Even in the increasingly wild world of American politics, it seemed an especially crazy idea: Matt Damon for president? After all, the handsome actor, whose boyish good looks belie the fact that he has just turned 40, is still best known for his early role in Good Will Hunting, where he played a working-class Bostonian.
Since then, he has won plaudits in Hollywood for solid work in films ranging from action flicks to Invictus, which told the story of post-apartheid South Africa’s rugby World Cup triumph.
So why is Damon’s name being mentioned in the context of the 2012 race for the White House and a possible liberal challenge to Barack Obama? The simple answer is to blame leftwing firebrand Michael Moore.
Moore, in a discussion with the liberal politics blog Firedoglake, raised the issue as he talked about his frustration with Obama, who many American leftists see as ignoring them while compromising with the Republican party. Moore called Damon’s political stances in recent years courageous and urged him to run, despite there being no hint from the actor that he would care to.
In a nod to the acting past of two-time Republican President Ronald Reagan, Moore said: “The Republicans have certainly shown the way that when you run someone who is popular, you win. Sometimes even when you run an actor, you win.”
The suggestion quickly spread across the media, generating a lot of chuckles as well as predictable outrage from conservative pundits. But the suggestion showed two things that are not so easily dismissed. First, quietly and with impressive charm, Damon has emerged as an eloquent and fierce spokesman for a slice of liberal America. On everything from the Iraq war to education policy, he has been happy to take a stand and, rather than praise the president, he has come out publicly to say Obama has “mishandled his mandate”.
Second, it showed that US, more than any country in the world, has a fluid boundary between the worlds of entertainment and politics.
From Reagan to Clint Eastwood, Sonny Bono to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Franken and many more, the list of US actors and performers turned politicians is lengthy and even distinguished.
“The kind of character that pursues an acting career in U.S. is often the same kind of character that pursues a political career. You have to stand up and make people like you and be good on TV,” said Professor Robert Thompson, a popular culture expert at Syracuse University. So, Matt Damon for president? In 2012, almost certainly not. But one day? You never know.