district. It is a monstrosity of gerrymandering.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:01 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


    FWIW, Al Franken has proven himself a surprisingly skilled politician and effective legislator for someone who was best known for wearing a hideous sweater and saying affirmations into a mirror on Saturday Night Live. Why not Clay Aiken?

    Fair point. I really like Franken and his relationship with Minnesota.

    But then again, Franken went to Harvard and got a degree in government. If nothing else, it shows that he WAS thinking about politics at some point in a serious manner.

    Aiken seems like a nice guy, but he's exactly what one thinks he is: a celebrity. What I don't like about stuff like this is that I'm positive there are democrats who had been setting themselves up to combat the sitting republican incumbent. Now they will be thrown out by the media and residents because who the f cares about some middle aged person who's running for congress in NC. ITS ALL ABOUT CLAY AIKEN.

    So yeah, he'll get all sorts of support within the democratic party. But when it comes to the middle-of-road people to choose between the current republican and Aiken, they will go for the status quo.

    That will decide the election. What I'm wondering is what would have happened if the democrat who had been preparing for years went up against the incumbent.

    I guess we'll never find out, because he realized that he can't beat someone in a local race who has national attention.
    posted by hal_c_on at 11:07 AM on February 6


    I'm going to predict the opposition will say something along the lines of:

    "See what happens when a child grows up in a non traditional home? He turned out to be one of 'those' people because he did not have a father figure in his life and now he wants to impose his lifestyle upon his constituents... this is just another shot from the liberal left at traditional family values"
    posted by kzin602 at 11:12 AM on February 6


    kzin602: I have to imagine that any shot from that direction backfires pretty badly.
    posted by Navelgazer at 11:15 AM on February 6


    "See what happens when a child grows up in a non traditional home? He turned out to be one of 'those' people because he did not have a father figure in his life and now he wants to impose his lifestyle upon his constituents... this is just another shot from the liberal left at traditional family values"

    Yeah, this is their mantra. I'm positive this was said about Obama, as well.
    posted by hal_c_on at 11:16 AM on February 6


    The entire state of California is still in therapy coping with the trauma of the Kindergarten Cop years.

    Really? I'd have thought they were inured to that sort of thing after the Turkey For The President years.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:17 AM on February 6


    Ellmers has already made the de rigueur reference to San Francisco, so I wouldn't be surprised to see that.
    posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:17 AM on February 6


    OMG. I was a hardcore Claymate. Flew all the way from Malaysia to the US just to see the American Idol live tour (and got on TV for my trouble). I second Eyebrows McGee - amazing voice, freakin' cheesy songs. (Asides from When You Say You Love Me, but that's because it was written by my other favourite Darren Hayes, so I'm biased.)

    He was pretty passionate as a social justice type (esp with autism) from the Idol days. Apparently he came to KL as part of a big fundraising concert for the tsunami (AND NOBODY TOLD ME) because he happened to be in the area as a UN ambassador, and impressed everyone by doing a speech in Malay.

    This will be interesting. Good luck, dude.
    posted by divabat at 11:23 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


    Good for him. This seems like a natural progression for him, and he seems sincere and engaged.
    posted by gaspode at 11:29 AM on February 6


    St. Alia of the Bunnies: Yeah the rest of you need to Google that district. It is a monstrosity of gerrymandering.

    Here's the Wikipedia page for NC's 2nd Congressional district, and the lengthy Ballotpedia article on Redistricting in NC.
    posted by filthy light thief at 11:43 AM on February 6


    people like that get criticized for being naive and inexperienced and therefore unsuitable for Washington.

    Well, yeah. The point where he says "I'm not a politician, and I don't ever want to be one" is the point where my reaction was "do you have the slightest idea what a congressman is?"

    It's like applying for a job fixing people's sinks, pipes, and toilets and proudly announcing that you are not and never will be a plumber.
    posted by Shmuel510 at 12:15 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


    This is a good video. It does exactly what it needs to do: touches on the parts of his story that you don't (necessarily) know, shows humility about the parts you do, and plays him as a reasonable, intelligent local guy who is interested in doing good, and has the means and weight to do so. It's basically one uninterrupted take of him speaking, well. He comes across as being a valid, serious (if unorthodox) candidate.

    I don't know that he'll WIN (that district is outrageous) but his name recognition, local-boy bona fides and charisma can go a long, long way.
    posted by dirtdirt at 12:36 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


    You need to remember he was HUGELY popular here during American Idol.

