Times are indeed changing. In what way and since when, you ask? Let me tell you. The change has come since the middle of the 20th century. Dwight D. Eisenhower began this change with a wave of celebrity brought on by our success in WW II. Such things had probably happened before with popular heroes like the dashing, fully pompadoured Andrew Jackson, tall and straight. Jackson had also a solid resume of making the world safe for non-native people in search of real estate. And the model may also have been established when William Randolph Hearst furnished schlock PR for Teddy Roosevelt and manufactured a war for him to be a hero in.
Hearst even transposed Teddy from a foot soldier dogging up a hill in the Caribbean to a painting of him on a horse brandishing a saber like Napoleon, who no doubt received some overly flattering likenesses himself, complete with the laurel wreath and robes of Roman Emperors. But Eisenhower was only the opening act. It was time for the cult of celebrity. Elvis, or Colonel Tom Parker, was proving at the same time that you could market the trappings of celebrity. And John Kennedy also proved it.
Radio might have killed the pop star, but television made the political future of the first matinee idol president. And Nixon helped. Bill Maher has pointed out that in those first televised debates, Dick Nixon was guilty of the greatest unpardonable sin a politician can commit in America: he looked bad on television. And he did look bad [Ed.-Like Fred Thompson.], haggard, apparently unshaven, and Kennedy looked so slick and chic and with a heroic, Byronic mane of hair. Kennedy cut such a good figure that the substance of the debate was rendered moot.
Nixon could have been relaying marching orders from the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant and Kennedy could have been reading grooming tips from 'Esquire' magazine--the results would have been the same. Besides, people would probably prefer the style and fashion info anyway. It would be more immediately useful. And isn't that what it elections have come to be about? By 1960, the stage was set, and Kennedy won.
But then a fluke happened...or maybe not. Whether you're a conspiracy buff or not, believe what you want to believe happened at Dealy Plaza on November 22nd, 1963. Have it your way. Nowadays, you can vote by picking up a tabloid in the supermarket line as you wait to be suckered into buying whatever you have been directed to by 2-out-of-3 doctors, or the latest reports on oatmeal lowering your cholesterol--whatever makes you feel better about yourself. You can be a nice, trusting person who only wants to share in the celebrity lifestyle for a few brief, but shining moments and select your copy of the slick and glossy 'People.'
Ironically, 'People' hardly ever mentions real people or real lives. Or, you can pick the pulp tabloids and look at UFO's and babies born with tattoos of Elvis full displayed, and hang out on the grassy knoll while you read it, thinking about what happened that day in Dallas at Dealey Plaza in 1963. But it is not important compared to the fallout. Celebrity was thrown into jeopardy and chaos. The beautiful, wealthy Lochinvar king, son of a movie producer and former Ambassador to the Court of St. James--a king maker--was cast down from the mountain. And soon the mountain was ascended by a man who was a great back room deal-maker, but ugly as a Basset Hound's elbow. Times were perilous for the beautiful Cult of Fame icons, and the road back was a long and treacherous one. Let me prove it with just one fact.
Nixon won the presidency, once on his own, and once with some good old Republican rail grease. It would later be brought to a sweeter science than professional fight-fixing by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Nixon's fiasco was as ugly as he was, and seemingly as bad for the country as Kennedy's. So bad in fact, that Jimmy Carter actually won next time, looking short and anything but presidential, on the strength of being a good and honest man (which he was and is).
Carter showed the country the 'error of its ways.' [Ed.--Then all the pod people revealed themselves and voted Republican again.] The confusion cleared-up and the long nightmare was over. But good men with good-intentions aren't suited to wade through this glittering mire of willful ignorance and slavish hero worship that we call the modern era. People don't want to study the issues and put time in and themselves out there by bearing the responsibility of a reputable, qualified candidate who can speak with an informed opinion on the issues. May I introduce Ronald Reagan?
