Politicians Are Different From You and Me
The current issue of The Week magazine certainly has the right headline: “Hey, Look at Me!”But the picture was not of Congressman Anthony Weiner and his little package. The picture below the headline showed Sarah Palin and her great big Harley-Davidson. She is fully clothed, wrapped in leather actually.“Hey, Look at Me” could be the motto of modern politics, particularly male politicians. The name of the game has always been seduction of individuals, of crowds. That is what politicians do. I’ve traveled with a lot of them long enough to know that unlike the characters in “Toy Story,” they come alive only as the crowd gathers. That is the nature of their business, then they withdraw, often in silence, to prepare for the next encounter.Under our system, politicians are not chosen by “the people” or the “bosses” or the media. They are self-selected. John F. Kennedy was really the first of the self-selected. Son of a movie mogul, he understood the power of flesh and he used it every chance he got. If you remember, one of his standard campaign photos was a picture of himself, bare-chested at the wheel of his patrol boat, PT-109. His opponent in 1960, Richard Nixon, didn’t get it; another naval lieutenant, Nixon’s war picture was him standing at attention in his dress blues.But Kennedy did not stop there. One picture that sticks with me is him in a steaming bath — trying to soften his constant back pain. Sitting around him, on the floor, on the toilet, leaning against the moist wall were the chosen few, wearing suits and ties. These were business meetings, and whatever one thinks of Freud, Kennedy the naked chief was exercising total power over his sweaty minions. JFK also changed shirts five times a day to keep looking fresh. When he changed, he would simply hold out his arms while an aide or whoever happened to be in a room with him, took off the old and carefully put on the new. (I more than once watched his brother Robert do the same thing.)Well, they had bodies, the young brothers. Lyndon Johnson, no great body his, took the Kennedy trick a step further, holding meetings while he was doing other business on the toilet. The euphemism for that is “earthy.” And then, of course, there was the famous photo of LBJ pulling up his shirt to show reporters the scars after a gall bladder operation.Next, Richard Nixon was a more modest man, but would sometimes change clothes for evening functions as he gave orders to trusted aides. Then there was Jimmy Carter, running in a race in what could pass as underwear and collapsing in front of the whole world.
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