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Ashley Judd’s Naked Run for U.S. Senate

In the era of celebrity candidates, our vetting standards must adjust.

by
Walter Hudson

Bio

March 14, 2013 - 9:00 am

Actress, activist, and now likely politician Ashley Judd.

Last week brought to light a likely Democratic challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from actress-turned-politico Ashley Judd. The Daily Caller responded to the news with a jab at Judd’s character, pointing out how often she has been nude throughout her film career. This triggered a firestorm of indignation on the Left, with writers from The Raw Story, Salon, and Mother Jones among others lambasting conservative prudery.

While the Left’s objection appears to be informed by sexual licentiousness and a general obligation to feign offense at any suggestion of modesty as virtue, a legitimate critique can be made of the attempt to marginalize Judd’s candidacy. In several ways worth noting, making an issue of Judd’s on-screen nudity is a mistake.

First, let us concede that we live in the year 2013 amidst a generation separated from past chastity by a great cultural and technological divide. Naked women are not as shocking as they used to be, assuming they ever actually were. Granted, a higher-than-average standard ought to be applied to candidates for public office, and certainly to candidates for U.S. Senate. However, context matters. Judd acted in mainstream films. It’s not as though she made her career in pornography.

Activists on the Right ought to hold greater concern for the circumstances which make Judd’s potential candidacy viable. We live in a political culture where celebrity proves increasingly valuable. One of the greatest hurdles facing campaigns at any level is name recognition. If voters don’t know who a candidate is, they aren’t as inclined to vote for them. The campus paper for Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, sources the work of political scientists in that area:

[Cindy] Kam and [Elizabeth] Zechmeister have shown, in a paper currently under consideration for publication, that brief exposure to a candidate’s name increases voter support by 13 percent, if voters know nothing else about the candidates.

No one should be shocked to learn that campaigns grow more expensive each cycle.

Sitting senator from the great state of Minnesota, Al Franken.

USA Today reported in 2012:

Total spending on the presidential and congressional races this year is on pace to reach a record $5.8 billion, according to a new analysis.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates the total cost of the 2012 elections will jump 7% from $5.4 billion four years ago and could “come close” this year to reaching $6 billion.

As a result, the ability to aggressively fundraise is evermore invaluable to a statewide campaign.

Celebrity solves these problems. Celebrity opens doors. Not only do people know who Ashley Judd is. They are excited to meet her. Wallets eagerly open for the opportunity to say, “I had dinner with Ashley Judd.” What’s more, her celebrity brings along established relationships with deep pockets. It makes for a much easier campaign than trying to convince strangers to write checks for someone they’ve never heard of.

That may be why the notion of a celebrity candidate is not new. Like Judd, Ronald Reagan came to politics from acting in film. So did Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has also bared his goods on the silver screen. His Predator co-star, Jesse Ventura, ran a successful third party campaign for governor of Minnesota. The venerable Fred Thompson of Law & Order fame has served in the U.S. Senate and was among candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

As an example most relevant to Judd’s candidacy, we must consider the sitting senator from Minnesota, former Saturday Night Live comic Al Franken. If past performance proves enough to disqualify a candidate from public office, one might have imagined that the Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley would do the trick. Yet Franken prevailed in his 2008 recount and must now be taken seriously as a representative of his state, not to mention the sixtieth vote which enabled the passage of Obamacare. Is the nudity in Judd’s film career a greater liability than having played Stuart Smalley?

Social media has eroded the barriers once maintained in our lives.

Given such examples, scoffing at the candidacy of Ashley Judd based solely on the steamier highlights of her filmography seems ill-considered. Focusing on past nudity undermines the seriousness of any critique.

This episode speaks to a larger trend which modern political campaigners must consider. Ours is the first generation to experience a new normal, where anyone of note will have an expansive and diverse online presence. The candidates and leaders of tomorrow post unflattering portraits of themselves in compromising positions today. It has become increasingly difficult to compartmentalize different aspects of life, to separate work from friends and friends from family, and to keep politics and religion from spilling over into business and pleasure. Work friends mingle with those you have known for years, who mingle with neighbors from church, who mingle with Mom and Dad. Just as importantly, different stages of life blend together over time, smudging the immaturity of adolescence with the professionalism of an adult career and the stature of parenthood and family. One’s overall online presence cooks up as a giant social potluck.

The time will soon come when any given candidate for political office will have something intimate or uncouth lurking in their digital past. The only sensible way to handle it will be owning up to indiscretions and marginalizing them as common and unimportant. The tactic will work due to the mutually assured destruction inherent in any exploitation of social media. Like every mom’s cache of baby pictures, everyone will harbor embarrassing moments from their past.

The cultural shift has already begun. Jobs and homes now last around five years. People increasingly switch careers once or more over the course of their lives. Such diversity in the experience of individuals necessitates that the ever sophisticated market distinguish between what are effectively past lives. Senator Al Franken is not Stuart Smalley. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was not elected as the Terminator. As a candidate for Senate, Ashley Judd offers more than a pair of legs.

Who’d have thought being in the cast of Predator would so dramatically increase one’s chances of governing a state?

Any attempt to pigeonhole a celebrity who turns to politics will backfire. Picking on a likable, attractive woman for being likable and attractive is a losing strategy. Instead, political opponents of Ashley Judd will better serve their cause by taking her to task on policy. Judd has said some awfully ridiculous things worthy of debate.

