Political ‘celebrities’ often overstay their 15 minutes of fame. By a lot.

Given the reappearance of Joe the Plumber on the national stage this week (he wrote to the families of the weekend's shooting rampage that "your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights"), we figured it was about time that we developed a metric for figuring out just how far past their allotted 15 minutes various political celebrities are. And so we did.

Joe the Plumber
Joe the Plumber

The "15 minutes" expression itself is probably well into its 20th minute, but on the off-chance that you're not familiar with it, it is derived from artist Andy Warhol's 1968 prediction that everyone in the future would be world famous for 15 minutes. Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher embodies the idea brilliantly, rising to fame when his semi-private conversation with President Obama became a viral political moment in the 2008 race.

Figuring out the length of those metaphorical 15 minutes, though, is tricky. Happily, we live in a modern, data-soaked world.

We took a variety of political celebrities and ran their names through Google Trends, which graphs search interest on the Internets over time. What we were looking for was a spike to the highest point that then dropped below the 20 mark (on Google's not-well-explained-scale), and never got past the 20 mark again. In other words, never again did interest in said "celebrity" reach one-fifth of the maximum level.

Here's Barack Obama's Google Trend, for example.

Interest in the president rises and falls, but spikes regularly. Some surprising people were left out of our calculations here: Donald Trump, Michael Moore, John Edwards. These people are, it appears, actual celebrities, who can spur interest over and over again. (We're as shocked as you are.)

Now, allow us to present: The political celebrities who've overextended their 15 minutes. The list is in descending order of overstaying.


1. Howard Dean

Famous for: Running Vermont but not the country
Current role: Punditry
Length of initial 15 minutes: 3 months
Time since it ended: 122 months

Overstayed: (Time since ended / Length of 15 minutes) = (122 months / 3 months) =
Forty-one "15 minutes."



2. Joe the Plumber

Famous for: "Catching" Obama being a Socialist
Current role: Union member
Length of initial 15 minutes: 3 months
Time since it ended: 65 months

Overstayed: (65 months / 3 months) =
Twenty-two "15 minutes."



3. Anthony Weiner

Famous for: His name, in a sense
Current role: Faithful husband
Length of initial 15 minutes: 2 months
Time since it ended: 34 months

Overstayed: (34 months / 2 months) = Seventeen "15 minutes."


Note: The spike in 2013 from his aborted mayoral campaign technically exceeded the 20 mark, but we ruled that ineligible, for reasons.


4. Sarah Palin

Famous for: Vice presidential bid, reality show
Current role: Punditry
Length of initial 15 minutes: 4 months
Time since it ended: 65 months

Overstayed: (65 months / 4 months) =
Sixteen "15 minutes."



5. Christine O'Donnell

Famous for: Not being a witch
Current role: Not being a senator
Length of initial 15 minutes: 4 months
Time since it ended: 41 months

Overstayed: (41 months / 4 months) =
Ten "15 minutes."



6. Allen West

Famous for: Two highly contentious House races
Current role: Writing highly contentious blog posts
Length of initial 15 minutes: 2 months
Time since it ended: 17 months

Overstayed: (17 months / 2 months) =
Nine "15 minutes."



7. Sandra Fluke

Famous for: Battling Rush Limbaugh
Current role: Running for state Senate in California
Length of initial 15 minutes: 8 months
Time since it ended: 19 months

Overstayed: (19 months / 8 months) =
Two "15 minutes."



Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.

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Philip Bump · May 28, 2014