The public acts of politicians must be carefully calculated, at least compared to the average citizen. Anything a politician does in a public setting is scrutinized by the masses, used to generate either positive support or negative backlash. Everything could help or hinder a re-election campaign.
Politicians have become increasingly involved with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the inescapable Internet phenomenon that’s swept the nation in recent weeks. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are among several of those holding high positions in public office that have taken the challenge and donated to the ALS Association.
Public personalities of all types — celebrities, athletes, CEOs, etc. — have offered their own variation of the viral video, similar to the way in which the Harlem Shake meme disseminated throughout popular culture on an international level a year or so ago.
Like any web sensation, the challenge itself has been met with both support and praise, leading to think-pieces about everything from wasting water during California’s drought to concerns about how those posting videos are technically the ones refusing to donate.
Regardless of those ethical concerns, the movement has raised an astounding amount of money (more than $15 million between July 29 and August 18, according to ThinkProgress), awareness and support for ALS research.
When a politician gets involved, however, his or her intent has to be questioned. The hopeful (and perhaps most likely explanation) is that politicians are no different than the citizens that can be found on the average Facebook feed. The ice bucket challenge invokes a sense of social responsibility in participants, the idea that the country is participating in something together that ultimately leads to a greater good.
There’s also the ever-lingering prospect of re-election, which couples well with the idea that there’s no such thing as bad press. Ice bucket videos are certainly in the public eye, and there also largely viewed in a positive light. Elections are just around the corner.
Former President George W. Bush is the latest politician to have his head drenched in the name of a good cause, responding to challenges put forth by people such as his daughter, Jenna Hager Bush, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and golfer Rory McIlroy. At the end of the video, Bush crosses the party line to challenge fellow former President Bill Clinton.
Whether or not Clinton will respond to Bush’s call remains to be seen, but President Obama has already acknowledged that he won’t be participating. Actor Vin Diesel also recently nominated First Lady Michelle Obama as well as another unlikely politician — Vladimir Putin.
The First Lady has been known to participate in social media phenomena, such as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
The response of politicians — or lack thereof — to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is yet another reminder that the careful role individuals must take when occupying public office. Still, the often amateurly-shot videos offer an interesting peek into the lives of those politicians, and the money and awareness being raised for ALS research definitely can’t hurt.