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Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 2001 / 16 Teves, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Taking the celebrity out of politics -- AT LAST, the decade of celebrity politics is coming to an end. Just this week MTV announced it won't host a lavish inaugural ball for George W. Bush as it did for Bill Clinton twice. Last Saturday, Fleetwood Mac staged a surprise farewell at the White House for Bill and for the era of pop politics.

But there is no better sign that the invasion of the beautiful people has ended than the demise of George. The publisher of the magazine launched by John F Kennedy Jr. five years ago is finally shutting it down. Always in danger of folding, George was kept alive after Kennedy's tragic death in a plane crash in 1999 as a kindness to his family. John F. Kennedy Jr. was clearly a good guy. But I could not be happier that the era of George is over.

The post-mortems say the magazine died because it failed to achieve its goals. This has it exactly backward. George failed because it achieved them. Kennedy said he wanted a "post-partisan" political magazine which trivialized ideological differences, treating politicians and intellectuals like any other celebrity.

It's not surprising that the glamorous son of our most glamorous president - appearing on "Most Sexy" lists and magazine covers - could think ideological differences are trivial. For Kennedy and his magazine, a celebrity was a celebrity. He saw Arnold Schwarzenegger and (Uncle) Ted at Thanksgiving dinners and Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Cindy Crawford at cocktail parties. As far as George was concerned, everyone was famous for being famous. Who cares if they disagree on politics?

He invited Larry Flynt to sit at his table at the White House correspondents' dinner, as if the vile man were just another celebrity. One issue of George featured an interview with Madonna and another with Fidel Castro.

George's was an editorial approach that leavened Warren Beatty, campaign finance reform and the top 10 inaugural gowns worn by first ladies into the same "fascinating" stew. Such cynicism was passed off as buzz. For example, in one issue, JFK Jr. posed nude. In the same issue he wrote an editorial letter criticizing his cousins Michael and Joseph as "poster boys for bad behavior."

Kennedy can be forgiven for believing George would be a hit. After all, he was tapping into something very real in the culture. Perhaps because Bill Clinton blurred so many other lines (between wrong and right, between truth and lie, between pants up and pants down), we forget how much he blurred the line between Tinsel Town and Washington.

As David Carr of observed recently, "When JFK Jr. first observed President Clinton on national TV playing sax or revealing his underwear choice, he was onto something that celebrity and politics were merging."

Indeed, Hollywood set up a base camp at the White House. Clinton took calls from Billy Crystal, Christopher Reeves and Richard Dreyfuss et al. - as if he had reason to. The producer of both Clinton's campaign video and the sitcom "Designing Women" was forever immortalized in a photo jumping up and down with Markie Post on a bed in the Lincoln bedroom.

Clinton brought Sharon Stone to a summit meeting in Vancouver and later held a conference on health care for Barbra Streisand and friends. When Barbra learned that Sharon visited the president more than her, she reportedly fumed. "What does Sharon Stone know about policy?"

Nothing of course. But neither do the rest of them, which is fine in the movies where faking it is everything. Superman can't really fly and there is no Star Fleet Academy either (this bums me out greatly). Movie stars and other pretty celebrities are very good at pretending to know about politics. But the reality is that most of politics requires years of toil in extremely unglamorous fields.

More importantly, politics is as much about disagreement as it is about agreement. Politicians and activists generally become famous because they stand for something. And to say that there's as little difference between Jesse Helms and Ted Kennedy as there is between Madonna and Britney Spears is not just ludicrous, it's pernicious, since it suggests that political differences don't matter.

Especially in the wake of the 2000 election, the last thing we want is a magazine that cynically says politics is just showbiz. Which is why I think the success of NBC's "West Wing" is such a healthy sign, its insipid liberalism aside. Where George said that actual movie stars were serious political thinkers in their own right, "West Wing" returns us to the idea that, at best, they just play them on TV.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


01/08/01: Unfairly 'borking' Ashcroft
01/04/01: Want to be more efficient? Increase number of politicians
01/02/01: Whole lotta exploitin' goin' on
12/28/00: Hypocrisy police pounce on Clinton book deal
12/26/00: Sometimes, it's good to be a Grinch
12/21/00: Though symbolic, Bush's diversity sends a message
12/19/00: Gore concedes --- but why did it take so long?
12/14/00: Is 'Queer as Folk' what we asked for?
12/11/00: Election mess hardly a 'civics lesson'
12/07/00: Clinton's tacky legacy
12/05/00: Marriage civilizes the manly beast
11/30/00: Gore's speech more pompous posturing
11/28/00: Rabble-rousing Dems act irresponsibly
11/27/00: Duking it out with democracy
11/16/00: Issues irrelevant to most voters
11/14/00: Gore's us-vs.-them campaign
11/10/00: Dot-com disasters missing brand-name success
11/06/00: Conventional wisdom turns with the polls
11/03/00: Clinton photo, appropriately, hits below the belt
11/01/00: Electoral college ensures democracy
10/30/00: New Yorkers, media letting Hillary off the hook
10/23/00: Gore needs to put first things first
10/20/00: Treatment of Farrakhan glosses over odd issues
10/16/00: Secrets of election can be found in 'Star Trek'
10/12/00: Arafat hardly 'provoked' into violence
10/10/00: Undecided voters may be ignorant, not discriminating
10/06/00: The importance of character isn't debatable
10/03/00: Conservatives are the true friends of science You know why?
09/29/00: Symbolic 'born alive' vote makes sense
09/25/00: Conservatives adopt abandoned liberalism
09/21/00: Ventura's media backpedaling makes fiction of his new book
09/18/00: Tough questions target Hillary Clinton's elitism
09/14/00: Hollywood morality to blame
09/11/00: Specifically, AlGore's detailed plan is meaningless
09/07/00: Time-honored tradition: Insult the press
09/05/00: Scouting out justice
08/30/00: The ADL's historical revisionism
08/28/00: Sitcoms will survive, post-"Survivor"
08/24/00: Candidates' choice of movies shows refreshing honesty
08/21/00: An AlGore victory? Only if dead birds fly
08/17/00: AlGore is doomed, but Dems ignore warning signs
08/15/00: Proud and true: He's a Jew
08/10/00: Exploiting religion would be tragic mistake
08/08/00: Cheney serves up tempting appetizer
08/03/00: Republicans now 'nice,' media still nasty
08/01/00: Presidential campaign could use some anti-metric mania
07/27/00: Government shouldn't subsidize Reform Party
07/25/00: Campaign finance 'reform' gives too much power to liberal media
07/20/00: Hillary slur speaks volumes
07/18/00: AlGore's McCarthyism
07/11/00: 'Survivor' shows hypocrisy of animal rights groups
07/05/00: McDonald's deserves a break today
07/03/00: On July Fourth, time to reflect on America's founding
06/28/00: America bashing becomes international pastime
06/23/00: If Fonda is sorry, let her say so
06/06/00: NAPSTER exposes artists' hypocrisy
04/18/00: Not much difference between TV journalists, TV actors

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