I wrote about the tribute paid by National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman to President Obama in “Rocco’s Modern Life.” Landesman hailed Obama as “the first president that [Ed.: ouch!] actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln[.]” Seeking to move Obama to an even more world-historic plane, Landesman also saluted Obama as “the most powerful writer since Caesar.” I noted that It would be hard to pack so much ignorance into one short paragraph if one were really trying. .
After we wrote about it here, Landesman’s speech drew a lot of attention and commentary. Now Rocco responds:
First, my comments about the President as author and the references to Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, et al. I’m vulnerable here and probably just wrong. [Ed.: Apparently he hasn't had time to check it out yet!]. Barack Obama wrote, on his own, the manuscript for his first book and went looking for a publisher. [Ed.:Not exactly, but let it pass.] Other presidential works have very different provenances. [Ed.: Well said!] One important one, it is generally accepted, was written by a ghostwriter without credit. [Ed.: He's so discreet!] Others were written with heavy staff input in the way of researchers and editors. [Ed.: Again, well said!] That being said, to state that these other presidents did not write their own books is unprovable and in several cases, probably incorrect. [Ed.: Probably!] And for what it’s worth, yes, Grant wrote a great book, and Lincoln, an excellent writer, never wrote a whole book per se, his writings were rather collected in one. [Ed.: When you get a chance, refresh yourself on run-on sentences.] Score one for the prosecution.
If we’re keeping track, I think it’s more like “score ten for the prosecution.” Rocco isn’t much of a writer and, like the guy in the Sam Cooke song, he doesn’t know much about history. But he knows Obama! And like the guy in the Sam Cooke song, he does know that he loves him.
Rocco is not done yet. He also returns to his comparison of Obama with Caesar. Rocco suggests he was misunderstood; he was just funnin’:
As for Julius Caesar? I made a deliberately outlandish remark, with the delicious (for me, anyway) twist that the last thing people think of with Julius Caesar is that he was a writer. I enjoyed the conceit and never imagined that it would be taken literally. If I have to edit every remark I make because someone somewhere might misunderstand, I’m going to become very dull very fast.
So a comparison of Obama with Adolf Hitler would have served Rocco as well as the comparison with Caesar. It’s a funny thing. The last thing people think of “with” Hitler is his work as an autobiographer.
Rocco really need not fear the lack of an editor. My guess is that Rocco is about as capable an editor as he is a writer. It’s the bootlicking, the ignorance, and the higher illiteracy that are Rocco’s problems, not the lack of an editor.
He need not worry about our losing interest in his pensées either. Those of us concerned about the politicization of the federal cultural agencies and intrigued by the phenomenon of Obama worship will continue to find Rocco of interest. Even if he loses his taste for delicious twists.
JOHN adds: At risk of piling on, this guy really is a dope. “[T]he last thing people think of with Julius Caesar is that he was a writer”? Unlike Scott, I never studied Latin, but even I know that Caesar is widely regarded as one of the greatest Latin prose writers, and that generations of Latin students have plowed through his Commentaries: “All Gaul is divided into three parts,” and so on. When you talk about political leaders who were also great writers, Caesar really is the gold standard. Rocco heads the National Endowment for the Arts? Unbelievable.
PLUS, two updates to this story: IowaHawk, a comic genius, channels Julius Caesar’s reaction to Landesman’s comparison, in highly profane rapper-jive style. And I learned today that Rocco Landesman’s aunt is lyricist Fran Landesman, who wrote the words to “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” I’m guessing Scott didn’t know that, or he might have taken it easier on Rocco.