    I was trying to find an article reflecting this when I was making this post, but yeah. I was in high school in North Carolina at the time, and the level of hype surrounding Clay Aiken there was truly astonishing. I can't even think what to compare it to. (For example, I did not remember, until making this post, that he didn't actually come in first. He is also way more famous/prominent than Fantasia Barrino, also from NC, who actually won in 2004; in fact, I think her win may have reflected in some way back on him, because there was a real "NC is gonna sweep Idol forever and ever!" feeling in the air after her win.)
    posted by showbiz_liz at 1:14 PM on February 6


    The point where he says "I'm not a politician, and I don't ever want to be one" is the point where my reaction was "do you have the slightest idea what a congressman is?"

    In many cases, a congressman is a telegenic figurehead who hires a smart staff to study the issues, write legislation, and recommend votes for him. We all know what "politician" connotes and it's totally understandable not to want to desire that power-hungry mindset.

    Alternately: I work for the civil service and I don't know that proudly hoisting the "bureaucrat" mantle is necessary to get my job done well.
    posted by psoas at 1:29 PM on February 6


    For example, I did not remember, until making this post, that he didn't actually come in first

    That's the funny thing about Idol. I've never been a regular watcher but I usually catch some every season. It seems to me that it's pretty much best to come in second.

    Example: The year after David Whatsisname beat David Archuletta, they were both invited back to perform in the finale. Both on stage at the same time, Seacrest asks DW how things are.

    (Paraphrase) "We've been in the studio and working on some songs."

    Then he asks Archuletta.

    (Paraphrase) "Well we just wrapped up the European tour and we're here for a bit, then the Asian leg of the tour."

    DW looked like he was chewing glass.
    posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:40 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


    I might have a defective Celebrity Lobe.

    That's a feature, not a bug.
    posted by pjern at 2:09 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


    One would think the influx of a few outsiders to the system would be cheerfully welcomed.

    Especially considering that we're talking about a congressional race. There are plenty of relative political outsiders who run for congressional seats. You shouldn't have to be a career politician to represent your district in the lower legislative house, and the fact that the US demands that of people is probably a significant contribution to how shitty our political system is.

    Re the conservatism angle, while Aiken is an out gay man with a partner and kids, he's always been a pretty wholesome media figure, no? If anything he is exactly typical of the sort of Democrat who can win in a red state.

    It also kind of kills me when Democrats naysay pretty much any Democratic candidate in a solidly Republican district. So... what, are we just supposed to let Republicans run unopposed? If anything, someone like Aiken running for this seat is a net good, because at least he can spend his own money on the campaign, freeing up Democratic Party money to go towards more contentious races. And if he wins, that's gravy.
    posted by Sara C. at 2:12 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


    Fun tidbit for folks outside NC:

    The former political director (not executive director as some news stories have it) of the NC Republican Party, Dan Gurley, came out as gay after leaving his position and is now working with Equality NC, the statewide gay rights organization. He responded recently to a press release from Ellmers spokesperson Jessica Wood attacking Aiken as "a performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco than Sanford."

    Gurley's response:

    “I’m sure you thought you were being clever with your statement yesterday when you said the following, ‘and Aiken, a performer whose political views more closely resemble those of San Francisco than Sanford,’” Gurley wrote. “Well, you weren’t. You were offensive and childish, and if you worked for me or any client of mine I’d fire you. Surely you know better than this. You have offended many on both sides of the political aisle with your ill thought out comments. Not only are you uncreative, but your [sic] small minded.”

    Gurley, who’s also previously worked for the Republican National Committee and a variety of national Republican officials, called Ellmers a “good and decent woman who deserves better than this” and suggested Wood do better research on the candidates she represents. Ellmers publicly opposed North Carolina’s anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment in 2012.

    “I’m embarrassed for [Ellmers] that this has happened. You should be ashamed. And you should be reprimanded,” Gurley told Wood.

    posted by mediareport at 4:41 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


    Yeah the rest of you need to Google that district. It is a monstrosity of gerrymandering.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies


    That's because Obama won Fayetteville handily, and the county too by a smaller margin. Scared the living shit out of the NC GOP. (In 2008 that is.)
    posted by spitbull at 6:19 AM on February 8


    (Well, to be fair, none of the Republicans I know here liked how that district was drawn either. I think we ALL think it's ridiculous. Because it is! I had to look the map up to confirm what district I am in, it's drawn that crazily.)
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:08 AM on February 8


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