The Corner

Obama’s Man at the NEA

From my column today:

[Yossi] Sergant was thrown under the bus, and the September 22 memo put an end to the story for the supportive media.

But the story continues. Last week, Landesman gave the keynote address to the 2009 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference. In fairness, Landesman did not reaffirm the White House and NEA’s obvious initial intent to turn the allegedly independent government agency into an adjunct of Obama’s “Organizing for America” operation. He was more subtle than that.

Instead, Landesman embraced a timeless tactic of power politics. He debased himself with incandescently vulgar obsequiousness to his supreme leader. “There is a new president and a new NEA,” he proclaimed. “This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.”

After more fawning praise for the “Optimist in Chief,” he added that proof of Obama’s desire to take the NEA in exciting new directions was the president’s “out-of-left-field choice to head the NEA, a signal I certainly took to mean he wasn’t interested in business-as-usual for the arts.” One must trust that Landesman’s interpretation of his own appointment is accurate.

Let us pause to reflect on Landesman’s odd — by which I mean absurd — historical analysis. Obama has written two books, one good, the other a plodding concatenation of political clichés and bromides. Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, published by Mark Twain, were a literary triumph. Woodrow Wilson wrote many books of great import but of less literary worth. JFK won a Pulitzer for one of his books — the one he didn’t write, alas. But Richard Nixon wrote plenty, as did Herbert Hoover, including two definitive texts, one on mining, the other on fishing.

Oh, and Lincoln never wrote any books.

In short, Landesman doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But he does know what he’s doing.

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