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for art's sake

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 05, 2009

When I tell you that Rocco Landesman sees Barack Obama as "the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar," you probably won't be surprised to learn that Rocco Landesman owes his current job-- as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts-- to an appointment by Barack Obama.

To be fair, I should make it clear that Landesman was not saying that Obama is the most powerful prose stylist since Caesar. Not quite. He was saying that Obama is a powerful man-- one who wields great political influence-- who also writes books. Like Julius Caesar. Right.

Also like Hitler and Mao, to name a few other powerful men who wrote books. Or Winston Churchill, if you prefer to avoid comparisons with the arch-villains of history. But Landesman did not make those comparisons; he felt it necessary to reach back 2,000 years to find a historical figure as powerful as his boss.

Other politicians have written, you see, but none (in Landesman's opinion) has written as well as Obama. "This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt," notes the Obama appointee-- thus dismissing the Pulitzer-Prize-winning John F. Kennedy, who had ample help crafting his sentences. And Obama is "arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln." Did Lincoln write books well? That's not an easy question to answer, since Lincoln wrote no books.

Are you beginning to suspect that Landesman, whose background is in Broadway productions, might not be the best literary critic in the world-- nor the best historian? Fear not; his bailiwick is neither literature nor history, but the arts. More specifically, handing out money for the arts.

Which arts would he prefer sponsor? You might wonder. You wouldn't be the first to ask Landesman that question.

"Do you think that hip-hop would be an appropriate area for NEA to fund?" I inquired.
"Absolutely. And mural painting and graffiti are art."

With Landesman's support-- and your tax dollars-- some gifted teenager who is now scrawling slogans on subway cars could someday rise to new heights. No, I don't mean the elevated trains. I mean he could become the most powerful performing artist since Nero.

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  • Posted by: peggyann - Nov. 07, 2009 7:36 AM ET USA

    Should we be surprised? When have we heard Obama or anyone from his administration or others who surround him speak the truth about anything? I've always believed it's only practical to be skeptical of what our government officials tell us. This president and his minions have convinced me that that is a radical position. I've come to the conclusion that one would have to suspend all reason to believe anything coming from the White House. If they pass the new health care bill Lord help us.

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