Presidential glamour

Writing in forbes.com, Virginia Postrel offers insightful comment on the glamour factor in politics. One central point is that glamour is an ephemeral, psychological entity, that tends to evaporate when conflated with the down-and-dirty realities of political decision-making. And indeed, one of the reasons of the mystique that is still linked to the Kennedy name is due to the untimely deaths of JFK and RFK, and the dreams of what might have been.

Devoted as this blog is to that contender for the top spot on the “least glamorous presidents of the 20th century” list, Calvin Coolidge, I wonder how healthy the American obsession with glamour in politics really is. Since the 1930s, we have seen an unprecedented rise in the executive power amassed by increasingly “imperial” presidents. While few were as glamorous as JFK, Ronald Reagan, or Barack Obama, one wonders if the public adoration of glamorous change agents does not add to the unhealthy inflationary effect the powerful office has on their self-esteem. Glamour inspires yearning, and the Constitution never intended for the people to invest their hopes, dreams and desires in the person of the president. A glamorous figure will find it harder to acknowledge that he is “not a great man”, carried on a wave of adulation to carry out grand schemes.

Postrel may be right in stating (regretting?) that full disclosure and widespread cynicism act as an antidote, yet this writer feels that the American republic would be better served by unglamorous public servants who, in Coolidge’s words, “do the day’s work” without having to satisfy the public’s need for glamour. That is better left to rock stars and actors.

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