June 27, 2009

Rock-Star Pols and Deterring Regular Folks from Government

Justin Katz

Mark makes an interesting point in the weekend Steyn:

The real bubble is a consequence of big government. The more the citizenry expect from the state, the more our political class will depend on ever more swollen Gulf Emir–sized retinues of staffers hovering at the elbow to steer you from one corner of the fishbowl to another 24/7. "Why are politicians so weird?" a reader asked me after the Sanford press conference. But the majority of people willing to live like this will, almost by definition, be deeply weird. So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits. It's just a question of how well they disguise it. Writing about Michael Jackson a few years ago, I suggested that today's A-list celebs were the equivalent of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria or the loopier Ottoman sultans, the ones it wasn't safe to leave alone with sharp implements. But, as Christopher Hitchens says, politics is showbusiness for ugly people. And a celebrified political culture will inevitably throw up its share of tatty karaoke versions of Britney and Jacko.

The retinues to which Steyn refers are the staffs that, for example, must accompany President Obama on a jaunt out of the White House for ice cream and, for another example, that Governor Mark Sanford sought to escape with his liaisons. With the former example, I'm beginning to think that may be part of the political point. As Steyn notes, it's laughable to think the wave of Obama's entourage permits him to truly intermingle with "regular folk," but it does create a scene — not unlike a rock-star sighting. Although not beneficial to the public that elected him, such scenes are certainly worth the cost to a politician who is so dependent on his image.

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What is new about this? Politicians before mass media had to be able to attract a crowd with their voice and hold them. Then came the radio voice. Then the television persona. Now the what? It is changing rapidly no? I don't see how this is about government excusively. Media changes and vastly wealhy and influential media stars are born. Didn't you just have a top ten list of RI righties? How many in Gov?

Posted by: David at June 27, 2009 6:24 PM

"So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits."

Justin needs to clarify terms here.

Is the U.S. a "big government"?
When did it become a "big government"? Was it a "big government" when Abraham Lincoln was its chief politician?
Does that make Abraham Lincoln a creep and/or a misfit?
Has it been a "big government" ever since that time?
Does that mean that all national political leaders since at least the Civil War are creeps and misfits?

Yet,I'm fairly sure that Justin worships at the First Church of Ronald Reagan while sitting in the Ayn Rand pew.

Once more, the poor man is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 27, 2009 7:38 PM

Uh, um, OTL is right on this one. Now that I crossed that bridge…

Interesting point? Consequence of big government? Actually, a much better argument is that it’s a consequence of the celebrity culture that has more to do with the pursuit of money and fame than the size of government. True, big government is more apt to have more creeps and misfits. But the same can be said of big business or actually big… anything. More people, more bad people.

Your comment about Obama’s entourage also applies to powerful people of regardless of political affiliation. You write as if Obama is a rare politician being dependent on his image. The line between politics and entertainment is fuzzy at best. And that is a consequence of the big money and power associated with both.

Attempting to use the weirdness and tragedy of Michael Jackson as a political criticism does not work. You could have used it as a springboard for a post on faith, family or celebrity culture but on the size of government?

Posted by: msteven at June 28, 2009 5:20 PM

OTL is right about what? The federal government has been too big for quite a few decades, to my mind, although I'm not sure I'd go back as far as the Civil War. OTL proves only that he feels at liberty to pass snide one-liners based on caricatures.

"Worships at the First Church of Ronald Reagan"? By what criteria? Moreover, it's a dreadfully erroneous view of the political sphere to suppose that I'm a Randian. For OTL's snipe to hold, one must assume that conservatives who see Reagan as the best president in quite some time therefore are unquestioning of the policies of the time or the context in which he was forced to operate.

Celebrity culture and big government are inextricable, in this context. One cannot imagine handing totalitarian powers to a class of regular Joes; cults of personality are requisite. I'm not claiming Obama to be unique in this --- all Presidents attempt to cut an image --- but Obama is exponentially more dependent upon his image (not the least because of his limited record) and exponentially more dependent upon a friendly media (which depends most of all on image).

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 28, 2009 7:23 PM

You are right that OTL excels at snide one-liners based on caricatures while ignoring the issue on which he has been proven incorrect.

But I don’t know how you can say that the federal government got too big within the last few decades ago. What about the New Deal era? I also don’t see you can say celebrity culture and big government are entangled in any context. The requisite cults of personality you refer to is independent of the amount of money spent by the government. The reason image is such a factor is due to the size and scope of the media, a media which is not controlled by government. It is true that the liberal bias in the media helps Democratic leaders but that liberal bias has not changed rather the power, size and scope of the media.

