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

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.