During last autumn’s presidential campaign, John McCain ran ads calling Barack Obama the “biggest celebrity in the world” and meant it as an insult – which coming from a senator who’d hosted “Saturday Night Live” and from a ticket that eventually included Sarah Palin, was a bit hypocritical.
But largely accurate. Already Obama seems to have appeared on “Entertainment Tonight” more than Bush 43 ever did; we care about the present Obama’s wife bought and the outfits his daughters wore, even how his daughter reacted when she met other celebrities. We didn’t know FDR was crippled, but we know Obama drives to the left to get to the basket.
Secret Service agents with orders to shoot-to-kill are the only thing keeping paparazzi away.
Nor is it just Obama. Hillary Clinton’s arrival to the State Department was heavily anticipated. Cameras were trained on empty sidewalk waiting for her to show up. Not because she was doing anything, but because she was going to be there.
“The essential is invisible to the naked eye,” and actual governing is too boring for lenses or microphones to record.
But celebrity isn’t.
We need faces on things, I suppose, for the same reason the Israelite tribes kept making graven images and finally demanded to have a king like other nations. Golden calves and Asherah poles are dead things, but they’re also real things. Right there. You can see them, touch them if you like. A king isn’t a god; you’re as likely to outlive him as not. But he’s got a crown and a scepter, and that’s got to count for something, right? Something to give shape or face to otherwise ephemeral ideas.
Entertainment celebrities are the biggest faces of anyone, and they’re often mocked for being airheads who too frequently share their usually liberal and very usually ignorant political opinions.
What gives them the idea that anyone cares what they think? Why can’t they just shut up so we can enjoy their acting, music, sports, etc.?
Of course, one wonders if most of those people complaining ever talk about politics in their own lives. And one should wonder what in the devil Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann ever did to qualify them to speak on political issues except start talking.
Chris Matthews and Karl Rove actually worked in political campaigns. Joe Scarborough was actually a politician. Why should Limbaugh be the leader of conservative America when he’s never done anything more than be a glorified disc jockey?
Because he’s entertaining. Because he can express his ideas well. Because he’s a clown, but a good one; not to be seriously considered, but to be taken seriously.
He can move people, and that’s politics. The pettiest federal bureaucrat is more important to governing, but few are more important to politics than Limbaugh, even when two-thirds of the population hates him.
As president, Obama shouldn’t acknowledge Limbaugh’s existence, any more than Obama should ask Barbra Streisand to be an adviser. But then Streisand doesn’t have U.S. representatives publicly groveling for her, and as a celebrity, Obama is fighting Limbaugh for influence of the American body politic.
Of course lobbying, smoke-filled rooms, pork and private galas still matter. Baby-kissing and hand-holding, too. But if you want to get anything worth having, you’d better get yourself seen (or heard) on more than C-SPAN. There’s more to power than power.
When former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich mentioned Oprah as a possible U.S. senate replacement, she said she could, she just didn’t want to. And you know, no one laughed.
Why should they? She’d just be taking a pay cut.