“I am so sick of the media trying to create celebrity politicians. Public service should be about representing us as citizens, not creating stardom for the person in office. Nobody “deserves” to hold an office. The focus should be on policies, principles, experience, etc.”
—Radio host and author Carol Roth on Twitter, commenting on the recent Washington Post puff piece on Stacey Abrams
Yes, that ridiculous photo above really accompanied a Washington Post magazine profile on Stacy Abrams. It really did. A few excerpts from the article:
- “Whether or not she’s chosen as Biden’s running mate, she has moved into a unique space in American politics. DuBose Porter, former chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, told me she is “brilliant,” praise that comes in spite of what some view as a relatively thin political résumé”
“Some view!” It’s a ridiculously thin résumé for someone who, we are told, predicts that “she’ll be elected president by 2040.” It was a thin résumé for someone running for governor of Georgia.
- “When she is finally introduced the women shout and leap to their feet. Young women stand on chairs, camera phones flash. Abrams, who appears both amused and slightly disturbed by the fuss over her, takes control of the chaotic scene. I’ve witnessed this level of affection for very few political leaders in the Democratic circles I’ve been in since the 1980s. They have the last names Clinton (both Hillary and Bill), Sanders, Warren, Jackson and Obama (both Michelle and Barack).”
Con artists all.
- “Pandemonium ensues as she walks to the far left of the stage, like a runway supermodel, stops on a dime, poses, tilts her head slightly and smiles. Camera flashes explode. She next pivots and walks slowly to the center of the stage, freezes there and repeats the pose. Again, the flashes explode. Abrams is summoning her inner actress, and she is both enjoying the moment and getting through it to get to the conversation. She then pivots and walks to the far right of the stage, same. You wonder whether she has done this before, because it is not necessarily what one would expect from a 46-year-old politician who was nearly elected the first black female governor in U.S. history.”
Yup, that’s the first thing that leapt to my mind when I saw that photo: supermodel!
Roth is exactly right: the news media’s abuse of their influence to make politicians into celebrities and pop stars does many things, all of them bad:
- It elevates style over substance.
- It makes the American public dumber, encouraging them to look for the wrong qualities in their leaders and representatives.
- It helps charlatans and demagogues gain power that they are incompetent or unworthy to wield.
- It encourages cults of personality, which are antithetical to democracy.
- By erasing the boundaries between celebrities and public servants, it encourages those whose popularity has nothing to do with their public policy acumen or leadership skills to seek and attain elected office.
No, this isn’t a new phenomenon, just one that, as the Abrams photo shows, is fast approaching parody. The first celebrity candidates, before we had pop stars, were famous and adulated generals: Washington, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Taylor, John C. Fremont, U.S. Grant of course. At least they had leadership and management credentials. Jack Kennedy and his glamorous wife exploited their youth and good looks to get fawning press coverage, and when a former movie star, Ronald Reagan, was elected President, the protective safety rails between public service and media stardom were effectively erased. The candidacy and Presidency of Barack Obama provided the next step toward the abyss, and those erased lines made Donald Trump’s rise possible.
I have one final observation on Abrams. The fact that she would allow herself to be photographed like a Marvel superhero shows a delusional self image and shockingly poor judgment.