Oh, that's right. You already know him. [Ed.--China has Mao, we have Ronnie.] He used to be in pictures, and the host of 'General Electric Theater' and 'Death Valley Days', both titles being a weirdly and aptly named premonition of things to come. Why, Reagan was a star--sort of--and also a celebrity. And Reagan was Governor of California, a bonafide conservative who had solved that state's problems by squeezing the budget so heartlessly and tight that it had thrown the mentally ill out of hospitals unmedicated where they walked the streets mumbling to unseen companions and making LA and San Francisco even more entertaining places to vacation.
But Reagan looked presidential, like a handsome father out of 50's tv. And who cared what he said or did? If he wanted to fire striking air traffic controllers it was okay, too. Hell, he worked a hard 24 hour week smiling benevolently, and he deserved some indulgence and amusement for it. He even called his wife 'Mommy.' He was sweet and American as apple pie. Oh, by the way, did I forget Gerald Ford? No--but who cares? Nobody cared at the time either.
And on to Bush's Daddy. He looked presidential, too, despite that annoying voice, but he would have to do for four years. He was rich and tall and he had plenty of hair. His only problem came when he was faced down by the most charming sonofabitch since John Kennedy, and the most savvy politician since Lyndon Johnson, a man also tall and with plenty of hair, who happened to be brilliant as well. And who could sidestep the opposition through eight-years just like Bugs Bunny going toe-to-toe with Elmer Fudd?
A man who was an unknown from a practically unknown state, who solved the problem of the American Cult of Celebrity by becoming a cult himself. Clinton has one of the biggest cults whose celebrity continues into today. It is a wonderful thing to watch Britt Hume's face on Fox News as he talks about Bill Clinton. To this day he can't figure it out. It's like watching Donald Pleasance, the psychiatrist in the 'Halloween' movies after he lays out Michael Myers with a revolver, and he keeps getting up again. Sometimes, Britt has actually asked aloud, seemingly to himself, no one, or both: "Why do they keep talking about him?" Well, get ready Britt, for 'Halloween II,' coming soon to a theater near you.
And, now, to the star of our show. George W. Bush was a failure who was transformed. It had to be alchemy or some art even darker, and surely a miracle. Look closely into his eyes under times of stress like actual, though rare, news conferences. Look at the weakness in the eyes as he decides whether to go on reading to the children or run to the helicopter. You can see the high school cheerleader before he became a facsimile of a Texas cowboy. Mexico's ex-president Vincente Fox nailed it when he called him a 'windshield cowboy' whom he said could not sit a horse. My heroes have always been cowboys, as Willie Nelson said. Willie also said he knew a cowboy when he saw one, "and he ain't no cowboy." If Bush had been Michael Myers, he'd have stayed down with one paint ball.
Which brings me to the end, and to a sad lament: there are some good candidates this time who do not have a prayer of being president: Biden, Richardson, Dodd, and perhaps most of all, Dennis Kucinich. They all have great ideas, but they don't look like they stepped out of 'Vanity Fair,' and And that is the sad thing. Bet on guys who look like the Man From Glad, like Mitt Romney [Ed.--Brilliant analogy, seriously!], or celebrities like a Fred Thompson, although having no hair might hinder him. Being unqualified and knowing nothing, however, will scarcely be a hindrance. And then there is Edwards. Anyone with that much hair should not be questioned or criticized about the price of their haircut.
Women say Obama has a good body, but he is being taken to the wood shed by the real star of the show. I'm not talking about Hillary. Well sort of, but not exactly. Barring a surprise guest with something like an Oscar, an Emmy, a Nobel Peace Prize, or all three, Michael Myers just may be stirring. I think I see fingers trembling as he begins to tighten his grip on the knife. Look out Britt Hume, Bill's just stepped outside the office in Harlem, and he's walking this way. I see him lurching past the Apollo, taking a moment for a little Electric Slide, lapsing into the Funky Chicken, gaining strength all the time. He's moonwalking, Britt! Can you believe it!? God, you've got to love him. Or at least I do. Maybe my heroes have always been rockers. But never cheerleaders.