Ethics Quote Of The Month: Carol Roth

“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.

25 thoughts on “Ethics Quote Of The Month: Carol Roth

  1. So Abrams’ resume consists of a decade in the Georgia state legislature and a failed run for governor. That makes Mayor Pete look like the Terminator. Still, she’s an interesting compliment to VP Biden (not saying a good compliment), who has largely abandoned all pretense of being a moderate.

  2. THAT was someone’s idea of how to display Stacey Abrams? I do a LOT of photography, and I’ve done a fair amount of trying to shoot people to make them look heroic: servicemen, high officers, actors, a few politicians, etc. Unfortunately there’s no way to upload photos here or I’d put up a small sampling. I’ve shot with some beauties on the fly, including one friend from Europe who’s a model, Stacey Abrams is not someone I’d say should even be photographed much, or photographed much of. She’s a dumpy, pudding-faced 46-year old, never-married black woman who I’d describe as frankly repulsive now, and who was probably never better than plain. I’ve never heard her speak but I’m sure she has one of those voices that goes right through you like a spear. The first thought that pops into my head isn’t supermodel, it’s Nell Carter, the big black woman with the big black mouth and the ego to match. That’s not someone I think of as presidential material, and neither will most people who didn’t swoon over Michelle Obama.

    I get that not every politician is going to be model-level, and some of the best were downright ugly: gangly Abraham Lincoln, stocky, bulldog-like Winston Churchill, craggy-faced Georges Clemenceau (who once a portrait painter gave up on). However, no one ever tried to do more than photograph them in a more or less ordinary way (in Lincoln’s time photography was just getting started). No one ever tried to make them out to be greater than life, either, and those three men leave Ms. Abrams in the dust. They WERE genuine heroes. The thing is, they were too busy actually doing things to preen in front of a camera or bask in the adulation of simple-minded and swooning crowds. Even the legitimate heroes who loved the camera, like Patton and MacArthur didn’t pull stunts like that picture, or look for WORSHIP.

    I’ve shaken hands with Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer and WW2 triple ace Clarence “Bud” Anderson, but, great things though they achieved, they’re still men, not saints. They don’t need their images enhanced to make them look more than mortal.

    I guess the thing is, none of these guys I just named were seeking power for its own sake or as a personal path to celebrity, like Obama. They were faced with huge challenges, rose to meet them, and succeeded. I’m all for displaying and honoring legitimate heroism, up to a point. However, that should never become worship, even when the heroism is legitimate. What great things has Stacey Abrams accomplished? Not very many. Yet she wants to not only try to make herself look like something she isn’t, but grab for power and boast about how far she’s going to go? This is the last person who should get legitimate power, and the absolute last person who deserves to be worshipped.

      • MacArthur had major ego problems to say the least and was a mama’s boy. Aside from that his strategic intelligence during WW2. cannot be denied as well as his brilliance in planning the Inchon Landing.

    • Another Steve (Patreon’s Steven L. Miller) was a tad more succinct:

      Have any Wash Post reporters resigned in embarrassment this morning? No? Cool, so we’re all on board with supermodel Stacey Abrams then.


    • Actually, Abrams has a rather pleasant voice.

      I was thinking about the late Barbara Jordan, and what she would have said to any editor who suggested a photograph like that.

      • Barbara came to be in a whole different era. She also died relatively young (59) in 1996. Theoretically, had she not suffered from myriad health problems she could still be alive today. In fact Bill Clinton wanted to put her on the Supreme Court, but by the time he could nominate her she was too ill to accept. She was in all likelihood a closeted lesbian, and I wonder if she would have become much bolder or louder had she lived to see the 180 society has done on homosexuality. She sure as the devil didn’t think of herself as some kind of superhero, though, and would probably have said, “are you kidding?” if that kind of picture was suggested.

        • Re Barbara Jordan: “She was in all likelihood a closeted lesbian,” Indeed.

          Intimate personal information about Jordan wasn’t kept secret in the “closeting” sense so much as by a media that was significantly more professionally responsible than nowadays. [It’s hard now to believe that once upon a time, not everything about a celebrity’s or public figure’s private life, even if widely known, was actually published, which was why there was a Confidential magazine and dirt from rags like The National Enquirer was only passed along in whispers.]

          Thus Jordan was able to keep private both her MS and what was then referred to as her “life partner” of 30 years, Nancy Earl (who also became Jordan’s primary caregiver through her last years of leukemia). In the beginning of Jordan’s statewide races (the unsuccessful ones), advisers warned her to become more discreet and not bring any female companions on the campaign trail. However, they attended many public functions together and Jordan made it clear that they were a couple. For a black, southern woman of her generation, this was remarkable, not least because Earl was white … and both were widely remarked upon, in private.

          It was the public who were closeted.

      • Great hair?

        Funny story. I arrived in Annapolis in the fall of my 18th year. While patiently working on my long hair, I was met with the stifling humidity of my new environment. My hair rebelled in time for my student ID photo, a photo that would lead you to believe I was reeling from being punched in the face.

        Anyway, I joked that I looked like I had Bobby Kennedy’s hair. I thought I was being funny. My new classmate from Concord was not amused. In his mind, one could only be so lucky to have such hair.


  3. The Post piece is primarily about demographics and a particular group’s current lack of voter enthusiasm. When in doubt gin up an African American superhero to motivate voters otherwise unlikely to show up at the polls. If efforts like this fail, Joe Biden will turn into Walter Mondale circa 1984.

    • Black votes for black, and only turns out when black is at the top of the ticket. The blacks turned out in HUGE numbers in NJ to vote for Obama. Every black co-worker I know has a pic of him on their desk. However, despite Obama campaigning strong for Corzine the next year, and Corzine’s campaign putting up billboards with OBAMA front and center, Corzine off to the side, and an exhortation to “keep it going!” the numbers tanked, and so did Corzine. It was to be expected – he came in as a financial wizard who was supposed to correct all the state’s woes, but his only solution was to tell everyone “you’ll just have to pony up more of your paycheck to get the same services,” while increasing existing taxes, taxing things that hadn’t been previously taxed, and putting toll booths on roads where they hadn’t been since they were constructed.

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