Celebrity Not Policy

Jessamyn McArdle (England, AC 07-09)

If you open up a glossy magazine these days, it is becoming increasingly likely that instead of that bronzed actress on her honeymoon in Hawaii, you will find the escapades of that slightly overweight, pale politician plastered across the pages. But, far from being repulsed, people are now attracted to this kind of ‘publicity’ to a level so precarious that it sways their vote and consequently, shapes the nation.

What is a politician if not a celebrity? Underneath it all we should discover something slightly machine-like. This is because to deliver what is needed for a nation – happiness and justice – one must be completely objective. Unfortunately, these very concepts of what a nation desires, are entirely subjective. This is most obvious in the fact that all politicians who profess to have our best interests at heart, approach the solutions to the problems in society in different ways. And of these different political and moral agendas, all of which purport to be the ‘best’ but really contain subjective arguments based on shaky first premises, how do we decide which is a better solution?

Ideally, when faced with this kind of decision, one would consider all the different candidates according to their policies, and vision for the future, and vote for whoever would create the best government for them. While this sounds banal and obvious, the interest that we now put on the private lives of our politicians suggests that this idea is in desperate need of reinforcement. The criteria for the next leader no longer concerns their stance on Iraq, but more looks towards the overwhelming voice of a majority who form an opinion based on personal prejudices, steered by the media. A Belgian study in 2003 looking into Belgian politicians in the media questioned to what extent the media sought to follow particular candidate, and to what extent a particular stance on a candidate was due to the party’s hierarchical system dictated to the media. What was discovered was that these logics played off each other, with a greater emphasis on the influence of the party. This shows us that this media driven turn that politics relies on, is most certainly not the fault of the public. It also absolves the media of much of the blame and puts the spotlight, once again, on the politicians themselves.

Taking a contempory example, before Obama took the lead in the Democratic Candidate elections, much of the media attention was based around the Clinton and Obama battle. Each candidate, if chosen, stood to represent a previously under-voiced fraction of the American population, women and black people, who both enjoyed relative improvement in their social position in the 70s, but who still, beyond all the legislative progress, suffer in various ways today. This is not however, the only way in which Clinton and Obama had similarities. In fact they practically voted in tandem especially in important issues such as not passing an amendment to the Senate immigration bill, which would have denied legal status to those who entered the United States illegally, and both voted against an order, which would Force Bush to remove most U.S troops from Iraq by July 1st 2007. This can be further seen by the Congressional Quarterly’s tally of how often the Senators supported Bush’s positions with Clinton scoring 31 out of 100 (100 being complete support of Bush) and Obama scoring 33. This meant that the competition between the two would not exactly lie on who could promise the voters the better deal, but rather on who could package this deal most appealingly. This manifested itself, among many ways, in negative advertising, giving the voters reasons not to vote for their rival. Clinton’s radio advertisement (which was quickly removed) quoted Barack Obama calling the Republicans the ‘party of ideas’ and making it seem that he supported them more than the Democrats. This kind of behaviour was mirrored by Obama who fought back with an ad that said that Hillary Clinton would ‘say anything’ to get into the White House.

This tactic of character assassination now appears frequently, but I am arguing, that it is not the character of the politician that should guarantee our support. Given that in this example it does actually appear that the publicity focuses on the two candidates policies, it is by no means the worst example of exposure for politicians these days. What really makes no sense (keeping in mind the original model of a politician) is the celebrity-like status that is pinned on them so that we can keep up to date with their comings and goings, and extravagant lifestyles. Sarkozy has recently enjoyed a sojourn in the magazines in France and not because of anything in government. Instead the media have focussed their attention on his relationship with former model Carla Bruni, to such detail, that even what coat she wore to lunch with Gordon Brown had its own story. It is all well and good to enjoy goggling at those that have more exciting lives than our own, but how do we know that in the next French Presidential election, that the public will scrutinize Sarkozy for his political abilities and not the fact that he married his girlfriend of two months after quite a recent divorce?

It is important that whom we are voting for has charisma and power and influence and I am in no way suggesting that we should, or could, vote for a politician based solely upon information about their policies. If that were the case, one would be denying the obvious connection that lies between personality and policy because humans aren’t machines, but I am saying that this phenomenon of voting for a candidate purely because they have been the most publicised be it about their environmental policies or their current bedfellow, is dangerous. Why must it always be the politicians who have to go out of their way to seek our approval, when this matter is equally important to us and we should be making an effort look-over the competing policies ourselves?

– United World College Student Magazine –

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