The limits and perils of rock stardom

America has never elected a “rock-star” candidate as president. John Kennedy more of less predated the rock-star concept and, in any event, cultivated a gravitas that was inconsistent with that sort of candidacy. Bill Clinton was less concerned about gravitas but (whatever his private accomplishments) didn’t make many swoon on the 1992 campaign trail.
Barack Obama makes them swoon. And given the contemporary culture, plus his excellent intellect and political skill, he may be able to go all the way as a rock-star candidate. The matter is not free from doubt, however, especially recently. And the one thing Obama does not need is rock-star advisers.
Which brings us to Samantha Power. From the beginning of her book-tour-from-hell, the reports I read reminded me of that staple of light MSM journalism, the hotel room interview with a rock or movie star. I didn’t report this impression, though, because it wasn’t clear to me that the nature of the portrayal was Power’s fault. The MSM’s penchant for presenting reasonably attractive female public figures in a “People Magazine” style should not be underestimated. The MSM even tried it with Condoleezza Rice, albeit without much success given her dignity (Samantha Power is certainly correct when she says of Rice “I’m nothing like her”).
As the book tour continued, however, it became obvious that Power was, in fact, playing the rock star. She seemed to cultivate an “edgy” image, using the “f” word during interviews and making candid off-the-cuff negative assessments of Secretary Rice and Gordon Brown (never mind the comment about Hillary Clinton which arguably should have been kept off-the-record by the interviewer), along with vaguely offensive remarks such as “so much of [the discussion] is about: ‘Is [Obama] going to be good for the Jews?’” Most telling of all, perhaps, was her self-proclaimed status as “the genocide chick.”
Stardom, of course, is a hierarchical concept. Thus, in addition to the steady stream of unplugged comments, the tour featured reminders of how plugged-in Power is to the brighter entities in her galaxy — basketball games with George Clooney, late night text messages from Obama (the ultimate rock star). It turned out that she was even the inspiration for a play.
We were also reminded of her appearance, another element of rock stardom (a magazine called Men’s Vogue named her one of the most beautiful women in the world). It’s impossible for me to say whether she cultivated that reminder, although this picture (if taken in conjunction with the interview where it appears) suggests that she did.
Power “resigned” ostensibly over the Clinton comment which, again, arguably should not have been counted against her given her effort to keep it off the record. But one strongly suspects that it was Power’s conduct throughout the tour that did her in. Hurling expletives and snarky comments around during interviews may be fine for Rod Stewart and Madonna, but not for a trusted foreign policy adviser. Obama needs to be associated with advisers who possess dignity (as he does) and gravitas, not advisers who come across as frivolous. He is rock star enough for the campaign.
From my perspective, Power’s antics were something of a side-show. My real concern is with her substantive views, including her record of hostile comments about Israel. As we got to know her better on her tour, it became easier to understand how she might have come to make certain of her substantively problematic comments. For example, it must have seemed quite edgy to challenge a New York Times writer over a headline that attempted to mitigate the slander that the Israelis engaged in a massacre at Jenin, and for not making the headline about alleged Israeli war crimes.
But the real concern is not the edginess, but rather the underlying world view. The Obama campaign, so far as appears, was fine with that right through the end — the end of Power’s public involvement with the campaign, that is.
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