Instead of tilting at the windmill of celebrity past, activists on the Right must look ahead to the future. The recruitment and development of our own celebrity candidates ought to be a priority. Conservatives must be willing to yield to the more libertarian stances a celebrity is likely to hold. Ventura’s win in Minnesota was due in large part to his defiance of established norms. He may not have proven a conservative governor, but much of his winning campaign rhetoric was libertarian in nature. Recall that Reagan was an advocate of liberty and a star among the Barry Goldwater wing of the Republican Party.

In short, the future of politics will track younger, hotter, and far more digital. Such change cycles evermore rapidly alongside advancements in technology, leaving conservatives at an inherent disadvantage if they insist on clinging to obsolete methods and mores. No one ever got atop a wave by trying to hold it back.

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the boards of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority and the Minority Liberty Alliance. He maintains a blog and daily podcast entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of conservative Minnesotan commentary, and regularly appears on the Twin Cities News Talk Weekend Roundtable on KTCN AM 1130. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

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All Comments   (29)
All Comments   (29)
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If Fauxcahontas could take Scott Brown's Senate seat from him with her flat out fraudulent past, so can Judd take McConnell's.

What I find interesting about Hollywood types is the varying levels of outrage.

Did you see the faces on those actresses at the Academy Awards when that song "We Saw Your Boobs" was playing and the camera cut to them during the song? It was like, "How dare you state the obvious! You can't sing about me being naked in the movies!" Then, later, it's, "She has done Important Films," as if she never did the scenes.

I have to agree with others that the left has a double standard concerning this. Scott Brown shirtless or a young Sarah Palin in a bathing suit is unacceptable. New movie scenes for a Democrat? Not an issue.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Say what you like people, I'm agin' it. It ain't fittin', it just ain't fittin'.

Seriously, I have no respect for those who take off their clothes in movies. So sue me. And there are a lot more out there like me.

Now, consider what would happen if the shoe were on the other foot? Imagine Palin, for example, having this in her past. Or any other Republican/Conservative female.

Just imagine. Do you think for one minute they would act like this didn't matter? After all, we had that Scott Brown brouhaha, and I don't believe he even showed anything.

I agree, her politics are more important. But I'm not going to overlook or excuse something that I disapprove of, and which, if a Republican woman had done it, the word "crucify" would be a total understatement for what the left would do to her.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And - we had them going nuts over Palin in a bathing suit in a beauty contest in her youth, remember?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What you say about the advantages of celebrity in attaining political office is absolutely correct - sadly so, in my opinion. Nevertheless, it is where we are now and a known name means more than a record of achievement. Unfortunately, this seems to work more for Democrats than Republicans. Remember how Clint Eastwood was ridiculed for the brilliant theatrical piece he did at the last Convention? If one watched it without prejudice it was wonderful but after the MSM got through debasing and belittling it even I - an Eastwood admirer who also worked in the theater for years - saw it in a different light.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Interesting to watch the condemnations of one sinner by other sinners! According to Christian tenants, regardless of any particular brand of churches doctrines, most sins are routinely commited by every human, be they captioned as mortal sins or other definitions of sins. Yet, we witness every day of our lives large populations of Christians especially, denying their own sins to sit in judgement of others sins. Seems hypocrisy has become the standard of Christianity!

On the other hand, if one is a constitutionalist, then that should be the standard for which any elected government representative is qualified to at least be free to run for such offices. What is the constitutional qualifications for a U.S. Senator?

As for any democrat operatives trying to use Judds nudity as nullification and somehow socially unaccpetable, the 'conservative movement' of the GOP is no less guilty.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
**Strike the last paragraph as it was unintenionally misdirected at democrat operatives.**
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Her sister Wynonna had a cameo in the movie "Rabbit Hash: Center of the Universe." I doubt Ashley could win the contest for mayor there - wrong species.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What is more horrifying than Ashley Judd with no clothes (actually a fine proposition) is McConnell with no clothes. Oh wait, he hasn't been wearing any for some time! Reagan broke the mold, let the mold remain unbroken.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I honestly had no idea that Judd had ever taken her clothes off for the camera"

You didn't miss that much. I have one of the movies where she is naked. As I recall, it was very brief and dimly lit. Frankly, her body was nothing special, at least to me. Your mileage may vary. I always found her face, particularly her eyebrows, very compelling but having seen her naked (in the film) the highlight was her face.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's way too late to keep celebrities out of politics.

Reagan was an actor.

Fred Thompson was an actor. Then he became a Senator. Then he went back to acting. Then he thought about running for President. Then he went back to acting.

To paraphrase a scene from the movie "Back to the Future":

"Who's the President of the United States in the year 2032?"
"Angelina Jolie."
"The actress?!?!?"

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
IF somehow Ashley Judd went on elected then we'd have two uninspiring, irrelevant, idiot lefties in the Senate (which would grade that institution down to even lower level than now).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Only two? Which of the Democrat Senators are NOT uninspiring, irrelevant, idiot lefties? Heck, some of the Republican Senators fit that bill!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Funny thing is that she had a photo op taken with now former Sen. Dick Lugar. That old grudging bastard who refused to endorse Richard Mourdock cause he took his defeat personally. I'd even bet he voted for Joe Donnelly out of that reason.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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