Somehow the biggest news to come of Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards show was the surprise announcement by rapper Kanye West that he planned to run for President in the year 2020. West, whose first real politically notorious action was declaring on a Public Service Announcement that then-President Bush “did not care about black people” in response to the botched federal rescue efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is probably one of the most famous people in the world.
Married to reality T.V. star Kim Khardashian and highly respected in industry musical circles as a creative and technical genius long before his controversial persona earned him worldwide infamy, to put it nicely, Kanye West is probably one of the few celebrity candidates who could mount a serious challenge for the Presidency. But why wait until 2020?
Personally, I have been suggesting that rapper/mogul Jay-Z is well situated to actually make a run for President. At the age of 45, Jay-Z (real name Shawn Corey Carter) is even better recognized and respected than Kanye West. His wife, fellow entertainer Beyoncé, is a much more well thought of individual than Kim Khardashian–considered at least talented in her own right and famous not simply by the token of being famous. Indeed, it had been my thought for some time that the close relationship between the Obama family and the Carter family might be a kind of protégé situation which would grow into an inevitable political career for Jay-Z.
It seems almost obvious that Jay-Z would receive a very high percentage of the Obama Coalition right off of the bat. Perhaps more than our current Commander-in-Chief, Jay-Z would not have the immediate political baggage arising from having been a “community organizer”, associate of known rabble rousers and domestic terrorists, part-time constitutional professor, or former editor of the Harvard Law Review (the only one to have never published any legal opinion). In fact, there would be no questions regarding Jay-Z’s American Citizenship or academic background whatsoever!
A hint to Jay-Z: There is still time!
Kanye West, on the other hand, would have a difficult uphill struggle against the nuances of his perception within the electorate. Unlike Jay-Z much of West’s publicity has been a direct result of a litany of controversial interviews, actions, and boundary pushing artistic choices. For every fan of his work you can find a person who has been rubbed the wrong way by something he has done. West has been an outspoken cultural critic, often lashing out in what can only be described as narcissistic rants against his perceived position as an “outsider”. Whether this is his long-time complaints of not being taken seriously in the fashion world, or lamenting the racial divide in America, West has not made it very easy for himself to pivot into a role as a public servant.
Which is not to say it cannot be done. Certainly over the next five years West could put a lot of effort into reforming his rough image and finely attune himself to the processes and machinations of the political lifestyle.
My advice, however, is for West to go for 2016. There are a number of reasons, which I will detail.
- 2016 is the race Kanye West is in the best position to win. No matter who wins in 2016, in 2020 he would be facing an incumbent president. This is a perilous proposition in the best of scenarios.
- If a Democrat wins he would be in the doubly precarious situation of possibly running as a primary challenger to an incumbent president. This would basically be a pointless and futile effort.
- While Kim and Kanye have shown support for Hillary Clinton, it may be increasingly apparent to them (as it has become for many of us) that Clinton’s position in the race is becoming weaker and weaker as questions abound about her email practices during her time as Secretary of State.
- The #BlackLivesMatter movement would no doubt galvanize around Kanye West and help propel his campaign as a built-in grassroots organization from day one. It is unlikely that #BLM will be a sustainable organized movement for another five years and is very likely at its apex now.
- A quick survey of media immediately following West’s announcement on Sunday was highly condescending and dismissive. A meme was started which took certain bits of West’s speech and turned it into a parody of Seinfeld–specifically the stand-up routine that preceeded most episodes of the iconic television show. West could no doubt use this to fuel what will be a grueling and grinding experience. If given 5 years to taunt and put-down West’s ambition to run for president I can only begin to imagine what every satirical show, comedian and writer will heap in West’s direction. It would be better to get in front of it now and join the 2016 race rather than take 5 years of abuse.
- On the other hand, CNN, as well as the Democratic National Committee, gave Kanye West his due and respected his announcement. This is a good sign that he would not be shuttered by the media or the DNC from the word go.
- Kanye West and wife Kim Khardashian are themselves probably at the apex of their possible fame. There is no way two of the most highly recognized celebrities on the planet are going to become even more famous in the next 5 years. Worst case scenario, things start to go downhill. West is not likely to be able to pull a presidential-race-as-comeback-attempt off as a simultaneous event. Better to hit while the iron remains hot.
The presidential race of 2016 may prove to be the most wide open of my lifetime, and Kanye West is only a few years older than me. If he seriously wants to win and make an impact on this country, his time is NOW rather than leaving it up to chance who gets to take the country in another direction first and risking the possibility of being shut out of the race due to the sitting incumbent.
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