It makes no sense that a regular Joe could not be elected or handed totalitarian powers is indicative of a relationship between celebrity culture and big government. Big media? Maybe so.

Posted by: msteven at June 29, 2009 2:09 PM

* I didn't say "the last few decades," I said "quite a few decades," which indicates a period better counted in increments of 10 years than increments of 100 years (centuries). The New Deal certainly falls within that range.

* On the celebrity/big government thing, I'd suggest you consider the cult of personality angle as applied from state to state. The more powerful the individual, the more his or her celebrity status plays within and beyond the media. No matter how big the media might be, if the mayor of Eastburb has little more power than the average citizen, then he'll be of little more interest than the average citizen.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 29, 2009 2:35 PM

You are trying to associate both political and celebrity power with the amount of money the government spends. I just don’t buy it. First of all, in our form of government, - the leader be it mayor, governor or President yields far less power in reality than is portrayed by the media. (i.e: effect on the economy). Using your example, that implies you support a pure democracy where all decisions are made by popular vote, thereby no citizen has more power than anyone else. Regardless, I stick by my view that associating our celebri-fied culture with big government rather than big media does not work.

Posted by: msteven at June 29, 2009 3:57 PM

* Not the amount of money, but the amount of influence and power.

* The choice isn't between a government of our current size and homogenizing democracy.

* I'm not saying that the power created the celebrification in a cause-effect relationship. I'm suggesting that the political power inherent in big government increasingly requires a president to be a "star" in a celebrity-obsessed culture.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 29, 2009 4:12 PM

"I'm suggesting that the political power inherent in big government increasingly requires a president to be a "star" in a celebrity-obsessed culture."

---- I don't see how the Presidential power inherent in 'big government' as different than Presidential power in 'small government'. I also still believe that the celebrity-star status of politicans is much more a function of the celebrity-obsessed independent media than government big or small.

Posted by: msteven at June 29, 2009 5:20 PM

Nice dodge, Justin,
You obfuscated the argument. Let me restate a few questions:
1. When did the USA become a "big government"?

2. What criteria have you applied to determine "big government"

3. Was it a "big government" when Abraham Lincoln was its chief politician?

4. If so, does that make Abraham Lincoln a creep and/or a misfit?

5. Has it been a "big government" ever since that time?

6. Does that mean that all national political leaders since at least the Civil War are creeps and misfits? Since the US became a big government - you set the date for that happening - which of our presidents has been a creep and a misfit?

These are honest questions based upon your agreement with Mark's, "So big government more or less guarantees rule by creeps and misfits. It's just a question of how well they disguise it", and you accuse me of snide one liners as a means of backing off of your asinine assertion. Even msteven sees this when he says that "OTL is right about this one." In any event, Justin, you have not answered the questions engendered by your own statement. Why not try a 1,2,3,4,5,6 reply to the above. Need more crayons?

One additional question, Is the Catholic Church a big government? Would that make the Pope a creep and a misfit?

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 29, 2009 10:08 PM


Quit the dodge ball and let us know:
1. Your criteria for "Big Government" and when the US became one - "Quite a few decades" does nothing to clarify the question and serves only as a dodge to avoid responsibility for your own words.

2. If we were not "big government" during the Civil War, when did we become one, Theodore Roosevelt's administration when we spoke softly and carried a big stick? Was Teddy a "creep and a misfit"?

3. If not T.R.'s administration, then when? How about a name and date so as to add some meaning to words which you so carelessly tossed around.

You can call me snide. I accept praise from Caesar here, but your words cry for clarification.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 29, 2009 10:36 PM


We're talking past each other. I'm not saying that big government creates a celebrity culture. I'm saying that increasing power and prominence of government figures requires them increasingly to play a role in celebrity culture. There's nothing new in that, and chief elected officials are almost celebrities by definition. What I'm suggesting as if not new, then embellished, is Obama's use of his image as a celebrity (in a rock-star sense) as a self-reinforcing mechanism. He's not a guy who happens to hold a very powerful job (one thinks of the would-like-to-have-a-beer-with-Bush polls); he's a man who goes on tinseltown dates and of whom artists make Warholesque representations.



You're talking to yourself. The precise date at which the federal government became "big" is irrelevant to the observation that it currently is so. My words aren't the ones for which you're seeking clarity, but Steyn's. I quoted a passage from him and made a further point on one aspect of it.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 30, 2009 8:42 AM

Oh, I know I'm talking to myself as "none are so deaf as those who will not hear". You used Steyn's words to make a point and when you were called out on it you refused to clarify. It's like hiding behind a rock and throwing stones.

Still no answer to my questions, obfuscation instead. So be it!

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 30, 2009 6:15 PM
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