What is it about the National Endowment for the Arts and its suck-ups? First, Yosi Sergant tries transforming the NEA into an Obama campaign office, and now the head of the agency tells people that Barack Obama is the most powerful writer evah … or almost evah, except for that guy who became a dictator, seizing power “temporarily” to secure Rome back in the day. How did that work out for the Roman Empire, anyway?
OK, I’m sure that by now you are all wildly optimistic. Well, maybe not all of you. There might be a couple of you, way in the back, that are saying to yourselves, “That’s all very sweet, very arty, but what does it have to do with the budget of the NEA?”
My answer is pretty simple. There is a new president and a new NEA. The president first. This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.
Or maybe it’s Bill Ayers! I kid, I kid, but for a man who has dedicated himself to the arts, Landesman seems to forget other American Presidents who have written books before they took office. Scott points out Richard Nixon, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and even Bill Clinton.
Besides, Ronald Reagan was much more of an artist as a profession than Obama was. Did the arts community sing hosannas to Reagan as the dawning of a new age of artistic enlightenment? Reagan was also a President who not only understood American power, but used it to win a multigenerational war without firing a shot in anger. (Reagan also wrote essays and many of his own pre-presidential speeches, collected in the book Reagan: In His Own Hand.) In contrast, Landesman’s affections seem to rest on a President who wants to dispel the notion that America is the most powerful nation on earth rather than celebrate it or use the power effectively.
Winston Churchill was arguably the most powerful political writer of the last century — and he wrote about power, its use, and its limitations in several different projects. True, he wasn’t an American President, but he led the British Empire through its existential conflict in World War II and presided over its decline. His works have much more lasting consequence than any of the presidential tomes listed above, especially the two forgettable volumes from Obama. And not to put too much stock into wild speculation on ghost writers, but unlike some national leaders (Pulitzer Prize winner John Kennedy comes to mind here), no one ever doubted for a moment that Churchill wrote his own material, having established himself long before as a historian.
But Landesman’s suck-up has a more disturbing element. Why is this hosanna appearing on an official government website? Has it become the job of the NEA to communicate how wonderful a Dear Leader is? It seems as though the NEA’s transformation into a propaganda outfit for Team Obama didn’t start or end with Sergant after all.
When Caesar rode through Rome in his triumph, the slave holding the laurel above his head whispered in Caesar’s ear, “Remember that you are mortal.” Apparently, the operative phrase in Obama’s administration is, “Remember that you are a god.”
Update: Back at The Corner, Eisenhower also wrote his own memoir of battle.